Finland is famous for its forests and lakes, and Finns love to enjoy their natural treasures by taking staycations. Finns also value their privacy, so they wouldn’t dream of spending their summer holidays in a hotel or B&B. Instead, they have a big summer cabin culture. There are around half a million summer cabins (“mökki” in Finnish) in Finland and almost all Finns visit one at least once a year. The mökki-boom started around the middle of the last century, when it became fashionable to own a small summer house somewhere remote by a lake or the sea. Not only wealthy families, but virtually everyone who could get their hands on a piece of land somewhere built one and spent many weekends and summer holidays in perfect peace out in the Finnish forests.
Up until today it is a big dream of many Finns to own a cabin somewhere nice and quiet. Many families still own a cabin, but there are also lots available for rent for those who don’t. Nowadays, they come in all shapes and sizes: From the very basic cabins without electricity and running water to mansion-like houses with several terraces and saunas. But there are a few things that they all have in common: No self-respecting Finn would build a cabin without sauna and fireplace, and a spot to chop and store wood. And if it is right by a lake or the sea, there will be a pier and a boat. A typical day at the cabin may include rowing on the water, picking berries, chopping wood, definitely having a sauna, and fixing and cleaning numerous things around the cabin. I have heard people refer to cabin holidays as a work camp.
Of course with so many cabins in the country, there are hardly any really remote cabins anymore. If you’re lucky, you have a small island to yourself, but can see a handful of other cabins on the lake shore. But there are also whole cabin villages that stretch far inland, with a walk of several hundred metres to the shore (unbelieveable!). But most of the time it is still easy to have your privacy. Not everyone is visiting their cabins at the same time – apart from the Midsummer weekend, when cities turn into ghost towns and everyone is heading to the countryside – and Finns are by nature a rather quiet people, so they don’t tend to disturb each other’s peace.
This summer, we spent time in different cabins. One of them was a big, luxurious, rented property not too far from Helsinki. It came with a huge lake to explore, and we rowed out in the boat. We tried to conquer one of the small islands, but it turned out there was another cabin on it, so we hurried back to the boat before anyone could see our intruding. We also fought our way through the forest, which was rather difficult. For some years already, it has been tried to let Finland’s forests go back to their natural state by not interfering nor removing dead matter. So there’s thick undergrowth, and in many places impossible to get through. I was hoping for glimpses of moose or flying squirrel in this wilderness, but unsurprisingly enough we didn’t see any.
The other cabin was Mr Always Right’s family cabin, a small, very basic and charming cabin, which has been accessible by road for only about 15 years. It is right by the seashore and about as quiet as it could get. When we arrived, we first helped to bring in the fishing nets and clean, smoke and grill the fish that then were our lunch, dinner and breakfast. In the afternoon, we went into the forest to pick blueberries. It turns out this isn’t free, as I always thought, but you have to pay in blood. We wore long clothing and mosquito nets, but it wasn’t much help – the mosquitoes ate every inch of me that they could get hold of. After one hour we had picked half a bucket and fled the forest as fast as we could. We then paddled around the area in the small rowing boat that belongs to the cabin, inviting even more mosquitoes to the foreign all you can eat buffet.
Back at the cabin, Mr Always Right chopped some wood (there was plenty, but he wanted to chop anyway) and we started to warm up the sauna. While we waited for it to be hot, we could observe an arctic hare in front of the cabin. Unfortunately, it was a bit shy, so I only caught its running backside on camera. Between sauna sessions, we went to swim in the sea, which was rather cold.
Since there is no electricity or running water in the cabin, the only way to take a warm shower is after having a sauna: There is a large water tank on top of the sauna oven, in which water is heated up during the session. Afterwards, this water is taken and mixed with cold water from the sea, and you have a bucket shower. Unfortunately, when Mr Always Right tried to open the tap of the boiler, it instead came flying off at speed, boiling hot water came sputtering out, turning the floor of the sauna into scalding hot soup. We jumped out of the room and tried to place a bucket under the tap, to catch at least some of the hot water, which enabled us to have a lukewarm wash.
We then made a tactical retreat into the cabin: It was beautiful outside, with the sun slowly setting in warm colours, but unfortunately so thought the mosquitoes. I started to count my bites, which was impossible, but a good estimate would have been around 70. So we sat inside, staring at the beautiful colours outside, scratching like scabby dogs, trying to hunt down the lone mosquito that had made it to the inside.