Enjoying Winter’s Last Hurrah in Finland
Published: March 27, 2013 (Issue # 1752)
Kuusanlampi Lake is surrounded by private homes nestled at the edges of a forest and makes for a spectacular day out.
St. Petersburg residents make frequent pilgrimages to nearby Finland for a number of reasons: Aesthetes visit the capital for performances by the renowned Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the romantics spend weekends at art nouveau cottages on the outskirts of the capital, while shoppers opt for day trips to the malls of Lappeenranta. The town of Kouvola is a magnet for nature-lovers, who take long walks and go fishing all year round in this peaceful town halfway between St. Petersburg and Helsinki.
While the list of summer activities is topped by the adrenaline-pumping rides at Finland’s third-largest amusement park, Tykkimaki; the rhododendron blossom festival in June; and blueberry and mushroom picking in August, the winter pastures offer their own thrills in the form of skating on the lake and cross-country skiing through pristine landscapes.
One of the most thrilling options available is to go skating or sledging on the Kuusanlampi lake.
Special skates designed for skating on lakes can be rented at the Sportia KT-SPORT shop. The skates are essentially strap-on ice-skating blades, at least twice as long as ordinary skate blades, that are attached to regular boots. These clip-on blades have to be rented together with poles — similar to those used in skiing — and it would be very hard to maintian either balance or speed without the poles.
The picturesque lake, surrounded by woods and private cottages, makes a breathtaking location for skating. Make sure you have tested your skates at the shop: In case of problems, you would have to drive all the way back, tempering the excitement of the experience. Also, bear in mind that there are no cafes by the lake, although private catering can be arranged through the local travel company Tervarumpu, which can send its staff to the site, serve food in a tent and also assist with arranging transport to the lake and all manner of activities.
The focal point of Kouvola’s wintry fun is Mielakka, a ski resort located only two kilometers away from the railway station and the city center.
Mielakka boasts ten slopes for downhill skiers and snowboarders of different levels in addition to a tubing slope and a sledding hill.
For the snowboarders, the center has the annually refurbished Street, SuperPipe and Cross courses, which were constructed in cooperation with Finnish snowboard professionals and the local snowboard association.
St. Petersburg businesspeople use Mielakka for negotiations, which can be followed by an exciting bit of shusshing and — perhaps inevitably for Finland — a visit to the sauna.
Stocked with skis and snowboards of various calibers, Mielakka’s rental center also keeps a good number of vatrushki — tubes used for sledding reminiscent in their shape and appearance to the Russian pastry of the same name. These are kept primarily for the center’s Russian visitors. The trick with a vatrushka is that you cannot really steer it, and once you have started your descent down the hill, you have to rely purely on luck.
“Quite honestly, it has never really become clear to us what the ‘vatrushka’ thrill is about, but we respect the tastes and the habits of our Russian guests, so we made sure that we have some of these available,” said Jukka Setala, the manager of the Mielakka skiing center.
A cross-country ski track leading from the Mielakka parking lot connects with the other ski tracks around the city. “While the slopes close at 6 p.m. on weekdays and at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the lights on the cross-country ski trails stay on until 9 p.m., leaving plenty of opportunity for people to ski after work,” Setala said.
On all of the routes the tracks are lit no less generously than park paths, and they are busy with skiers not only on weekends but also after work during the week. Cross-country skiing is hugely popular with Finns, who are not lazy when it comes to putting on their ski boots after a long day at work. Many people find skiing a much more engaging alternative to exercising in fitness centers.
Hardly any trip abroad for anyone who lives in Russia would be complete without some sort of shopping. And indeed, Kouvola’s vast shopping centers offer much better deals than are normally found in St. Petersburg.
The brand-new Veturi shopping center, which opened in September 2012, currently ranks as Finland’s sixth-largest mall, and the biggest in southeast Finland. Located within three kilometers of the center of Kouvola, Veturi is within easy reach, has more than 90 shops and a wealth of Russian-speaking staff. During the peak tourist seasons, the store’s management is considering showing films with Russian subtitles at one of the center’s cinemas.
Local artisan shops often conceal little marvels — for example, look out for the Pentik and Kymenpaviljonki store that works with local designers — while the stores on the pedestrian Manski street at the heart of the town easily covers all the basics, from clothes and shoes to kitchenware.
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 catalogs have special discount coupons that can be used for purchases in Finland.
Where To Eat
All ages and skill levels are catered to at the Mielakka ski resort near Kouvola.
• 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
This popular restaurant at the
Sokos Hotel Vaakuna is a favorite with city residents as well as hotel guests, serving reasonably priced local fare.
Tel. +358 20 1234 651
How To Get There
Any boots can be easily turned into a pair of ice skates at the local sport shop.
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 4-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
Kouvola Tourism Board website: