by Karin Leperi
The Mikkeli Region, former province of Eastern Finland and now part of the Southern Savonia region, is in the very heart of Lakeland Finland between Lakes Saimaa, Puula and Kyyvesi. It’s also the largest holiday villa area in the entire country. It’s where you go to enjoy summer in the country by a lake and where most holiday villas are equipped with private saunas and boats. It’s where you go foraging for favorite Finnish foods that include lingon and cloud berries along with forest mushrooms. It’s where you dine on farm-to-table freshness. And above all, it’s where you go to sweat out stress in a Finnish sauna.
My local Finnish friend Taija is driving me around to showcase the best of the Mikkeli Region. First, we are off to the countryside with a visit to a local wine farm. There are about 25 wineries throughout Finland and Ollinmaki is especially known for their berry and fruit wines. Fruit flavors are intensified because of the short northern summers coupled with the magic of the midnight sun. Their robust offerings include sparkling wine, cider, berry wines, and liqueurs. After sampling several of the luscious berry wines and buying a reserve, it’s time for a three-hour drive to the four-star Anttolanhovi Art & Design Lakeside villa complex, near the town of Anttola.
Taija did little to prepare me for the magnificent yet eco-friendly luxury awaiting me at the Anttolanhovi Art & Design Villas. The villas, located by Lake Saimaa, are built from all natural materials, with walls from Finnish birch and floors and yard slabs from domestic stone. Each interior is custom decorated by a commissioned artist featuring their art and comfy textiles such as linen, cotton and wool. The contemporary structures also feature floor-to-ceiling windows, so as to integrate with the natural scenery.
The Hillside Villas are called the Lanterns, a concept by Timo Leiviska who was chosen to implement his design. (At night with vertical bands of filtered light they look like lit lanterns). Each villa faces the shoreline while wooden grilles shielding the patio from sun even as they provide privacy. The design combines art as part of the architecture and interior. As I check-in to my amazing Hillside Art & Design Villa, the clean lines of modern decor elevate my sense of clarity and simplicity. Director Juhani Palonen describes them as buildings “in which the fine arts and design would be solidly integrated, a bit like in a bird’s nest.”
My private villa comes with my own kitchen, sauna, rowing boat, bicycles and barbecue. The kitchen is excess to my needs as I order their bountiful breakfast which is served direct to my villa in the morning. The Anttolanhovi Wellness Complex features a jogging track, ski track, nature trail, exercise track, bicycle route, tennis courts, saunas, pools, and a day spa. A traditional smoke sauna is conveniently located in the heart of the complex.
For wintertime fun, they even have sleighs and sledges – a sledge being a vehicle on runners and pulled by horses. The lakeside restaurant seats up to 160 persons, featuring fine cuisine that only sources from local purveyors, producers, and fisherman. My fresh salmon dinner was succulent and delicate in flavor. This is an extremely popular retreat for Finns as well as Europeans and Russian businessmen because of their wide range of meeting, event, hotel and restaurant services, so reservations are necessary. I fall asleep easily after my relaxing in-villa sauna, enjoying the art, architecture, design and luxury that are all encompassing.
Raijan Aitta for Linens and Berries
Next morning after an exquisite breakfast of local berries, cheeses, bread, and yogurt in my villa, Taija and I head to a family-owned and operated Raijan Aitta. It is noted for its yarns and fibers, spools of colorful linen, textiles, and beautiful infinity scarves, shirts and skirts, socks, and spa essentials. A countryside destination, it also offers cottages for idyllic country stays and has fields of raspberries and strawberries where you hand-pick to your heart’s delight. Inside their store is a rather robust display of linen – from yarn to textile to clothing – as well as a cafe where you can enjoy great coffee and specialty cakes of the day.
The linen clothes, shawls, and infinity scarves immediately captures my attention, with colors and styles that are definitely Finnish but very appealing to any international shopper. Linen is the natural choice of material for a variety of beautiful and high-quality home textiles and clothing. Since it is smooth, the finished fabric is lint-free, and becomes softer the more it is washed. Besides, it keeps you cool in the heat while warm in the cold and feels pleasant to your skin. Perhaps that is why it is the obvious choice in Finland for sauna textiles. From robes to towels, they have a varied assortment for the sauna experience.
Though my shopping is rushed because of our tight schedule, I still score with linen purchases of a shawl, infinity scarf, neck scarf, and a pair of socks for my college-aged son. But before leaving we pick a basket of luscious strawberries to take with us for the road.
Kenkavero – Biggest Historical Vicarage in Finland
Our next stop is to a former rectory-turned-folk center. It includes restored buildings, a vicarage garden, handicraft workshops, and home to one of Finland’s largest design boutiques. Here I find Finnish handicrafts, clothing, and accessories. There is even a workshop that specializes in fish skin wallets. The perfect gift to bring back to someone who has everything.
Tertti Manor, a functioning farm and cozy manor hotel, is home to the famous Tertti Rose – tertin ruusu. With a distinctively delicate fragrance, the blushing rose peaks in the middle of July – an enigmatic reminder of why this place is so special.
Ask to see the Garden of Secrets, a place of extreme beauty and serenity. Another garden is dedicated to herbs and root vegetables planted by color. And though I didn’t have time to eat at the restaurant, the grains and vegetables served there are grown right on the premises – farm-to-fork experience.
(I did order a coffee and traditional Finnish pastry from the cafe that were absolutely scrumptious.)
A well-stocked shop sells Finnish food products and delicacies along with items for the home and garden. I bought some of their famous smoked whitefish – delicious with a mustard vinaigrette and boiled potatoes. However, I regret not having purchased the rose petal soap and rose cream, made with rainwater and their famous Terti i Rose. It’s a classic rose scent that stays evermore in the memory – wafting of warm summer days and moist gentle breezes. It’s what will forever remind me of Finland.
IF YOU GO: