Kvarken Archipelago offers a unique group experienceFinland is unlike any other country in the world. It is bigger in land area than the UK, has a fraction of the population, boasts more named lakes than any other country and the major part of its land is covered in forest.
It is a very relaxing change for people from most other countries to be able to sail along its coastline or drive along its highways with only an occasional sight of another boat or car.
But Finland is a highly developed country. Symbolic, perhaps, is the fact that a very tiny town, called Nokia, was the scene for the rapid progress made by mobile phones. The Nokia company, beginning with the manufacture of rubber boots, grew to become a world leader in telecommunications.
Finns have a high standard of living, of hygiene and comfort – but they are never far away from nature. Most families have access to a summer house, always beside water, be it the sea, a lake or a river, as it is essential to swim after the typical Finnish sauna.
It would therefore be of great fascination for any group, either delegates to a conference or winners of incentive awards, to experience Finland with the guidance of local people.
There are many aspects of Finland to explore. Finland is Nordic, but not really Scandinavian. Although a tiny nation, they are a diverse people. The majority speak Finnish, a language that is still an enigma from the point of view of its origin as it is certainly not European, but more likely Asiatic.
A very large minority of the people are Swedish-speaking. And, of course, the northern Sami peoples, more popularly known as Lapps, are completely different in terms of culture, language and way of life.
The influence of TV programmes has produced a very wide working knowledge of English, so in some instances foreign visitors can be better understood than locals from another town! For a group to appreciate Finland to the best advantage, it would be wise to have an objective in sight, taking in the local culture and customs en route.
ITCM has just visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Finland that would be a fascinating destination for an expedition. It is the Kvarken Archipelago, on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, just across the water from Sweden.
Not only is Kvarken now on the global map through UNESCO, but it also has another important claim to fame. It is the area on the planet that is rising most rapidly from the sea, in spite of global warming. Believe it or not, but the land there is still recovering from the effect of being pushed down a depth of 1km by the gigantic weight of the ice during the Ice Age more than 2m years ago. Over the past 20,000 years, however, the sea has been receding as the islands rise by several millimetres a year and it has been calculated that the land area of the Kvarken Archipelago is extending by 1sqkm per annum. This effect is known scientifically as ‘isostatic rebound’.
This whole region offers unique landscapes, because it is littered with granite boulders of all sizes that were crushed from the mountains and rolled around by the force of the glaciers. It is also an interesting region because the sea in the Gulf of Bothnia is not salty and supports freshwater marine life. It teems with pike and perch, making fishing easy and rewarding. And the Finns have perfected the art of cooking the fish within minutes of bringing it ashore. It is delicious.
Everything is there for groups to enjoy a different kind of healthy experience. There are nature tails, canoeing, bird watching, sailing, rowing and berry picking. Wild blueberries and lingonberries grow in profusion.
The nearest town of any size is Vaasa (Vasa in Swedish). Less than half an hour’s drive from Replot on a new road and over a new bridge, Vaasa/Vasa is a clean-cut municipality with modern hotels, good shopping and restaurants offering a growing variety of international cuisines. English is now widely understood there.
Vaasa is easily accessible from all areas of Europe, as it has an airport with links to Helsinki and Stockholm. There is also a fast train service from Helsinki.
Finnair can book passengers and their luggage straight through to Vaasa from its very widespread network, including all parts of Europe and the Far East. The airline is known as a rapid means of flying to the Far East via its north polar route.
For full details of tourist facilities of all kinds in Kvarken, visit www.kvarkenworldheritage.fi.