My daughter’s cheeks had never looked quite so rosy. But then again, never before had she tried out a sauna. In Britain, six year olds aren’t encouraged to do such things. In Finland, where there’s one sauna for every three people, it’s a different story?.
We had never thought about coming to Finland before, and (shame on us for our lack of knowledge) hadn’t actually heard of Tampere, the country’s third largest city.
It’s actually less than two and a half hours away by plane (we flew Ryanair from Stansted), and with 200,000 inhabitants, isn’t exactly off the beaten track.
Keen to move away from being seen as a location for either a city break (Helsinki) or jolly Lapland adventure, the Finns are currently promoting Tampere as the perfect destination for an all-year round holiday. We arrived in winter to be greeted by a beautiful blanket of snow on the ground, but in the summer it’s hot, very green and perfect for outdoor excursions.
The city is small, pretty and easily walkable, with an array of beautiful churches, good museums and a selection of tempting shops (less tempting at present because of the pound’s disastrous slump against the euro).
Shopping options include a charming Christmas market and, nearby in Lempaala, the Ideapark, with more than 100 stores and a great children’s activity centre where you can leave the kids and shop to your heart’s content.
There is also a fine choice of restaurants (we particularly enjoyed a Viking restaurant, the Harald) and the woods are just a short drive away. There are also 3,000 lakes in the Tampere region, with 200 of them inside the city limits. This makes for some truly stunning scenery, which may be even better viewed in the summer: the December days are short and not particularly bright.
Our trip was packed with activities which would appeal to families – and that included two trips to a sauna. One was in the middle of the woods, at Villa Amanda, around an hour away from the city centre. It is a beautiful, traditional Finnish cottage, situated on a lake - half-iced over when we arrived – and easily suitable for a couple of families to rent between them.
We drank mulled wine on the veranda and marvelled at the views before trying out the villa’s personal sauna, which my daughter adored and had to be dragged away from.
The kids also baked proper Finnish gingerbread in the kitchen, and Santa even dropped by (he must have been on an early reccie of the area).
Tampere and its surroundings abound with cottages (many not quite as upmarket as Villa Amanda) and lodges, and I quite hanker after a stay in one of these for a week or so one summer.
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my winter break. For one thing, it was a joy to be somewhere where everything was close by, and the air so fresh.
The weather wasn’t nearly as cold as I thought it was going to be (pity my child who was really rather hot in her thermal layers) and walking was a real pleasure. It just felt so much healthier than at home.
We also enjoyed the many places we visited, particularly Vakoilumuseo, the world’s first Spy museum and also a little stone museum which had a good range of fossils, including dinosaur eggs, teeth and excrement (very appealing to the kids) on show.
The Spy museum was particularly good fun as it had a wealth of interactive exhibits, including a voice changer and invisible ink to try out. I would, however, point out, that almost everywhere we went offered information in Finnish only, which was a bit of a drawback.
But in terms of family attractions, probably the best place we visited was the Sarkanniemi Adventure Park, which has just been voted the top sight-seeing and leisure-centre destination in the country. First we dropped by the dolphinarium where two beautiful dolphins, Leevi and Nasi (and their trainers) put on a terrific show.
It had us all wide-eyed, and the excitement continued with a ride on a carousel and a quick journey through the aquarium. The adventure park also offers a planetarium, 34 rides in its amusement park (which is open only in the summer), an art museum and children’s zoo.
And for the more sophisticated, it also boasts the Nasinneula observation tower. This is the symbol of Tampere, which offers fabulous panoramic views, and a marvellous restaurant (124 metres up).
This is known to be the best eaterie in the area, and although that might have been wasted on the kids, it certainly wasn’t on the adults. And the kids definitely liked the fact that the restaurant revolved as we ate – a full cycle took 45 minutes.
All in all, we had a terrific time, and are sold on Tampere as a thoroughly enjoyable holiday destination, especially if you like the outdoors. We only wish we’d had more time in the open air.