Retreating to the countryside is about more than just taking a well-deserved holiday, it’s about maintaining work-life balance, tuning into nature, rest and restoration. Call it Nordic Zen.
“Finns go to the cottage to relax, sauna, swim, and spend quality time with relatives or friends,” says Lana Lavonen, a Russian-Finnish yoga instructor and Ayurveda consultant raised in Russia’s Petrozavodsk who moved to Finland 23 years ago when she was 18.
“Some go fishing and others go with friends to drink and have a good time, but mostly Finns want to get away from busy city life to relax,” she says.
Lavonen is just one of the many Finns who goes to their summer cottage for what is called “mökki elämä,” or cottage life. Her cottage is in Hämeenkoski, about 100 kilometres from Helsinki.
Country of a thousand cabins
According to Statistics Finland there are close to half a million official summer cottages in the country as of December 2012. The official statistic refers to traditional, basic cabins with a median size of about 40 square metres or less. As larger leisure homes don’t qualify, the actual number of cottages in Finland is likely much higher than 500,000 – double or triple that figure, at the very least.
Statistically speaking, the town of Mikkeli in Eastern Finland leads the way with the most summer cottages at 10, 241. It’s followed by Kuopio, Parainen, Lohja, Savonlinna, and Hämeenlinna (near Lavonen’s Hämeenkoski getaway), with 7, 774 cottages.
For Lavonen, retreating to the countryside means leaving behind the stresses of the city including work.
“I enjoy nature, walks in the forest, quietness and solitude,” she says. “My life at the cottage is not as busy and hectic as in the city, and I sleep better.”
In addition to being nourished by nature, Lavonen recharges. “Cottage life gives me strength and life energy,” she says.
An old Finnish proverb holds that the sauna – the Finnish temple of heat, steam, and relaxation – is the poor man’s pharmacy (“sauna on köyhän apteekki”), a natural cure for all that ails man, woman or child.
The quintessential Finnish summer cottage experience features a lakeside sauna. “I sauna twice a day, in the morning and evening,” says Lavonen. “It warms up the body, and when you sweat your body gets rid of toxins. Then I go for a swim in a cold lake and then back into a hot sauna. It’s very refreshing, fun, and feels good.”
Though not all traditional Finnish cottages have mod cons or are winterized, Lavonen’s cabin has both electricity and running water because she also goes there during the colder winter months.
Lavonen adds an extra twist to the traditional cottage experience by practicing yoga at her Hämeenkoski cottage. “Nature helps me relax and tune into myself. Combined with yoga, it brings more peace and joy from within,” she says. “I leave the cottage feeling happy and relaxed, full of energy and ready to face busy city life and withstand its stresses.”
By Katja Pantzar, July 2013