By Hayley Lewis for Metro.co.uk, Traveller. Adventurer. Foodie. Blogging at www.alovelyplanet.com. Follow on Instagram @alovelyplanet
Tuesday 25 Sep 2018 12:00 pm
But with 24 hours of daylight around midsummer, a plethora of outdoorsy activities and the stunning Scandinavian scenery, its actually the perfect destination for a summer getaway.
Having never visited in the winter, I didnt have too many expectations as I boarded my flight to Ruka-Kuusamo from Helsinki.
Ive visited the other Scandinavian countries in the summer and always had amazing experiences, but I knew this would be different. It was further north than I had ever been, and the local wild (and not so wild)-life included bears and reindeers.
Landing was an experience in itself; all I could see for miles were lakes and trees, and more lakes and more trees, and nothing else. No big cities and very little sign of civilisation.
First stop was our accommodation, which was everything I had hoped for; a traditional wood cabin, made of whole pine trunks, in beautiful woodland, surrounded by wild blueberries.
As youd expect, there was a fire, and though we didnt really need to, as it wasnt especially cold, we took great pleasure in lighting it each night.
Something I learned while travelling in Finland is that saunas are as much a part of Finnish culture as say tea and biscuits, or Sunday roasts, are for us Brits. Its more common than not to have a sauna in your house, and many businesses have a sauna.
So, of course, our cabin had its own sauna.
You may not think you would want to use a sauna in summer, but its actually lovely when its warm outside, so when you come out, the air feels cool and refreshing.
After picking a few wild berries, it was off for another nature experience: bear watching.
If you need only one reason to visit Ruka-Kuusamo in the summer instead of winter, this should be it.
Bears hibernate in the winter, but in the summer, they roam through the woods both close to and across the border with Russia.
Brown bears can run at a speed of 60km per hour and they can climb trees, which I found slightly alarming to hear from our guide Yuri as we walked into the forest.
However, he told us, they are frightened of people and will generally stay away if they can sense a human presence.
This is why we were spending our evening inside another wooden cabin, so the bears wouldnt be aware that we were there.
The cabin had a one-way glass window with sections cut out for our cameras (discreetly hidden in dark bags). Then it was time to wait with a cup of tea for the bears to arrive.
When they did, I was completely in awe of such huge and handsome creatures making their way through the forest.
One came so close to the hut, I could hear his breathing, and I could have sworn that at one point, he looked right at me.
It was exhilarating to be so close to the bears in their natural habitat.
Shortly after the bears had departed, we returned to the car, although not without me constantly looking around for bears about to attack.
They didnt. In fact, Yuri told us there has only been a bear attack in Finland once in the last 100 years, when a man found himself stuck in-between a protective mother and her cubs.
Another summer only activity in Ruka-Kuusamo is white water rafting.
It turns out, Oulanka National Park is the place to do it – its home to category three, four and five rapids. (Category five is the highest level at which guides are legally allowed to take guests).
It started off very relaxed; after getting kitted out in our waterproof gear, helmets and life-jackets, we had a very leisurely trip across a lake in our boat.
Then we reached the rapids of the Kitkajoki river canyon. Our guide told us to jump out for a photo and mentioned that around the corner was the section we would soon be rafting down.
It would be a lie to say I wasnt slightly concerned when I saw what appeared to be a small waterfall. But Im a tough traveller after all, so I couldnt let that show. (Or at least not to the guide anyway!)
Off we went and, as it turned out, the small waterfall was just the first section of the rapids. I neednt have worried as it was over in a second and gave me such a rush. Although I was thinking to myself, this is only category three!
There was a small reprieve before we hit the stronger category four rapids, and then again time for a breather before we moved onto category five.
When we reached the end of the category five rapids, I was actually sad it was over. Although there was a very large waterfall in the next part of the river, so it definitely was a good decision to finish there.
For keen hikers, there are endless trails in the area to explore, with information centres full of maps and lots of signage so you neednt worry about getting lost in the wilderness.
In late summer, the woods are full of wild berries, in particular blueberries and loganberries, which we loved picking to eat every few minutes.
Another great way to explore the forest is on horseback.
We headed to Wanha Raatesalmi farm for a 2-hour ride on Icelandic horses.
It was my first time riding them, and I learnt that as well as the usual trot, canter and gallop of other horses, they have an additional gait called a tolt.
This is a bit like power walking, but can be pretty fast.
The ride took us through the spectacular wilderness of Kuusamo, which has some of the purest air in the world. In fact, the air is so pure that a rare plant – usnea, also known as old mans beard – which cannot grow in polluted air, grows here.
We ended our stay in Ruka-Kuusamo at Pyhäpiilo Sauna.
Located on the shores of Lake Pyhäjärvi and secluded by trees, this has to be one of the most romantic places Ive ever been to.
The sauna is available for private hire and we had the whole place to ourselves.
In Finland, its traditional to take a sauna and then immerse yourself in cold water or snow. As it was summer, there was no snow, but there was the stunning lake, which was the perfect way to cool off after the heat of the sauna.
Other things to do in Ruka-Kuusamo:
In winter, husky sledging is a popular activity, and although there is no snow in summer, you can still head out for a hike with these adorable dogs.
A 1-hour husky hike is £36 (40€) per person.
Though youre bound to see plenty of reindeer wandering along the roads in Ruka-Kuusamo, if you want to get a close-up view then head to the Kujalan Porotila Reindeer Farm, where you can help with feeding, and learn more about these magical animals.
A visit to see the reindeer costs £18 (20€) per person for a 1-hour experience.
Where to stay in Finnish Lapland and how to get there:
Staying in a cosy cabin at Ruka Salonki costs from £267 (300€) per night in the summer season and sleeps up to six people.
Fly to Kuusamo via Helsinki from London Heathrow with Finn Air from £196 return.
(Top picture: Hayley Lewis)