A Northern Safari to Finland’s Kouvola
Published: November 7, 2012 (Issue # 1734)
GALINA STOLYAROVA / SPT
The Finnish town of Kouvola, with its tranquil lakes, stunning national parks and rare fauna, makes an ideal short break from the traffic jams and chaos of city life in St. Petersburg.
After just two and a half hours on the Allegro high-speed train from St. Petersburg, you step off in quiet Kouvola. This serene Finnish town is a nature-lover’s paradise. A weekend here is a quiet escape, a dive into nature and a striking contrast to touristy Imatra and Lappeenranta, with their crowded superstores and spa-centers: Although Kouvola also offers opportunities for shopping, it is a much calmer experience here than in the border towns. Travel to Kouvola for the captivating beauty of the Repovesi National Park, the finest rhododendron seeds from its botanical garden Arboretum Mustila, a bottle of local blackcurrant wine and superb fishing in its lakes.
A lunch or dinner in the Barracks restaurant at the Officer’s Club, which was originally built for the Russian Imperial Army, is a must — as is a stroll through the former army garrison area, and the surrounding park where jazz concerts are held in the summer.
Unspoiled forests, cliffs, lakes and ponds dominate the landscapes of Repovesi, Finland’s most popular national park. It takes almost an hour’s drive to get there from Kouvola, and on a rainy day the last third of the journey feels like a northern safari on a mud road. Tourists take the trip to Repovesi to stroll in the forest, as well as to fish and hunt, for both of which you need to obtain a license.
In autumn, it seems as though the Finns are not great fans of mushroom and berry picking for fun — these fruits of the forest are found in generous quantities, completely untouched. For some Russian visitors, a trip to Repovesi can therefore turn into a blissful experience of sitting around and wolfing down blueberries — you won’t need to walk very far to find the nearest large cluster of berries.
Another aspect that is likely to strike Russian visitors is the tidiness of this wild forest. There are no garbage cans. The park maintains a responsible tourism program, which means that every visitor to the park assumes responsibility for dealing with any garbage they produce.
The park’s diverse fauna includes moose, lynx, wild boar, otter and pine marten as well as owls and the Siberian flying squirrel.
Repovesi has several well-marked hiking routes, with the most popular sights for walkers being Olhavanvuori Rock and the hills of Mustalamminvuori, Katajavuori and Haukilamminvuori, as well as the hanging bridge over Lapinsalmi Sound and the floating log structures in Kuutinlahti Bay.
Visitors can stay overnight in one of the cottages in Repovesi, though the conditions are rather spartan. There is also a small sauna by the lake next to the cottage that is located near the entrance to the park.
Verla Paper Mill
This atmospheric 19th-century red-brick industrial complex on the shore of a tiny forest lake feels cozy inside. The large brownish sheets of cardboard that have been part of the display since the factory stopped its operations in 1964 feel silky smooth to the touch — and their quality would put today’s factories to shame.
Verla is an amazingly well preserved example of the small-scale rural industrial settlements associated with pulp, paper and board production that flourished in northern Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Less than a dozen similar settlements have survived until today, and Verla has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.
Verla was founded in 1872 by Hugo Neuman as a groundwood mill but it lasted for less than four years: The premises were destroyed by a massive fire in 1876. Six years later, Gottlieb Kreidl and Louis Haenel, two master papermakers at Kuusankoski, founded a new, bigger groundwood mill with a board mill on the side. The mill then changed hands a couple of times before closing down in 1964.
Verla’s signature products were book covers, biscuit cartons, cheese boxes and cigarette packets. The factory, which produced 2,000 tons of cardboard per year, had a strong reputation, with its main clients being box manufacturers and bookbinders.
“I would describe myself as a spiritual person, and I do go to church from time to time, but let me tell you something: My real temple is here,” says professor Peter Tigerstedt, stretching out his hand and pointing at sky-high Macedonian and Serbian pines. Huddled together, they do resemble a gothic cathedral, and this impression gets even stronger once you part the giant low branches to find yourself inside a natural sanctuary. Tigerstedt is the man behind the paradise-like Arboretum Mustila, a 120-acre natural park that was founded in 1902 by his grandfather, a civil engineer, who had a passion for exotic flowers. Even what one would call an “undesirable plant” — some might say, a weed — is nurtured here: The tiny and sublime Cladonia Nivalis, a key ingredient in a popular series of Russian anti-aging cosmetics.
“Yes, as you can see, it is all over the place now but we do not have the heart to get rid of it, it is such a nice little thing,” Tigerstedt smiles.
The park, which boasts more than 100 species of conifer trees, 200 species of broadleaved trees and numerous vines, flowers, bulbs and plants, is a horticulturalist’s dream. Its signature plant is the rhododendron — Mustila boasts more than 100 species. The park, which takes at least four hours to explore, is open all year round, although perhaps the best time to visit is June, when rhododendrons and many other flowers are in blossom.
One of the species was created especially in memory of the late Raisa Gorbacheva, the wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the U.S.S.R. In May this year, when Gorbacheva would have turned 80, more than 100 specimens of this flower were planted in a garden of the Raisa Gorbacheva Memorial Center for Children’s Hematology and Transplantation in St. Petersburg.
“So much was admirable about this woman — her grace and style, her will and stamina,” Tigerstedt said. “And this flower very much resembles her.”
A small store next to the entrance to the park sells seeds as well as homemade berry wines, juices and marmalade.
GALINA STOLYAROVA / SPT
Peter Tigerstedt pictured in the Arboretum Mustila that his grandfather founded.
Tykkimaki Amusement park
Children love this spacious amusement park surrounded by woods. Tykkimaki, which is open from May until early September, boasts around 40 different rides, and something new is added every season. One of the most recent additions and an indisputable hit is the Wild Loop Fighter, which takes you on a journey that challenges the force of gravity. From Water Slide and Ghost Train to Kouvola Wheel and The House of Surprise, Tykkimaki caters to all ages and characters, from the most sheepish toddlers to up-and-coming adrenaline addicts. Finland’s third-largest amusement park, Tykkimaki also has the country’s highest ride, the Starflyer.
In the colder months of the year the park’s employees work on safety precautions — there has not been a single accident at Tykkimaki — and travel the world searching for new ideas. A single entry to any ride costs five euros ($6.50). Another option is to buy a bracelet that grants unlimited access to all rides. The bracelet is a bargain at 31 euros ($40) for children (and adults) over 120 centimeters tall. It costs 25 euros ($32) for kids of 90 to 120 centimeters in height. A 25-percent discount is offered after 5 p.m.
World’s largest Prisma
Very few Russians are likely to plan a holiday abroad, even if it is a weekend getaway, without including some kind of shopping activities.
September saw the opening of the vast Veturi shopping center, which now ranks as Finland’s sixth-largest mall, and the biggest one in southeast Finland. Located within three kilometers from the center of Kouvola, Veturi is within easy reach, has more than 90 shops and a wealth of Russian-speaking staff. During the holiday season, the store’s management is considering showing films with Russian subtitles at one of the center’s cinemas.
Very few Russian visitors to Kouvola can resist a trip to what is known as the world’s largest Prisma hypermarket. Unlike in Russia, where Prisma mainly sells food, the flagship store in Kouvola has sections with sports equipment, construction materials, electronics and fashion items. Prisma loyalty cards issued in Russia are not valid here, but all Russian catalogues have special discount coupons that can be used for purchases in Finland.
How To Get Therer
The high-speed Allegro train
(St. Petersburg-Helsinki) has four services per day.
A full schedule is available at:
Russian citizens require a Schengen visa.
Where to Stay
Sokos Hotel Vaakuna
A comfortable four-star hotel located in a peaceful, green area in the heart of the city with three saunas and jacuzzis.
2 Hovioikeudenkatu, 45100 Kouvola
Tel. +358 20 1234 651
GALINA STOLYAROVA / SPT
The Verla 19th-century paper mill is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kouvola Tourism Board website:
Where to Eat
• Kasarmiravintola (Barracks) Located in the former Officers’ Club, this upscale restaurant offers good Finnish and European cuisine.
Tel. +358 20 729 6782
• Restaurante Ole
One of the more expensive eateries in Kouvala, Ole is renowned for its Spanish and Mediterranean dishes.
Tel. +358 05 3116961
• Fransmanni restaurant
The popular restaurant of the
Sokos Hotel Vaakuna is a favorite with city residents as well as hotel guests, serving reasonably priced local fare.
Sokos Hotel Vaakuna
Tel. +358 20 1234 651