PihlasResort is a great option to explore Finland in an eco-friendly and luxurious way.
The U.N.’s World Happiness Report gave Finland top honours across health, income and public services making it one of the world’s happiest countries. After stepping off our direct Finnair flight bound for Helsinki and taking a moment to absorb our newfound surroundings, it’s hard to disagree.
This year Finnair celebrates its 100th anniversary and the spirit of celebration runs through Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa Airport as the national carrier has retrofitted two Airbus A350s with beloved characters from Tove Jansson’s Moomin and curated a dedicated ‘Uniform Through The Years’ exhibition which will be available for viewing until 30 November 2023.
Many have closely examined the Finns to better understand their way of life and get to the root of where their nationwide happiness stems. Countless studies and adjoining articles cite Finland as the happiest place on earth and what is evident upon arrival is that not only do the Finns believe this, but it is embedded into their customs – shaping their approach to everyday life.
Where to stay – PihlasResort
Aptly located amongst the beloved Lakeland area of the Saimaa region, PihlasResort is a secluded haven for those seeking refined luxury amongst the great outdoors.
A winding path nestled amongst towering birch trees leads to what looks like a perfect commune with the centres of focus the precisely scattered cabins and the main building housing the resort’s signature restaurant, sauna and communal space for a programme of activities.
Forest Suites feature a generous open concept space with panoramic windows overlooking the serene Pihlas Park and surrounding nature. This is paired with a private sauna and large balcony space to elevate your stay to new heights. The minibar is carefully stocked with local and indulgent delicacies and sits within a compact kitchenette. PihlasResort boasts an eco-conscious offering where the conservation of energy is greatly encouraged at all corners with a smart-electronic system managing all power in the suite.
Beds are made up in true Nordic fashion with two single duvets, a practice that will surely be implemented at home as our guide informs us that this is completely standard and to ensure a truly good night’s sleep for both parties.
Guests opting for a Garden Villa will find that the design-forward, two-floor structures are more than suitable for setting the tone for a luxurious group retreat. Accommodating 4-6 people, villas come with all of the amenities of the suites alongside a fireplace, fully equipped kitchens and open-concept living and dining areas to make the perfect home away from home.
Life at PihlasResort
Our days begin with what we thought was breakfast but soon learn is more comparable to a feast fit for nobles. Our ‘breakfast experience’ spans an hour to an hour and a half each morning and consists of multiple courses, which can be selected the evening before with the diligent resort team.
The plates served to showcase the best of the region, featuring local meats, dairy, fresh bread, preserved vegetables and wild foraged fruits which can quite literally be found in the forest around the resort grounds.
Mealtimes are treated with utmost care at the resort, which houses two restaurants – Koto and Siimes, whilst offering 24/7 room service which includes menus adapted to your specific dietary requirements and preferences. Dishes are inspired by the region, showcasing the best of what is found amongst the lakes, forests and gardens. Star items include delicacies such as Goose Gizzard, Chives Roe, Spruce Sprout Marshmallow and Goats Cheese Mousse paired with rye crisp.
Eating is a ritualistic and reflective practice at the resort where an attentive team and visionary chef are on-hand to guide guests through each course.
Wellness sits alongside gastronomy as a key pillar within the PihlasResort experience. Our guide and co-founder at PihlasResort, Anna Grotenfelt-Paunonen explains the importance of saunas in Finnish culture and why so much care and thought has gone into the ones sitting within the resort’s grounds. The communal sauna sits perfectly at the side of Lake Pihlas with mesmerising views of the water and direct access to the lake for those looking to indulge in a little cold water therapy. Fragrant bundles of birch and eucalyptus leaves hang in the entrance, which are also known as Vihta and typically used to stimulate blood circulation whilst using the sauna. The offering is in alignment with the local and traditional customs, allowing guests who are new to the culture to fully immerse themselves in one of the nation’s beloved wellness practices.
The resort also offers a range of activities to suit all tastes and sensibilities including paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and guided sessions which range from nature walks, mindfulness, and meditation to champagne yoga (yes, you read correctly – champagne yoga).
When we weren’t exploring the Lakeland, our afternoons were spent out on Lake Pihlas paddling through tranquil waters and playing a game of ‘spot the summer cabin’ (a commodity that we learn is a must-have for many well-to-do Finns when escaping every day to enjoy the summertime).
Mornings are just as enjoyable at the resort as co-founder Anna stresses the importance of collaborating with like-minded services to provide a memorable and full-service experience. This is evident in our guided meditation walk through the grounds after breakfast, where a local guide encourages us to switch off, be present in the surroundings and say a few words of gratitude to the nature upon which we were standing. Activities such as these lend to the resort’s positioning as a getaway to which wealthy, discerning and quite frankly, busy people will flock to enjoy a taste of luxury that is far slower or more mindful than that they are accustomed to.
What to do
Our affectionate guide Anna encourages us like many of her other overseas guests to ‘discover their inner Finn’ and opens our eyes to a multitude of things to do when exploring the world’s happiest nation. Alongside running a luxury eco-resort, Anna is also a gifted polyglot with an effortless command of many languages and one of Finland’s only qualified tea sommeliers, who also encourages guests to explore her other venture – TeaHouse of Wehmais. TeaHouse of Wehmais is Finland’s only tea room specialising in the British tea culture, offering nearly one hundred tea varieties in their collection which can be enjoyed there or purchased for use at home.
All baked goods and confectionery are prepared in-house utilising local ingredients and it is here that we explore the world of tea tasting and more important, tea pairings (think ramen, chocolate and even cheese!). In our bespoke tea and chocolate tasting, we learn to drink mindfully and slowly and how different blends both heighten and soften the various ingredients whilst Anna expertly leads our tasting journey.
My visit to Finland, which also happened to be my first, is rich in culture as well as culinary delights. We explore the rich history and abundant gardens of Tertti Manor, strolling along idyllic pathways and on my final night, I have the pleasure of attending the Savonlinna Opera Festival, Finland’s premiere cultural event for a performance of an intriguing reimagination of Romeo and Juliet.
Held in Olavinlinna, a medieval castle resting upon Finland’s largest lake, the opera festival is a glittering annual occurrence showcasing some of the best talent the region and the country have to offer. Performances take place in the comfort of a preserved auditorium beneath a covering to protect from any unanticipated changes in weather and for those who are fortunate enough to have them, certain seats provide an uninterrupted view of the hardworking orchestra beneath the main stage. We remain until the end for several standing ovations and we emerge from the 15th-century fortress to unforgettably picturesque and light skies despite it being after half past ten in the evening – with the city of Savonlinna showing us exactly what it means to spend a summer evening in the land of the midnight sun.
Through my travels, I learn that when considering your next luxurious summer stay, seek alternative options and look further than usual suspects. For those seeking adventure met with calm; discovery paired with familiarity and nature adjoined to modern comforts – try a Finnish summer.
Savonlinna Opera Festival – tickets begin from 69€ per ticket.
Return fares with Finnair from London to Helsinki start at £166 in Economy Class and £546 in Business Class, including all taxes and charges.
Finnair flies from London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh to Helsinki all year round – with their Heathrow service operating up to 5x per day.
For more details, and to book, visit finnair.com or call 0330 8081188.
To discover more, visit: visitfinland.com
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All imagery courtesy of PihlasResort, Visit Saimaa and Visit Finland.