helsinki-vol-24

This article appears in Volume 24: The Slow Issue

To understand Helsinki all you really need to do is walk. The city is compact enough to get to grips with in just a few hours. It has a perfectly balanced clash of architecture – Functionalist masterpieces pop up beside industrial waterside districts, cobbled streets, Art Nouveau public spaces and blossoming parks. Cutting-edge fashion, music, art and food play a part in everyday life, yet the promise of nature at every turn gives the city a soothing, slow-paced quality. Stroll for long enough and you’ll likely end up at the water’s edge where boats sail by, sunbathers lie in the sand and locals fill the decks of the Löyly public sauna.


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While the rest of Europe is frantically catching on to the notion of seasonal, local eating, this kind of culinary decision-making is nothing new in Finland and Helsinki’s chefs take full advantage of the produce that surrounds them. Inventive modern Scandinavian dishes come on hand-thrown plates at Chapter. At Andrea Finnish dishes are spiked with Middle-Eastern flavours and served in an elegant space of soft grey walls. We eat plates of fresh pasta, tartar and sweetbreads at cool, candlelit BasBas, before heading to Sta Wine Bar next door for biodynamic reds and amber-coloured wine. Fuelled by the evening sun (nothing to do with the wine) we cross over to Siltanen, a sprawling warehouse bar in the vibrant, hipsterfied district of Kallio.

The next day, after tracing the cobbled streets of the Design District with its independent bookshops, galleries and showrooms, we hop on a ferry to Lonna. This small island in Helsinki’s archipelago is home to a summertime-only restaurant that serves cocktails with hand-picked herbs and seasonal Finnish dishes. “We cook things we can find ourselves,” our waitress explains as she fills our glasses. “Things taste best when you know where they come from.” Before dinner we brave the achingly hot public sauna where locals crank up the heat before sipping beers on the deck overlooking the sea. Woozy from the sauna (this time, definitely something to do with the wine), we ride the last boat home in the low evening sun and head back to the hotel for the sleep of our lives.

On our last morning in Finland we meet Anniina Peltonen, a guide from Helsinki Wildfoods. We cross a bridge to Seurasaari, a wild, overgrown island minutes from the town centre, and follow Anniina through the herb-rich forest that opens up to shore meadows as she fills a basket with wildflowers, talking us through the medicinal benefits of maple leaves, dandelions, sorrel, redcurrants and wild roses. Plucking a few from each patch, Anniina explains the importance of leaving enough for everyone. “The basic rule is you leave nature as if you’ve never been there,” she explains. “People used to get together to drink and party. Now they go on hikes, forage and pick their own food. Learning about the nature around you makes you value the world and want to keep it safe.”

TO STAY

Hotel St. George

This majestic new opening is situated in the heart of the city right beside the leafy Old Church Park. Combining luxury accommodation with holistic wellbeing, it houses 148 pastel- and-gold-hued bedrooms, five home-from-home suites, treatment rooms, a sauna (of course), its very own bakery and our beloved Andrea restaurant – which happens to do the best Bloody Mary in the city.

TO EAT

Café Ekberg

Regulars read newspapers and nibble pastel-coloured cakes at Finland’s oldest bakery, situated on the romantic Bulevardi. Pull up a chair outside in the shade of the trees and watch the trams pass by as you tuck into a famous sugar-dusted cinnamon roll.

Chapter

With ingredients foraged from local farmers and the surrounding landscape, this greenery-drenched restaurant celebrates new Nordic cooking in all its colourful glory. Dishes like sweet malt bread, pike perch and Arctic char with fennel are served alongside cocktails made with foraged herbs and flowers, homemade vinegars, mushrooms and berries.

Baskeri & Basso Bistro

Don’t miss dinner at this locally adored restaurant. Candlelight, stripped-back walls, chalkboards and towering racks of wine bottles give this place its deliciously warm atmosphere, while the organic wines, deceptively simple small plates and glass- filling sta make it almost impossible to leave.

DRINK + DANCE

Vin Vin

Drop in to this terracotta-tiled den in the heart of Kallio for a lovingly curated list of natural wines. If you feel like bedding in for the evening the food menu is just as brilliant – think Baltic herring and roe, cauliflower ravioli and mussels with serrano ham washed down with sparkling reds and cloudy whites.

Onda

We’ve been told the food at this warehouse bar/restaurant is excellent, but our evening involves vinyl records, a packed dance floor and plenty of local beer. After a few drinks in the candlelit sofa area head across the courtyard to Siltanen, a hipster-heavy club with international DJs and “Superdisko” nights.

TO SHOP

MOKO

Take home a slice of kalsarikännit (the Finnish answer to hygge) at this sprawling homeware shop run by two sisters. Along with an in-house roastery and café you’ll find everything from hand- woven baskets and linens to pottery, cookbooks and furniture. You will almost certainly leave with a candle.

LOKAL

You’ll find this award-winning shop/concept store in the heart of the Design District. It’s a dreamy, meditative space of bleached wood and gallons of natural light, celebrating contemporary Finnish craft with rolling collections from local designers and artists. “Finnish design is always inspired by the natural landscape,” according to owner Katja Hagelstam.

Hotel St George

Café Ekberg

Chapter

Baskeri & Basso Bistro

Vin-Vin

ONDA

MOKO

LOKAL

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