What is it? A summer trip to Finland

Where? Tampere, Turku and Naantali, Finland, three towns that physically are only a short flight away from the UK – but feel light years away.

Description: [Moomin_with_Tilly.jpg]Finland is all it’s cracked up to be – and more. Wendy Sloane took daughter Tilly to visit this Nordic land, where they swam in a lake, tasted some reindeer and met the Moomins, the delightful stars of Tove Janssen’s series of children’s tales

To visit old friends, partake in several child-friendly activities, and breathe some fresh air.

Learn more about Tampere at www.tampere.fi/matkailu. Make sure you see Särkänniemi Amusement Park, www.sarkanniemi.fi, while you’re there.Turku’s Luostarimäki Handicraft Museum is a must-see, as is the Little Knights’ Tour in Turku Castle, maakuntamuseo@turku.fi. Naantali , just 20 minutes away, is breath-taking. Visit www.naantalinmatkailu.fi. Moominworld is great for younger children – visit www.muumumaailma.fi. To purchase tickets in advance see www.lippupalvelu.fi. To learn more about Turku see www.turku.fi and for more information about holidays to Finland in general, visit www.visitfinland.com/uk

Finland is well-known for its nightlife, especially in summer, when the sun often doesn’t set until after midnight. Tilly and I went to a restaurant in central Turku that was packed with kids even after 11pm. And many eateries have kids’ play-areas, not to mention kid’s menus and very child-friendly staff.

Most hotels can help with childcare provisions.

Sauna culture is alive and well in Finland, where you can swim in an ice-cold lake or have a roll in the snow in between ten-minute sauna sessions to get your circulation going. Check with your hotel – almost all have saunas.

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: That Tilly would get spectacularly car-sick on the coach, the plane, and in my friend’s brand new car (it was just three days old with that nauseating new-car smell – thank God I had a plastic carrier bag with me). Next time I’ll ply her with car-sickness medicine!

Our top tip: Don’t be afraid to strip down and bare all in the sauna. The enormous one at the Caribia waterpark supplies square pieces of paper to sit on so you can protect your bits from the communal benches. Finns aren’t shy, and if you are you’ll miss out as swimming costumes are absolutely forbidden in saunas. And be adventurous with the food!

Kids say: “The raft ride at the waterpark was the best!” says Tilly.

Getting There: Ryanair fares to Tampere start from L10 one way plus taxes and service charge. Surf the Ryanair site www.ryanair.co.uk and book well in advance or when offers are on. There is a connecting coach to Helsinki from every Tampere flight. The journey time is approx. two hours and a one-way fare is 25 Euros. Departure from Helsinki to Tampere is from the railway station, and a shuttle bus service from Tampere airport to the city centre costs six euros. You can hire a car through Ryanair in cooperation with Hertz. Weekend packages Thu-Sun from L103.79– Nissan Micra 1.0 or similar.

About our stay: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer isn’t just for Christmas anymore. Sauteed with onions or fried in a delicate creamy sauce, Rudolph tastes great all year round, as my daughter Tilly and I discovered during a recent trip to Finland. Actually, Tilly, who just turned five, was reluctant to try my plate of reindeer, preferring to hear about him romping in the snow with Father Christmas than to see him cut up into tiny pieces on her dinner plate. She also preferred to forego the blood sausage, a well-cooked breakfast staple at our hotel in Tampere, where it is considered a local delicacy served with fresh lingonberries. Food aside, Tilly had a fantastic time in Finland, where we spent five days in kiddie heaven. I had spent a year in Tampere, an industrial town in central Finland, when I was 16-year-old schoolgirl on an exchange programme. Most of my time I sulked in my bedroom desperately missing my friends at home, whom I later learned had promptly forgotten all about me three days after my departure. I soon found that returning as an adult was a lot different – and a lot more fun. [Handicraft_museum.jpg] Tilly and I began our trip visiting old friends who live just a five-minute walk from a lake with a sandy beach – not so unusual when you consider that Tampere is located on a patch of land between two big lakes. Promptly stripping down to her pants, Tilly spent an hour splashing in the clear water, building sand castles and chasing ducks. She reluctantly got dressed only when I bribed her with the prospect of walking my friend’s dog in the surrounding forest, which she adored. The next morning we drove to the coastal town of Turku, Finland’s fifth largest city. While the sea is lovely, it’s absolutely freezing for most of the year – so we went to Caribia Spa, a Jamaican-style waterpark replete with waterslides, whirpools, indoor waterfalls and the obligatory sauna. “I don’t ever want to leave,” said Tilly, although the sauna wasn’t quite to her taste. I tempted her out with a plate of chicken nuggets from Hesburger, a local chain that gives McDonald’s a run for its money (fresh salmon burgers and prawn salads a speciality). Turku is not the most beautiful of cities, but it does have a lot to do. After visiting the market (great for buying summer strawberries and peas) in the Central Square and the Luostarimäki Handicraft Museum (Tilly loved the dusty wigs and antiquated fire engine), we dropped by Turku Castle, where a medieval fair was taking place. Tilly got to do some pretend jousting and sword fighting, and for a few brief minutes she was allowed to wear a silver helmet and pretend to be a real knight. [Riding_a_horse.jpg] But the highlight of the entire trip was Moominworld, the theme park devoted to the sweet-faced Moomin characters devised by Finnish writer Tove Janssen. Nestled in the gorgeous island town of Naantali, a 20-minute bus ride from Turku, the park lies on coastal banks and the views are incredible. I had been priming Tilly with Moomintroll stories at home, and she loved the Moomins before we even got to the park. I think, however, that Moominworld was a bit too tame for her taste – although she loved seeing the life-sized Moomins dancing and enjoyed going through a very complicated Alice-in-Wonderland maze, the lack of rides was disappointing. Back in Tampere, we went on a delightful Silverline lunch cruise before spending an afternoon at the Särkänniemi Amusement Park – which I must admit I enjoyed more than Moominworld myself Along with the usual rides for both older and younger children, it has a 120-metre high observation tower, Nasineula, perched on the rocks adjacent to the Nasijärvi lake, and a dolphinarium, where trained dolphins perform all sorts of tricks for treats. Tilly was enchanted, I found it a bit sad. Sadder, still, was when we left green, clean Finland to return to dirty old London. The air seemed filthy and everything appeared crowded and congested after almost a week up North in Nordic heaven. There’s always next time… (Wendy Sloane is the Travel Editor of entertainthekids.com, has three children and lives in London with her husband, Duncan)

Created: 2007-08-17 15:26:52.210

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