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8 min.

The national parks of Finnish Lapland are an ideal destination to escape from reality. For this reason, I decided to leave, to forget the world, the work stress, the invasive medical care I was submitting myself, and somehow even modernity.

Few things can make me stop thinking and analyzing details, such as horse-riding and wanting to get away from it all for a while. I said to myself that a riding holiday would be the right choice. I, therefore, sat in front of the computer to assess the possible destinations, and on the French website RandoCheval I read about hiking in the wild forests of Finnish Lapland at the Russian border. A perfect combination!

The packages offered on the website, however, were a bit too expensive for my budget. Hence, I looked for specific information on google and found the phone number of a family who organizes trips of this kind in the Oulanka Park (900 € for twelve days all-inclusive). I called to book joining a group scheduled for two days later. I quickly booked a flight to Kuusamo via Helsinki (€ 280 with Finnair), and I packed. Holiday magic mode on!

The Oulanka National Park

I’ll start by saying that I have not visited other parks in Finnish Lapland, and I, therefore, can’t make comparisons, but with the Oulanka National Park, I truly fell in love!

It is located between Kuusamo and Salla, right on the Russian border (which is marked by a cut of two hundred meters that runs along the forest and that served/serves the Russians to find any citizens trying to leave the country …), between endless shiny green valleys, crystal clear streams, white sandbars, peatlands, pine trees, reindeer, lynx, bears, moose, and during the period of the midnight sun – to the delight of hikers – even billions of mosquitoes and horseflies.

La Lapponia a cavallo

Actually, I live in a national park, but the Cinque Terre one is human-made and densely populated. At the same time, nature is the empress, and men honor it with exemplary management.

The paths and numerous free camping areas are immaculately kept and built only with natural materials, there are lots of braziers all around always very clean and with stacks of wood available to anyone and the same goes for the huts used as a sauna that are scattered every few kilometers, the triangular cottages with reindeer skins and an open side on the brazier and the boats to cross rivers.

La Lapponia a cavallo

La Lapponia a cavallo

There are also some classic paying camping, with traditional wooden houses painted in shiny red. They are located mostly on the islands along lakes and streams. Very romantic!

La Lapponia a cavallo

The park’s visitor center is an excellent starting point to visit the area, whether your vacation foresees trekking, rafting, fishing, or just lazing around in between a sauna session and another.

It is part of the Institute of Thule culture. A stage here allows you to understand better and appreciate Finnish Lapland, the Suomi people, and its biodiversity.

Galloping in the Finnish Lapland forests between Finland and Russia

Upon arrival at the small airport of Kuusamo, I found Erkki, who came to wait for both me and Karita and her fantastic Weimaraner, Zeus. Together we headed toward the cottage that would have housed us for our first night. A beautiful wooden house on the lake, flanked by stables.

La Lapponia a cavallo

Karita and I met the rest of the group: Faiz and Sarah, a Malaysian couple living in London, Thierry from Lyon, and Annah from Zurich. We had dinner around a bonfire on the shore of the lake with soup and sausages (which have turned out to be the basis of our meals throughout the holiday).

Between a chat and the other, we started to know each other, and above all, we allowed Erkki to figure out which horse to give to each of us. After dinner, we took a side trip to the stables, and I met Roisto, my Finnish breed sparked traveling companion.

La Lapponia a cavallo

The next day wake up call at dawn, with the sun already at the zenith (where it would eventually have stayed until after midnight) to have breakfast by the lake before preparing the horses and go.

Breakfast turned out to be mainly salty and, in my opinion, overly generous, and therefore I had tea and a toast with butter and honey. First big mistake! I was already starving in mid-morning and had to wait another two hours on horseback before the lunch break. From the following morning on, I ate like the others, and everybody had fun 😉

Leaving the stables also meant leaving civilization with its excesses and its comforts. We spent eleven days along the Karhunkierros, known as the Bear Trail. In addition to the bears, a paradise for lynxes, reindeers, elks … and for me. A remote corner in the middle of Finnish Lapland, which stretches for about 80 kilometers crossing other routes, allows you to enrich the experience further.

La Lapponia a cavallo

La Lapponia a cavallo

On average, we rode for five / six hours a day, crossing the parallel of the Arctic Circle, along the gorges of Quartzite, the Kiutalkongas canyon, the Jirava waterfalls, the river Kitajoki, the canyon of Kanjoni, pushing up to the four peaks along the Ruka paths (a posh ski resort that I dream of visiting during the long polar winter!) and crossing some hikers, fisherman and some groups of young people involved with rafting. We visited some sled dog farms, and we got carried away by breathtaking views.

La Lapponia a cavallo

Leaving so suddenly, I hadn’t trained the slightest. From any point of view and during the last few kilometers of the first day, I felt like crying from physical exhaustion, not to mention the hysterical group laughter having to remove the saddle to the horses, wash and feed them before laying down to stretch our legs … scenes of cheerful and at the same desperate collective delirium.

The next morning upon awakening, I also realized that we do have muscles in the neck, too. The second day went quite better, perhaps because I had gradually forgotten about my daily life too.

La Lapponia a cavallo

We spent days and days without crossing cars, without electricity or running water. A real return to nature: from waking up and diving into the river, lighting the bonfire for breakfast, and then start riding our horses between complicit smiles and delighted looks, making kebabs with branches found in the woods for lunch, filing our bottle in the streams, taking a sauna in the middle of impressively green Finnish Lapland forests and then swimming in the icy water of enchanted lakes between happy laughter and childish pranks and in the end dining at night under a burning sky.

La Lapponia a cavallo

It is a holiday in the Garden of Eden, to which it seems difficult to get used to on the first day but impossible to break away once over.

The Finnish sauna

As mentioned before, traditional saunas in Finland are to be found everywhere and available to anyone. It is a real institution; a daily ritual spread from early childhood. A daily ritual rescued me by allowing me to dispose of lactic acid and remount on the saddle every day.

La Lapponia a cavallo

Karita’s pic

It comes to silent spaces kept in dim light and smelling of birch, which branches are collected in small bundles called vasta used to gently beat the skin to soften it and stimulate the circulation. The tradition states that one should remain in the sauna for fifteen minutes before plunging into the icy water, and this operation must be repeated three times.

Plunging into the river for the first time, I thought I would have sink being paralyzed by pain (yes, icy water is painful), but day after day, I got used to it and started enjoying even a short swimming session!

P.S. In the Finnish sauna, people are naked.

Some tips

Obviously, this is not a holiday for everyone, both because horse riding is not a universal passion and because the amount of required adaptation could be a nightmare more than a relaxing interlude for lots of people. Still, if by chance you are like me, I truly recommend experiencing Finnish Lapland in such a way. To deeply enjoy it, however, here are some practical notes:

  • pack light and select a soft bag to fold and insert it together with its contents in the leather bags attached to the saddle
  • beyond the necessary to ride a horse, a sleeping bag and a microfiber towel, bring t-shirts and underwear for the number of days of the trip, a comfortable suit for the night, and a swimsuit
  • bring mosquito repellent, sunscreen, tiger balm for the joints, Amuchina gel, an eye mask (there are only two hours of red sky between one and about three in the morning and then the sun is always at the zenith and above all the Suomi people wait long months to enjoy this time of the year, and therefore there is no way to darken their windows), a multipurpose boxcutter, a water bottle or two and camera with spare batteries
  • please do not do like me; work out before the departure!

La Lapponia a cavallo

Some essential words and sentences learned during the holiday:

  • kiitos = thanks
  • ole hyvää = you are welcome
  • hyvää huomenta = good morning (hy has to be pronounced like ou)
  • hyvää yötä = good night
  • anna voi kiitos = can you pass me the butter 😛
  • hyvä poika = good boy (very important sentence for my friend Roisto)
  • hyttyset = mosquitos
  • keskiyön aurinko = midnight sun
  • olen nälkäinen = I’m hungry

I had learned many more, but my memory is lacking 🙁

Hyvää lomaa!

Have a great holiday!

P.S. You can see other pics in this dedicated Finnish Lapland Flickr album.

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.