As Finland’s Ruka and Kuusamo areas set their sights on taking the Irish market by storm, Irish travel professionals were welcomed to the region for a five-day fam trip (20th-24th April) to get a taste of what the picturesque northern locations have to offer, reports Fergal McAlinden.
The action-packed fam, led by Kimmo Rautiainen, Sales Director, International Sales, Ruka-Kuusamo, and Linda Macken, ATTS Travel Representation Solutions, Ireland GSA for Finnair, saw the group get an inside look at the scenic area and the Lappish capital, Rovaniemi, through a whirlwind itinerary.
With approximately one million visitors arriving in the area each year, the fam’s focus was on accentuating its appeal for the Irish travel trade. Suppliers and participants alike emphasised its suitability for a variety of travel styles throughout all seasons, and a host of active experiences throughout the five days blended the exhilarating with the idyllic.
The area’s draw for thrill-seekers and winter sports enthusiasts was evident as the Irish team took in snowmobiling excursions, tubing experiences and a morning on the slopes of Ruka Ski Resort, home to Finland’s largest skiing area for beginners. The fam also saw attendees get in touch with nature through an Arctic ice-fishing experience with Ruka Adventures, a snowshoeing expedition in the stunning Oulanka National Park with Ruka Safaris, and a horseback ride from the Nurminiemen Ratsutila stables, with a host of site inspections also demonstrating the region’s vast array of accommodation options – whether for groups, couples, families, or FIT travellers.
Their location in the heart of the Lapland region means that the areas have their fair share of Santa Claus experiences, each striking for their uniqueness and notable absence of kitsch. At the sprawling Pohjolan Pirtti estate, the group got an insight into its extensive winter programme that allows children and parents to mingle and bake with Santa, Mrs Claus and elves, while Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village offers an immersive experience year-round (and, of course, the opportunity to meet the big man himself).
Authenticity is an important component of these offerings, and indeed of the region as a whole: in addition to its Santa Claus experiences, Pohjolan Pirtti offers a ‘Live Like a Finn’ programme, allowing participants to bake Finnish rieska bread with a local, and its sauna tour provides a unique insight into a culture that is synonymous with the country: three million saunas are spread across Finland, and it’s not uncommon for Finns to visit the hallowed room upwards of four times a week.
Ruka-Kuusamo’s efforts to grow its contingent of Irish visitors are bolstered by the Finnair service from Dublin to Kuusamo and Rovaniemi, with convenient connections through Helsinki – our feet had barely touched the ground at HEL before we were in the air again, bound for Rovaniemi.
The airline offers an extensive service between Dublin and Rovaniemi for the busy winter season, with Dublin-Kuusamo routes also available and summer service to both destinations also set to ramp up in May. Travel by bus between Rovaniemi and Ruka Village takes between two and three hours, with the journey enlivened considerably by the beauty of the snow-capped forests whipping past the window.
Finnair’s service to Rovaniemi and Kuusamo throughout the summer is evidence of the growing realisation that the regions’ appeal lies beyond their well-known status as winter destinations. Indeed, suppliers, tour operators, and destination representatives noted that the summer season is greeted with renewed vigour among the tourism industry, with melting snow and rising temperatures contributing to an entirely new atmosphere around the area. Bear-watching and mountain biking come to the fore between May/June and October, with stand-up paddle boarding, ATV safaris, and canoe trips also commencing in time for summer. Hiking, horseback riding, and river floating continue throughout the year, but bring a whole different experience from one season to the other. Luckily for Christmas enthusiasts, Santa Claus visits are also available year-round.
With all the adventuring and active excursions, it was inevitable that the group would build up an appetite, and it was well and truly sated through a range of amazing culinary offerings. The bar was set high from the offset with a lavish meal on the fam’s opening night at Rovaniemi’s Nili restaurant, and the superb standard continued throughout.
Finland prides itself on its wild food dining, using food sourced from nearby fields and forests, and from a nourishing chowder bowl in between bouts of snowmobiling to an extravagant dinner in the peaceful surroundings of the Oivangin Lomarkatano lodgings, the region’s culinary fare stood out as a highlight among fam participants. There can be few more authentic experiences than cooking sausages over a campfire in Oulanka National Park, but the flexibility and variety offered by establishments was also abundantly evident: the vegetarian member of our group commented that she had never enjoyed such good food on a fam.
Ruka, Kuusamo, and Rovaniemi, in short, offer something for everyone. Parents and children alike will be thrilled by the range of Santa experiences on offer; thrill-seekers can ski, snowmobile, ice-climb and more; nature lovers will be right at home Arctic river floating and taking in the scenic surroundings during snowshoeing excursions; animal enthusiasts will delight in Palosaari reindeer farm; and couples seeking a romantic getaway can find it in any of the unique villas, plush hotels and cosy villas dotted around the region.
We weren’t lucky enough to see the Northern Lights (about the only thing missing from the fam!) but a plethora of innovative properties, such as the Iisakki Glass Village and glass-ceilinged apartments at Oivangin Lomakartano, provide spectacular surroundings for those lucky enough to witness them.
It was with a heavy heart that the group finally bade farewell to Finland on Tuesday – but with the promise that they would be back in time for the summer season.