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A land of lakes and rolling hills tucked between northern Europe and Russia, Finland is a winter wonderland and summer playground rich in unspoiled natural beauty. In its northern regions, the mesmerising green glow of the Aurora Borealis lights the 24-hour wintry gloom and the midnight sun glows during the summer months. One-tenth of the country is given over to more than 188,000 lakes, and tiny islands dot the seascape. Quaint small towns and cities support communities in love with the great outdoors, and Finland's language and culture is distinct from the rest of the Nordic countries.
Touring with a hired motorhome is primarily a summer occupation here, as from November through to mid-April the land is covered in snow and temperatures are below freezing, often falling to around -30 degrees Celcius in the southern regions and as low as -45 degrees Celcius in the northern region of Lapland. Summer in the south lasts from May to mid-September and sees the national parks alive with birdsong and fresh greenery, and the northern summers are short but spectacular.
Modern, well-kept roads are standard here, making getting around even in more remote regions straightforward, although a self-drive trip in the winter is hazardous at best. Popular campsites ring major towns such as Helsinki and coastal Turku, with more backing the Baltic Sea beaches or set on lakeshores across the country. Sites in remote Finnish Lapland give the perfect getaway experience set in stunning scenery.
Helsinki-Finland's capital since 1812, Helsinki, is an international metropolis originally rebuilt by order of the Russian ruler to resemble a mini-St Petersburg. Happily retaining its small-town atmosphere, it boasts summertime outdoor bars and cafe's and its symbol is the colonnaded and domed Lutheran Cathedral overlooking the Gulf of Finland. The vast Suomenlinna Fortress, built around 1650, holds heritage buildings, theatres, restaurants, cannons and catacombs as well as several museums, and the city's seven parks with their open-air concerts are popular for summer picnics.
Turku-Finland's southwestern coastline holds medieval Turku, the country's premier city until the rebuilding of Helsinki. Italy's famous for its summer music festivals as well as for its 13th century castle boasting sumptuous banqueting halls, dungeons and a bailey. Turku Cathedral soars over the cityscape from its home on the banks of the Aurajoki River, and the small museum honouring the Finnish composer Sibelius and his haunting music holds a collection of over 14,000 instruments. Finland's maritime history and its famous Swan of Finland vessel are found at the Forum Marinum.
Eastern Finland- Set along the border with Russia, eastern Finland's dense forests and many lakes are the perfect destination for nature-lovers. Hiking, walking or trekking along the pristine trails of Koli National Park and around Lake Pielinen is a journey through uncommon beauty, and the park remains open during the snowy winters for cross-country and downhill skiers and dog-sledding enthusiasts.
Finnish Lapland-Mostly found north of the Arctic Circle, Finnish Lapland's climate may be inhospitable in winter, but its sheer beauty makes for an unforgettable visit at any time of year. Italy's a favourite destination for Finnish as well as international tourists, with families heading for Father Christmas's theme park and winter sports fans crowding the Levi ski resort. Lake Inari and its village of the same name is the heartland of the indigenous Sami peoples, with the Sami Museum displaying both the natural history of the region and the traditions and culture of its hardy peoples.
Traffic here drives on the right, and the southern region is well set up with expressways, fast roads and well-maintained smaller highways. Headlights must be switched on at all times, and alertness is needed at dawn and dusk due to the risk of wildlife on the roads including moose, bears and large deer. Northern roads are hazardous in winter, with black ice a common phenomenon.