I lay around the forest floor, staring at the early night's sky through a gap in tall, thin pine trees. Beneath, I possibly could feel the undulations of tree roots one of the soft pockets of grass and reeds, the forest's arteries pulsating in a rhythmic, soothing manner. I relaxed my head into nature's pillow and considered nothing and everything, simultaneously present and distant. I desired the silence to pass through, for the meditation to carry on indefinitely, in which to stay this moment.
I had arrived Twenty four hours earlier in Finland's Lakeland region, vast bodies water flanked by mystical forestland and a large number of islands, the merchandise of the Ice Age, unsure about well-being practices like 'Forest Meditation'. Though I understood the healing role of nature, like a hardened city-dweller with British sensibilities, I'd underestimated its power. I'd also never been much of a 'sauna guy', and for Finns, saunas are something of a religion. In the end, I would swim at night in near-freezing temperatures, sit happily inside a 75-degree sauna while flagellating myself with eucalyptus leaves, and then leave espousing the Finnish life-style.
The region's Lake Saimaa is Europe's fourth-largest lake. Home to the endangered ringed seal, the water is so pure in some parts that you could drink it. A summer retreat or perhaps a winter paradise, Lake Saimaa has all bases covered for reconnecting with nature, an important outlet for Finns dating back to centuries, when doctors even prescribed time among the protected woodland for illnesses.
Our first stop was Halla Resort, about a three-hour drive from Helsinki airport in eastern Finland. Immersed in its landscape so as not to detract from it, the wooden, Scandinavian-designed lakeside villas were breathtaking, offering calming views throughout its glass vista from the water mere metres away. Well suited for getaways or even business meetings, each villa has its own sauna, which we frequented after dinner armed with “sauna beverages”, according to tradition. Our pontoon snaked its method to the water, gently guiding guests for a swim, an elusive temptation for now.
Rising early to soak up the views, we going to the city of Savonlinna. There, we met Captain Janne Leinonen, who recently restored the posh steamship Paul Wahl, an attractive bit of craftsmanship a lot more than 100 years old. Private cruises tell you the summer and remained as obtainable in November (by January, temperatures plummet well below zero), along with the chance to remain on the boat when moored. A brief journey away was the earth's northernmost medieval castle, Olavinlinna, charting Finland's occupation by Russia and Sweden and carrying around the opera during warmer months.
Peckish, we dipped into nearby Hotel Saima, run by Finnish-British couple Johanna and David Taylor, for a soothing bowl of salmon soup and something of numerous baked goods on display. The listed building blends that old with the new, preserving its wooden beams in certain of its six unique bedrooms while incorporating beautiful features for example converted sewing machines, now serving as dressing tables.
Onwards to Hotel Punkaharju, the oldest hotel in Finland. Restored by former model Saimi Hoyer, your building is embedded among the pine trees from the Punkaharju ridge, standing proudly over Lake Saimaa. No two bedrooms are identical, yet its refurbishment has stayed true to its steeped history (your accommodation goes back to the 1840s).
As daylight faded, we ventured out for Forest Meditation, each selecting a tree where to stretch and, for those who desired to, hug before taking towards the forest floor. After nearly an hour or so in the cool night air, we headed for Yoga Sauna, leaving less harsh than we had entered the 50-degree heat.
The following morning we drove to J”arvisyd”an, a resort filled with nature-based pursuits that change with the seasons and an impressive, sprawling spa. Ideas went Fat Bike riding, the battery-powered booster system causing you to feel like a Cycling God while you navigate the wild woodland terrain effortlessly. A peruse from the two-floored spa, fit with saunas, salt rooms and pools, led me to my first cold water excursion, dipping in to the outdoor lake pool. But if nobody hears you scream, did you ever really cold water swim?
A sound bathing session followed a tasty lunch of foraged mushroom risotto with salted cranberries and spruce needles in the impressive Kuru resort, an adults-only retreat with stunning, compact villas that lean within the hill's edge, camouflaged by green roofs. Sound bathing – one of many treatments available – is essential; an hour of sheer bliss, stimulated by gongs and other sounds that transport you out of trouble of your visit somewhere better.
After our final dinner at Tertti Manor, a secluded retreat well suited for couples, we went to Kyyhkyl”a Wellbeing Resort & Spa. Equipped with more sauna beverages, we headed for one further lakeside sauna, this time around in 75-degree heat. I approached the lake while trying to cool off and allowed my body system to sink into water. This time, witnesses heard my screams.
As with much of the planet, the Lakelands are not protected against the effects of global warming. The winter ice is no longer as deep, the summer heat warmer. I left Lake Saimaa feeling humanity would prosper to show a little bit of Finnish reverence – even deference – for nature. So do be sure you visit this excellent, hidden gem, but treat it kindly