In Finland, nature is both wild and free. A piece of the planet unlike anywhere else. A fusion of frozen landscapes, untouched wilderness and an adventurous unknown. That’s what made it the perfect playground to test the durability of our bags as we explored the snow-blanketed pines and frozen lakes on foot, bikes and snowmobiles. And yet all this is only half of Finland’s story. It’s a place that celebrates the beauty in simplicity, a reverence for the outdoors and the chance to create a positive impact on nature in every way possible. Everything about the Finnish wilderness leans toward its rightful place on any bucket list.
Long before we ever released our first bag, we made a commitment to always pursue our passions; to encourage a life of adventure amongst the great outdoors, through simple designs and a commitment to sustainability… much like Finnish people. It connected us from the moment we arrived to when we had to wave goodbye. A shared affinity for exploration, space, silence and simple living, surrounded by the beauty of our natural world as we stepped into the frozen wilderness of Ruunaa and Koli.
Day 1: Finding Ourselves in Finland
Arriving into Joensuu airport as the sun set on the endless expanse of snow below, you feel the hairs on the back of your neck start to salute – and that feeling never left. Not for one second. Our truck’s headlights cut through the dark to reveal a world of powder-coated pines as we ventured toward our Lake Pielinen retreat; luxury cottages sat on the frozen shores of Finland’s fourth largest lake.
But if the power of nature was the first chapter we explored, the second was the contented happiness radiating from the Finnish people, their simple way of life dawning on us as we headed out for our Friday night dinner at the Koli Harbour Restaurant, a local twist on good old fish and chips that was nothing short of wow. Homecooked, authentic and unforgettable; almost as if their co-existence with the natural world around them was the secret ingredient to every recipe.
It’s hard to put down in words, but if there’s a hundred micro-moments we’ll cherish from that first evening – and there is – the one that links them all is gratitude. A complete, unabashed appreciation for how special this place is and how lucky we were to be experiencing the culture and way of life of these incredible people.
Day 2: Dare To Explore
Waking up to a sub-zero world of thigh-high powder, frozen lakes and snow-capped landscapes stirs something in your soul. The sheer power of this arctic region jangling the nerves as you feel the frost creep into your bones. And yet the only way to banish those gelid temperatures is to actively embrace the elements. So that morning, we strapped on our snowshoes and schlepped through the all-white landscape of Räsävaara, amongst the towering trees and barely there trails, uncovering a hidden observation tower as we explored. Frozen steps, frozen rails and, at the very top, a frozen terrace that looked out across this polar landscape; from the lakes below to the steep slopes in the distance; our team of photographers capturing shots of our Roll Top packs as we headed further into the unknown.
Day 3: Into The Wilderness
The time had come to leave our place on the shores of Lake Pielinen in the rearview mirror and head a couple of hours northeast to explore the untouched wilderness of Ruunaa. With bags packed and strapped to our backs, we took to the snowy solitudes on six snowmobiles, muscles working double time as we raced across lakes, through the thick belt of pines and across huge glades of untouched powder, our faces feeling the sub-zero bite as we hit the hair-raising speeds of 85kph, our team of photographers and videographers straddling their seats backwards to capture it all on film.
After that, we headed to a middle-of-nowhere kota (a purpose-built barbecue cabin) for a cosy meal of bonfire sausages and Karelian pirogs, a traditional pasty originating from this region of Karelia region. Delicious, salty and seriously hearty. From here we headed to our new retreat, the Break Sokos Hotel Koli.
Now no one knows who first coined the phrase ‘get away from it all’, but our guess is, they were staying right here. Located in the incredible Koli National Park, close to the peaks of Koli, the views from this hotel are otherworldly as you gaze out towards Pielinen with no end in sight; just a landscape that seems to continue forever and ever, the sky breathtakingly close from your vantage point at the top of the hill.
Day 4: Land of Snow + Ice
Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming tranquillity of skiing across Lake Pielinen, the sound of your skis gliding across the frozen sheet of ice underfoot as you take in the immensity of this wilderness. Nothing. The distant mountains covered in glistening snow, the islands of pine trees, your breath freezing in front of your eyes with every exhale, the peace that comes from being in this frozen paradise. This was undoubtedly an adventure of a lifetime, only matched by the unofficial finish line that was Kolin Keidas, a warm guest house located on the Mattila farm, the perfect place for a traditional and delicious Finnish lunch.
Feeling warm, revived and ready to go, it was time to strap the snowshoes back on for an afternoon delving deeper into Koli National Park, through the snow-padded trees that bent under the weight and into the effortlessly magnificent natural scenery. To be there, amongst it all, surrounded by silence and space, is an experience unlike any other. But to truly understand the range and beauty of this national park, you have to change your altitude, climb up the deep powder slopes and take it all in from the top of the highest hill in the park, Ukko-Koli, where the earth looks flat, abandoned and completely untouched.
Of course, no trip into the Finnish wilderness would be complete without a cold plunge into a frozen lake. So, for our last night in Finland, that’s exactly what we did. Armed with Adventure Bags full of towels, we wandered out to Koli Freetime, to an illuminated hole in the ice. With some focused breathing, we embraced the elements one final time as our minds wandered to all we had experienced on this trip of a lifetime.
A Very Special Thanks
Stubble & Co was born from a single desire: to encourage people to get outside and live a life of travel and adventure. That’s what this excursion into the wild landscapes of Ruunaa and Koli were about, to get outdoors, step out of our comfort zones and push our bags to limits as we tested their durability in the harsh climates of a Finnish winter. We wanted to showcase the beautiful, untouched landscapes of North Karelia, as well as the wild adventures celebrated here, as a way to encourage more people to visit this beautiful region. And for this, we wanted to thank all those involved in organising this trip, one that was done in partnership with Visit Finland and Visit Karelia, who took care of the local arrangements.
We also want to thank the Finns we met, and those we didn’t, for the way they protect nature, work with the land, treat the world with respect and live a life of simplicity and happiness. From the moment we touched down to the moment we left, we felt incredibly lucky to be amongst it all, to experience this culture and way of life, and explore these incredible landscapes in the way we did.
Finally, we want to give a huge shout out to our crew who brought this trip to life: @ryanwinterbotham @rancefilm @rockybalbrower @pete_ell @samrogerss @tobiasmantaray @ourfinland @visitkarelia_finland @seikkailuyhtio @thepcagency
Products featured: The Stubble & Co Roll Top and Adventure Bag.
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