Travel Diary: A week in North Karelia

Visiting Koli in North Karelia

We spent an amazing week in August exploring Finland’s North Karelia. Although the weather was pretty rainy it didn’t dampen the mood (pun intended). I just never seem to get enough of Koli’s awe-inspiring landscapes. Each time the views move me and – yes, I know, this is going to sound like a cliché – but they really touch my soul. Our week was of course more than just gawking at views. We did a lot of hiking all around Koli National Park but also ventured to other parts of North Karelia. We also made sure to have some time to just take it easy, hit the sauna and eat well. Here’s a quick post about our week in North Karelia!

Quick Detour to Valamo Monastery

Visiting Valamo Monastery

Photo: Valamo Monastery was peaceful and the monastery wine was really good.

On Saturday the 10th of August we packed all our stuff – and the dog’s stuff too – into the car and headed towards Koli in North Karelia. Koli is located some 500 kilometres northeast from Helsinki. It’s a pretty long drive, but there’s a lot to see along the way – in other words some excellent opportunities for sightseeing.

If you ask me, Koli is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we’re super privileged to be able to use my boyfriend’s relatives’ cabin in Koli every now and then. I’ll be writing more blog posts about Koli as soon as I get the chance, stay tuned (and in case you haven’t read it already make sure to check out my blog post about which season to visit Koli here).

I’ve never had the opportunity to stay for more than just a few days before, so there hadn’t been time for any sightseeing stops along the way during our previous visits. This time we were heading to Koli for a whole week and finally had the chance to hit one of the most famous places along the way, Valamo Monastery.

No Dog Zone

Beautiful sunset in Koli in North Karelia

Photo: At least Bradley isn’t banned at the cabin so we got to watch a beautiful sunset together. This is one of his favourite spots.

We arrived at Valamo only to find out dogs aren’t welcome. This was so annoying since I even e-mailed and asked in advance to make sure we would be able to visit the place with our dog. I was pretty disappointed, but oh, well, there must have been some misunderstanding.

Obviously we couldn’t leave the dog in the car to wait so our family excursion turned into a solo speed-tour for me whilst the boys waited at the parking lot. The monastery was beautiful, quiet and peaceful.

I brought some beer from the monastery brewery and some monastery wine and we continued to Koli.

Farm Life and Vegetarian Delights

Visiting Koli in North Karelia

Photo: Got to see this cute cow and its friends in Koli.

Our first day in Koli was spent exploring the surroundings. We checked out the beach (no swimming since it was pretty cold) and then drove past a farm. I’ve become such a city girl that I was beyond excited to see cows: especially the small ones, they were so cute! It reminded me of our place outside of Waterloo in Belgium where I lived growing up: farm animals everywhere.

We stopped by a summer café called Mandala Café at Kolin Keidas, a cosy B&B within walking distance from Ukko-Koli and Koli centre. They have a wonderful vegetarian lunch with delicious soup, homemade bread and salad.

Visiting Koli in North Karelia

Photo: Cafe Mandala at Kolin Keidas is a must for anyone who loves a great soup lunch. Cafe Mandala is open during summer months.

Adventure to the Easternmost Point

Visiting Finland's easternmost point

Photo: So close to Russia you can almost touch it. This is where Finlands meets Russia.

As Monday was a very rainy day (so hiking was not an option), we decided to make the most of it by doing something different. We headed towards Finland’s easternmost point that’s also the European Union’s easternmost point on mainland.

This was a great adventure and an interesting experience since I’ve never been so far east in Finland. I’ve always heard about the war from grandparents who experienced it and fought in the war, read about it in history books etc. But I had never actually been to the places where the actual war took place. It felt important to see the region where for example my grandfather fought to retain Finland’s independence.

Experiencing the Finnish wilderness was also exciting. Driving towards the easternmost point we got to see kilometre upon kilometre of untouched nature, swamps, lakes and forests. I’ll be writing a blog post about the easternmost point soon, stay tuned!

North Karelia’s Largest City

Visiting Joensuu

Photo: Joensuu from Ilosaari island.

Another first for me was visiting Joensuu, North Karelia’s largest city. I ran a few errands (like getting the camera I broke earlier on this trip fixed), but also had time to see the city. The pouring rain slowed the exploring down a bit, but it didn’t stop me from visiting the market in Joensuu centre. If you ever visit, make sure you try Karelian pie bought from the market. It was so good I didn’t even have the chance to take a picture before I’d already consumed them!

Hiking and Outdoors Fun

Hiking Mäkrävaara in Koli National Park

Photo: This spot with the iconic crooked pine tree has been portrayed in many pictures.

There are over 80 kilometres of hiking trails in Koli National Park. And that’s just the National Park – if you count the rest of Koli that number is even higher.

Visiting Koli and not hiking would be like visiting… I don’t know, say, Rome and not seeing the Colosseum. As long as you’re physically able to walk, I highly recommend hiking in Koli. There’s something for everyone – short trails, long trails, demanding trails, easy trails and so on.

Although the weather wasn’t the best during our week in Koli we did have the chance to do a lot of hiking. As Bradley fell pretty ill recently and we’re taking life day by day now, I’m extra happy we were able to spend lots of quality time together, both at the cabin just relaxing and on the hiking trails. He loves to hike and dogs are welcome on the trails (as long as they’re on a leash) so we had a lot of outdoors fun together.

We tried some new routes as well as the classics and personal favourites.

Visiting Relatives

My boyfriend’s family is originally from North Karelia. In addition to the cabin, they still have their old family home located at a short distance from Koli in Egyptinkorpi.

I had the chance to meet some of my boyfriend’s relatives and see the beautiful hundred-year-old house for myself.

I’ve lived in several countries, but whilst living in Finland I’ve always lived in the capital region. It’s always interesting to experience a different kind of Finland, one where distances are long and having a supermarket at walking distance isn’t something you take for granted. And who wouldn’t find stories about wolverines hanging around in front of the house or tales about bear cubs on the road exciting?

Best Views

Beautiful views from Paha-Koli in Koli National Park

Photo: The views from Paha-Koli are unbelievable! But watch out near the edge: it’s super steep.

Koli is all about those breathtaking landscapes that have even inspired several of Finland’s most famous artists. Every time I visit Koli, admiring the beautiful views is a must. This week was no exception: I hit all of my favourites at least once.

The best views in my opinion are from Mäkrävaara as well as the classics Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli. In addition to this we also have our own private viewing spot by the cabin, which is just amazing especially for sunsets!

Healthy and Active Week

Sheets from Koli

Photo: Loving our new sheets! And yes, I sleep with a stuffed unicorn.

Although I did have trouble achieving a fully relaxed state of mind (sometimes you just can’t seem to switch off your worries) the week allowed for some much-needed self-love. Spending time outdoors, breathing super clean air, enjoying sauna and family time, doing yoga and exploring new places definitely did me good.

I’m looking forward to seeing Koli again! But before that happens, I brought myself a little souvenir to go with the lovely coffee mugs my boyfriend’s mum gave us – a set of sheets with a beautiful Koli motive picturing one of my favourite landscapes in Koli. Do you recognise the spot? Hint: there’s a picture of it in this very blog post if you scroll up a bit.


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