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FINLAND: FROM THE LAND OF A THOUSAND LAKES TO HELSINKI, THE PEARL OF THE NORTH

Le Journal des Palaces makes a stopover in this country where luxury hotels embrace nature, culture and seasonality.

FINLAND: FROM THE LAND OF A THOUSAND LAKES TO HELSINKI, THE PEARL OF THE NORTH

Le Journal des Palaces makes a stopover in this country where luxury hotels embrace nature, culture and seasonality.

Category: Europe - Finland - Industry economy - Hotel opening Tourism
Article written by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2024-02-27


Midnight bathing takes on an unrivalled flavour during the midnight sun phenomenon in Finland

Midnight bathing takes on an unrivalled flavour during the midnight sun phenomenon in Finland
Photo credit © Mikko Nikkinen / Visit Finland

With some 5.6 million inhabitants, on the podium of the happiest populations in the world, Finland is one of the least populated countries in the European Union. The Nordic country is an ideal playground for travellers searching for authenticity, a land whose cultural openness, safety and unspoilt natural spaces are increasingly appealing. A country also noted for the variety of its dynamic and fast-growing hotel portfolio.

Helsinki, “the pearl of the north”, where luxury meets art

Finland is known as a land of contrasts, and its capital, Helsinki, is no exception. Between tradition and modernity, the city is full of surprises. As Tom Strandberg, General Manager of the NH Collection Helsinki Grand Hansa, explains, “Helsinki is a unique combination of quirky urbanity and peaceful nature. Helsinki has 131 kilometres of shoreline and 40% of the city is covered by greenery.”

Here, the artistic imprint is visible throughout the city, including in hotels, such as the Hotel St. George, owned by the Kämp Collection Hotels group, opened in 2018 in a neo-renaissance building from 1840, which has a unique art collection on display in its suites. From private visits to art galleries and museums, to meeting local artists or discovering design boutiques, art lovers have a myriad of options to satisfy their cultural appetite, not to mention discovering the 500 art nouveau buildings that populate the capital. An attachment to art shared by the General Manager of the NH Collection: “My favourites are: Amos Rex art museum, architectural masterpiece Oodi-library, Allas Sea Pool and world-famous Löyly-sauna and the Helsinki design district with Jugend architecture gems, for example, by Eliel Saarinen as well as design brands like Artek, Marimekko and Iittala”, he cites as a true ambassador for the capital.

Helsinki is also home to a thriving gastronomic scene. The city boasts five Michelin-starred restaurants, including Palace, a two-star restaurant in the Red Guide, run by Chef Eero Vottonen, who brings Finnish cuisine to perfection. “ The amount and quality-price ratio of Helsinki’s many Michelin restaurants is said to be the best in the Nordic countries,” says Tom Strandberg.

The capital is also the starting point for excursions designed to disconnect you from the hustle and bustle of the city. From a private boat trip to one of the islands in the archipelago that surrounds the capital, to a helicopter flight offering a unique panorama of wilderness and sparkling lakes, before experiencing a husky or snowmobile safari through the white-clad forests or a salmon fishing adventure.

At the crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe, Helsinki is naturally very attractive to international travellers. “The long haul travellers, when they come from the USA, Asia or Australia, want to explore, usually different countries as well. A lot of US and Europeans travellers, who come to Helsinki, go in the morning with the shuttle ferry to Tallinn in only two hours, spend the day there and come back to Helsinki. So many long haul travellers combine different Nordic cities with the Baltic capitals”, explains Heli Mende, Commercial Director of the new Hotel Maria.

The new wave of luxury hotels

Helsinki's vitality, combined with its proximity to the capitals of Eastern Europe, has attracted luxury hotel groups and associations. Convinced by the capital's elegance, these luxury players have opened new addresses here. They are nestling their hotels in historic buildings, to give them that extra cachet.

Helsinki's luxury hotel scene is rich, epitomized by the Hotel Kämp, opened in 1887, which belongs to the Kämp Collection Hotels group and is affiliated to Nordic Hotels & Resorts and The Leading Hotels of the World. The hotel is located on Pohjoisesplanadi, in the Kluuvi shopping district of Helsinki, and some of its rooms offer a view of Helsinki Cathedral, while some suites look out over the Baltic Sea.

At the same time, Helsinki's hotel landscape is undergoing a transformation, with the opening of Hotel Maria last December. Its owner, Samppa Lajunen, spotted “a lack of luxury hotels in Helsinki, so he decided to move forward”, explains Heli Mende. The Hotel Maria, located in the prestigious Kruununhaka district, close to the Presidential Palace and Senate Square, has joined the Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.

“The hotel consists of four historical buildings, which are all connected either by glass bridges or by an underground tunnel”, explains Heli Mende. These buildings are “preserved by the Finnish Heritage Agency”, which supervised the renovation work. The result is 117 rooms, including 38 majestic suites, ranging in size from 25 m² to 160 m². Two restaurants, two bars, a spa, a chapel, a ballroom, and seminar rooms, some of which will open next summer, complete the offer, provided by a team of 120 professionals trained to Forbes Travel Guide standards of excellence. In the centre of Hotel Maria, an inner courtyard reserved for residents features “fountains, an outdoor fireplace, lounge seating areas, as well as the tables of one of our restaurants in summer”.

Well-being is at the heart of the Hotel Maria experience, and in addition to the spa, some suites are equipped with a sauna and hammam. A great deal of work has been done to optimize light. There are 159 chandeliers in the bedrooms and communal areas, creating a warm atmosphere, particularly in winter, and blackout curtains in the bedrooms, which are essential in summer. Between relaxation and contemplation, Hotel Maria is keen to create a cocoon for its guests. Art is therefore omnipresent. “Throughout our hotel, we have over 200 pieces of art from two Finnish female artists, a finished painter and a sculptor,” says Heli Mende.

To enhance guests' stay, Hotel Maria has an Experience Manager who offers excursions and personalized discovery of Finland. A complimentary outdoor programme, during which members of the team take guests for a walk through the streets of the capital, completes the Hotel Maria experience. Less than half an hour away by bike, hotel guests can also take a step back into the past of 'rural Finland', discovering the open-air museum on the island of Seurasaari or visiting the island of Suomenlinna, with its UNESCO World Heritage fortress.

The Minor Hotels group has also turned its attention to the Finnish capital, and in spring 2024 will open the NH Collection Helsinki Grand Hansa. From its location in the heart of the city to its architecture combining three buildings, the property is already catching the eye. While excellent service is also at the heart of the experience here, the setting will leave a lasting impression: “One exceptional feature of the building is a tower with a glass dome where you will find an exclusive bar with a magnificent view over the rooftops of Helsinki (opens in August)” announces Tom Strandberg.

Once again, guests will be able to enjoy a local experience centred on well-being. In addition to 224 rooms and suites decorated in the Scandinavian style and offering a view of the historic Central Station building, “the hotel has a spa offering, an authentic Finnish spa experience and beauty treatments with Nordic natural ingredients” continues the GM.

The land of 1,000 lakes in the midnight sun, purity and dreams at the heart of the experience

The Helsinki hotels, which have understood the importance of designing personalized itineraries for international travellers, have banked on the country's rich resources. To offer a nuanced palette of Finland, Hotel Maria has partnerships with Levin Iglut Hotel, located in Lapland, and with Hotel Iso-Syöte, located in the south of Lapland, in one of the snowiest regions of Finland, allowing travellers to enjoy outdoor activities in one of Finland's most renowned ski resorts.

The Finns are very attached to respecting their natural environment, and enjoy an exceptional setting. With 37 national parks, the country has one of the highest densities of forests in the world, not to mention its 188,000 lakes, an underestimated curiosity that has given Finland its nickname of “the land of 1,000 lakes”. It is in Kaitainen, in this region of lakes, that a 5* eco-resort, Pihlas Resort, opened in summer 2023, spread over 10 hectares of unspoilt countryside.

From the five 33 m² suites for two people, immersed in the forest, to the five family villas overlooking the lake and nature, the accommodation has been designed to provide a complete break from the stresses of Finnish life. In addition to the services expected by a clientele used to luxury hotels, the experience is geared towards rejuvenation and authenticity. Pihlas features Finnish cuisine and outdoor sports, from tennis to canoeing on the lake and snowshoeing.

The sheer beauty of the countryside, authentic experiences in the great outdoors and an unrivalled choice of cultural activities are just some of the attractions that attract travellers to the different regions of this Nordic country. According to Tom Strandberg, “fresh Finnish climate is something very relaxing and special compared to the hot southern countries, especially during summer. And our water is considered among the purest in the world – and one can drink it and swim in it everywhere”.

Visitors are captivated by the spectacular light, which changes tirelessly from one season to the next. The midnight sun, an outstanding phenomenon, shines 24 hours a day from May to August north of the Arctic Circle, and remains visible from June to July further south. An ephemeral phenomenon that contrasts with the endless nights of winter. In summer, the experience of midnight bathing takes on an unrivalled flavour, and travellers take away with them lasting memories.
To ensure that its guests have this experience, Hotel Maria offers them the chance to board a helicopter to experience a magical day punctuated by the Savonlinna Opera Festival, held in July in a medieval castle in the Lake District.

Finally, it's impossible to name Finland without mentioning Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in the north of the country and the official home of Santa Claus. A must for any stay in Finland during the festive season, and beyond, if you want to leave the country with an unforgettable memory of the bewitching spectacle of the Northern Lights.
 

NH Collection Helsinki Grand Hansa

NH Collection Helsinki Grand Hansa
Photo credit © Ylva / ARCO Architecture Company / Minor Hotels




Rendering of a premium room at Hotel NH Collection Helsinki Grand Hansa
Photo credit © Minor Hotels



Garden Terrace at the Hotel Maria in Helsinki
Photo credit © The Hotel Maria



Inner courtyard of the Hotel Maria in Helsinki
Photo credit © The Hotel Maria



In all areas, as here in this suite, particular attention has been paid to lighting to ensure an optimal experience of Hotel Maria, in all seasons
Photo credit © The Hotel Maria



About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.


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