Coastal Finland, Lapland and the Arctic Circle
After our time in Helsinki and the southern part of Finland it was time to make roads north. Our ultimate goal was to reach Nordkapp, the most northerly point you can drive to in Europe. That meant heading up through Lapland and crossing the Arctic Circle. Our first stop along the coast was to the Yterri beach town. Who would think of going to the beach in Finland? Apparently quite a few people and it really is a lovely beach with a long stretch of golden sand and endless dunes to wander.
Continuing up the coast, we stayed for the night in the very pleasant Vaasa. This is actually a decent sized city and the absolute best thing it had going for it was the fantastic Bock's Corner microbrewery. We cycled there from our parking spot at the marina and enjoyed a wonderful summer evening sitting in the late night sun drinking very tasty craft beer. We are loving the laid back vibe we have found in Finland. It was one of those nights when the evening sun warms you, the beer is good and it’s hard not to be smug that your life is going pretty well.
From here we drove on to a little spot we saw several fellow travelers had stopped at near Ohtakari. This really was at the side of a road not even in a lay-by, which is not normally our jam. But the road was quiet and the scenery magnificent, we couldn't resist. The charming little peninsula can be walked around in half an hour and there are cute little summer huts that make the whole thing look like it should be on a tourist advert for the area.
In Oulu our parking was not as scenic; an unremarkable city parking lot on the edge of town. But from there we wandered into the center where we found a food truck festival going on. Another pretty town to add to the list and we again felt that relaxed atmosphere we’ve enjoyed everywhere in Finland.
After Oulu our weather luck ran out and we endured some mega rains over the next few days as we made our way onwards and upwards to the Arctic Circle. Santa Claus village in Rovaneimi is where all the Arctic Circle tourist stuff happens. While we didn’t pay a visit to the jolly old guy dressed in red, we did join in the regular tourist fun. We mailed some postcards from the Santa's post office which, according to the promotional blurb, is the busiest in the world. We took a variety of selfies straddling the Arctic Circle line. We also ooh’d and aah’d at about 50 Ferraris that were parked in the center of Santa Claus village. OK - that last one is not the typical tourist fun. There just happened to be a group of Ferrari enthusiasts who had toured in a convoy to the Arctic all the way from Italy. Was it a tourist trap? - Yes. Did we have fun while trapped? - Yes.
We decided not to stay the night at the village at it was just too busy despite the rainy day. Instead, we headed a few kilometers along the road to a fantastic forest camping area. Many of these spots have fire pits, shelters and lots of firewood available, what with there being no shortage of trees in these parts. Someone had left a fire dying in the pit so we quickly revived it and warmed ourselves while reminiscing about our camping days in the US when a downing a few brews around a campfire was a regular occurrence.
Continuing up through Lapland we finally got to see some reindeer and very quickly realized they would be regular fellow travelers, often trotting along the road with us as we made our way further into the Arctic. Our last stop before our final push to Nordkapp was in Saarisleka. Here we found our way to some rare high ground and wondered at our first viewing of the midnight sun. We had experienced our last sunset a few nights before and knew we wouldn't see another for about a month when would be heading south through Norway. But this was the first occasion we were in a good position to see the sun so low in the sky, without ever actually going down. Fantastic!
Two things we had anticipated being in Lapland that so far have not caused any problems; the lack of darkness and mosquitoes. The first we have coped with by gradually making the inside of the rig darker as it gets later into the evening. We usually go to bed around midnight so at around 11pm we would begin to close half of the blinds and then the others when we go to bed. We found doing it bit by bit has been helpful. And so far so good with the mosquitoes. I am a living mosquito magnet and everything we’ve read and the locals we talked to warned us that the bugs are epic up here. We bought some industrial strength DEET and were prepared for the pesky buggers. But knock on wood, finger's crossed and whatever else you do in Finland to not tempt fate, we have not been troubled at all so far.
We really enjoyed our few weeks wandering through Finland. The country regularly scores highly in the worldwide happiness index and for sure, we found people to be very friendly, relaxed and yes happy … it's easy to see why.
Recommendations & Tips
WHERE WE STAYED: We visited late June / Early July
79. Free Parking Yyteri. Huge beachside parking lot. You don't have a view here, but you are right next to the lovely dunes and long beach of Yyteri. Grim toilet at the beach but no other services. GPS: 61.56663, 21.52836
80. Free Parking Vaasa Marina. Perfect waterside place. You can jump on the cycle path here or walk into town. A bit busy during the day, peaceful at night. No services. GPS: 63.088, 21.60917
81. Free Roadside Parking Ohtakari. Absolutely stunning spot. There are some parking lots along the way, we stayed at the side of the road, just before the bridge over to Ohtakari for maximum 360 degree views. No services. GPS: 64.08564, 23.41181
82. Free City Parking Oulu. A riverside carpark near the large sports facilities. Short walk into the pretty city center of Oulu. No services GPS: 65.02117, 25.46182
83. Free Riverside Parking Kemi. Lovely peaceful spot, occasionally locals come to stay at the campfire hut apart from that we were alone. It rained the whole time we were here, so we just hunkered down for the night. GPS65.78699, 24.51721
84. Free Forest Camping near Rovaneimi. Beautiful location near a fabulous river. There are several hiking paths from here but it rained too heavily for us to follow. Campfire with free wood. Pit toilets, no other facilities. GPS: 66.61944, 26.18564
85. Camping Nilimella, Sodankylä Convenient for laundry, friendly with a nice pub on the water. € 29.00 with electric. GPS: 67.41801, 26.60724
86. Free Parking, Saariselka. Large sweeping views. I can imagine it might get windy up here, but we were lucky on a calm day. Good place to see the midnight sun. GPS: 68.43424, 27.44243
As you can see we mostly stayed in free parking with no facilities. The ABC gas stations often have a full motorhome service points and we found them very convenient.
There is no LPG refill available in Finland so you'll need to watch your consumption. Fortunately for us, it was mild weather so no significant need for heating for the 2 to 3 weeks we were there. There is an LPG station just over the border in Norway at Karasjok.