Nowadays I am developing rural tourism for a living. That’s why when it first came to my mind to write this post, I rejected the idea immediately. It felt wrong to promote the same activities and places that are connected to my job. The thing that changed my mind was The Tree Story experience, and I’ll tell you more about it.
The test days
For several months now here at Southern Konnevesi and Äänekoski we have been building a winter tour called The Tree Story. We have invited tour operators from abroad to a FAM trip in our region to show them what we’ve got. Many of the services included in the package, however, hadn’t ever been applied to real clients before, so we had to test them before the arrival of the delegation.
Finding a testing group was probably more difficult than inviting the tour operators. 7-8. Jan is still pretty much in the holiday season. Our dreams of getting test customers from the same nationalities as the upcoming guests quickly disappeared, and we realized that WE are the test group. But I don’t regret it even a bit!
A new approach
Konnevesi has been my home since 2010. I remember when I moved here, my boyfriend took me for a drive around “the village”. All the places were seen in about 15 minutes, and then he said: “well, basically there is nothing here to see”. And even though I have strongly opposed to this kind of attitude through the years, deep in my mind I really believed it.
When I started building The Tree Story together with Outi Raatikainen (the tourism developer of Äänekoski), I blamed the others for being skeptical towards our plans. With the climate change knocking on our door we are much more of a summer destination, at least by image. But the truth is, up until last weekend I was skeptical too. I had only known in theory about the existence of most of the services. And then we went through this adventure, and I saw my home through different eyes.
Two days, three towns and a real adventure
Early in the morning on Saturday we started from Leksan Lastu, which is a wood workshop. This is not a place staged for the visits of tourists, but the actual workshop. And a workshop is always messy. The owners, however, surprised us with a lot of information about the traditional types of Finnish trees, and put us through a tree type discovering test. They presented to us beautiful and unique wooden products, even a wooden tie. We also saw the process of turning a piece of wood into a product.
Next stop was the museum train at Suolahti Old Railway Station. With its nostalgic retro style it took us to the past times when train was something much more special than now.
Later in the morning we moved further to Kapeenkoski. Kapeenkoski is a nature preservation area with a lot of recreational applications. For the most of its part it is open for everyone to visit and explore, but there is also a company (with the same name) that sells the fishing permits and organizes the guided activities. And the activity we wanted to try this time was hydrospeeding, since this is probably the only place in Finland where you can experience it.
Hydrospeeding is going down a rapid with a board or a kind of water sledge in front of you. In my Southern-European mind this has always seemed too extreme, even as a summer activity, but to do it in the middle of January has been totally unthinkable. I knew it’s a now-or-never situation. So I decided to do it. It was my small birthday present from me to me, to dare and do something crazy, since my birthday was upcoming (Jan 16) and then I was busy with the delegations all day.
Hydrospeeding was fun. With all the suits and equipment it wasn’t cold at all – nor when I walked to the starting place, neither in the water. The air temperature was about -5C. The water was around 0C, because there were pieces of ice we swam through. I asked the guide what is the lowest temperature by which you can practice hydrospeeding, and his answer was: “probably -40C”. By -20C you can see steam over the water and it is like a fairy tale.
There were places where the water flow was so hard that my physical shape didn’t let me change my direction, but the guides helped me and I wasn’t in any kind of danger.
After “so hard” physical activity we deserved to eat. Our next stop was Konnevesi and we had our lunch in a very special place – the Siikapirtti house, right by the Siikakoski rapid where the 7-Rapid Route of Konnevesi starts. Our caterer Ilonen Hauki is an exceptional company. They don’t have their own kitchen! They offer food experiences close to nature, in the wilderness, of wherever you invite them. I have tasted their catering earlier, so it wasn’t a surprise for me that it was delicious. The mushroom soup was something no one can resist. They managed to surprise me with a small detail in the main dish though – when I opened the paper bundle, there was both meat and fish in the same portion, but combined in such a way that they worked together just fine!
In the afternoon the local entrepreneur Heikki Paakki took us ice fishing. We went to the Biological Research Station of University of Jyväskylä. It is situated just on the opposite of Siikapirtti and we could have walked there, but there was a special ride for us – a four-place covered sledge pulled by a snowmobile. For those who are not used to the Finnish cold weather or aren’t particularly outdoor enthusiasts Heikki had an ice fishing cabin on the ice. You can drill your fishing hole on the floor of the cabin and fish from inside. Two people can easily accommodate in the cabin even overnight. We didn’t catch any fish but the experience was fun as it is.
We took a short walk and returned to Siikapirtti by feet. Ilonen Hauki was waiting for us in the fireplace room with warm drinks. Local innovation company Jukola Industries gave a short presentation about the inspiration they get from Finnish nature to develop their exceptional wood panel products.
After dark we took off to Rautalampi where the place of interest was Rämäkkä Holidays. For a second year in a row Rämäkkä, an old ski resort seeking new dimensions, is the arena of Riders Cup – a downhill skating competition, part of the world cup. If Riders Cup of downhill skating don’t sound familiar, you’ve probably heard at least of Red Bull Crashed Ice. Since Rautalampi is the Finnish mecca of downhill skating, it wasn’t hard to find a local skater crazy enough to show us the track and do a demonstration on the slope in the dark of night with only a headlamp lighting his way down the Rämäkkä mount.
When we satisfied our curiosity and hunger for extremeness, it was another hunger we had to satisfy before we head home after the long day. The restaurant of Rämäkkä Holidays served us their famous salmon salad. It had nothing to do with a salad – it was a full dinner portion and it looked and tasted much better than the bare name reveals.
The second day of The Tree Story adventure was waiting for us. We started from the border between Rautalampi and Suonenjoki, where Matin Puupaja (in English “Matti’s wood workshop”) is situated. It is actually not just a workshop. It is the home of Matti Pakarinen and his family – wife and three daughters. They also have a farm with so many horses and hunting dogs that I couldn’t even manage to count. We only had a few hours, but this is a place you can spend a day or two at. The horse sledge ride was comfortable and calming – an activity that fits everyone. You can just surrender to the Finnish winter view and the soft sound of the sledge bells.
We saved the extremeness for later, when Matti took us for a parachute flight over the frozen Iisvesi lake. The parachute pulled by a snowmobile or an ATV takes you to an over 100m height, where you can enjoy the silence and count the islands beneath you. As an activity parasailing sounds really extreme, but actually it is not the same if you get pulled by an ATV or jump off a plane hoping for your parachute to open up. Besides, on the frozen lake there are no obstacles, so even a hard landing is not so hard.
Later Matti showed is some winter net fishing. Well, that’s the real deal, I should say. If you count on getting your lunch by hole winter fishing – with just one spot and one rod, you might actually starve. But as Matti pulled the nets out of the icy water, fish after fish after fish appeared. There is something very primitive about the feeling one gets when realizing that there is a catch. When you keep the nets in your hands and you feel the fish pulling on the other side – this doesn’t need to be your net or your future lunch, but you still feel the joy of being in power.
We actually had lunch with the fish, but not exactly the fish we just pulled out of the lake. Matti explained that for a better result you have to keep it in the fridge overnight and then fry it. This only means that the catch that came from these same nets the day before was as big as the one we got.
The lunch in the family house was not a five-star restaurant one, but an authentic experience of a Finnish family living the Finnish countryside life. The overall experience at Matin Puupaja made me think. Nowadays many of us think that food grows in the supermarket. Others are convinced that one can’t find a job and make a living unless living in the big city. But in Matti’s farm, in the middle of nowhere, the feeling of self-sufficiency and sustainability, and the simplicity of life that surrounded is proved these theories wrong.
We might have felt like the time has stopped, but it was actually running, so we had to run too. Our next stop was in the center of Rautalampi, just on the opposite of the famous church of Rautalampi, and next to the local museum. But we didn’t have time to explore history. We wanted to hear the story of Artteli Shop.
As you may judge by its name, it is a place of art, handicrafts and even flowers. The shop started as a place where local producers could sell their own handicraft works. Nowadays, unfortunately, you can only find a few pieces actually made in Rautalampi. But the shop still strongly features Finnish products and Finnish design. One exceptional thing about it is that it is an official Marimekko dealer. The famous Finnish Marimekko brand is usually not signing dealers in towns with under 20 000 inhabitants, but 6 years ago the keepers of Artteli Shop and other representatives of Rautalampi have actually been quite convincing, so the town with only about 3 000 inhabitants got its own Marimekko shop.
This only proves the uniqueness of Southern Konnevesi region – it is a rural, hideaway place, but it is also full of services. You can actually get anything you want here nearby, if you only know how to find it.
Our last outdoor stop was in the Southern Konnevesi National Park itself. Our host from the nature service company KalajaRetkeily had prepared for us several surprises. We took off from the parking place of Kalaja mount. We had about a kilometer to walk on the snowy path of the national park lit by candles until we reached the wooden shelter at Kalaja pond. On the way our guide Markku Utriainen told us interesting facts about Finnish forestry and the difference of forestry practices in the national park and on private land.
The real surprise was waiting for us on the frozen pond. Not that we were too tired from the short walk, but now we really had to sit down. Because Markku had sculpted for us a snow sofa with a snow table, and on the background were the rugged vertical cliffs of Kalaja mount. We enjoyed some warm berry juice and Finnish chocolate and collected power for the next physical activity – a headlamp snowshoe walk exploring the rocks and frozen waterfalls on the other side of the pond, inaccessible during the summer.
Until then I had only experienced the national park in summertime. This same place looked so different though, almost unrecognizable. And I should say, I even liked it more so – in the winter and in the dark. There is something calming and very romantic about the silence, about the way the wind spread little fire particles over the frozen pond, about the shining surface of the frozen rocks.
We also tried to sculpt something out of snow, but weren’t as successful as Markku – I admit. We found consolation in the pancakes our guide prepared for us at the shelter, filled with delicious local yellow raspberry jam from Ropola farm. It is totally my favorite, and every time I work on a program with Markku, I ask for this specific jam. I love raspberries in general, but this rare yellow raspberry takes the taste to a really different level.
On the way back to the parking place the moon showed itself from behind the clouds for a few minutes and lit our way. The moment was perfect.
Our last stop was Hiekkaharjun kartano in Konnevesi. The garden of the country house was full of lights, and the old wooden building was so inviting. We took some tea in the vintage atmosphere of the house and in the silence we remembered the best moments of our two-day adventure.
The real deal
I just got used to the role of a tourist and I had to switch again. The real FAM trip day came so fast, I barely managed to read the test group’s feedback through. While the content of the tour was wonderful, the schedule needed some serious changes, so after two and a half days we successfully make it to Kuopio airport and continue our trip to Matka travel fair together with the delegation. In fact, this adventure is meant to last at least a week if offered to real customers in a real vacation situation.
On Sunday, Jan 15, I was the one to welcome our guests on Jyväskylä airport, together with our guide Mikko Lemmetti. I have been communicating with these people for months, but when I met them, I was so nervous that I forgot all I meant to say. The silence in the bus on the way to Äänekoski was very uncomfortable. Luckily, when the program started rolling, we broke the ice quite fast.
The dinner with the delegation and local entrepreneurs at Hiekkaharjun kartano was actually so lovely, that when I left at 23h according to my plan, I actually would have wanted to stay and talk with the group more.
We had very funny moments together that we will all remember forever. On Jan 16 I had the most special birthday, even though I didn’t share with anybody that I actually celebrate on that day. I even got interviewed by Finnish national radio about that trip exactly on my birthday, and this was quite a shocking and stressful situation for me as it wasn’t planned.
With the group we danced and sang karaoke together. We fed the rescue mussels at Konnevesi’s Research Station together. We laughed a lot. I really hope to see these guys again here in Konnevesi and the region, because otherwise I would miss them a lot.
For our region this tour, organized by Nature tourism coordination project of Rautalampi and Konnevesi, Intriguing landscape project and Rural tourism project of Äänekoski, was very important step forward. We proved not only to the international tour operators, but actually to ourselves, that we have something to offer, and that if we work together, we can really offer an unforgettable experience. The Tree Story continues.
Check out the photos from last weekend’s Riders Cup
Find out what you can do in Southern Konnevesi next summer