A lot of art and food makes most sense on their home turf: espresso tastes best in Italy, Banksy’s street art really hits home in Bristol, and I can only imagine how captivating Sigur Rós’s haunting tunes would sound in the eerie Icelandic landscape. Coming from Finland where winter nights are long and dark, the teenage me “totally got” the gritty, intense hard rock produced by local bands that seemed to spring up like mushrooms after the rain.
Similarly, some pieces of classical music by the old maestro Jean Sibelius never sound as right as when you are surrounded by unspoilt nature in Finland. Earlier this month I had a chance to revisit the landscape that inspired both him and many other Finnish artists in the late 19th/early 20th century, the national park of Koli. If it was good enough for Sibelius, it would be good enough for me! Standing there on top of the Ukko Koli hill and taking in the magnificent views over Lake Pielinen, I could almost hear the light, exhilarating finale to Sibelius’s Karelia suite* in my head!
The slopes of Koli are the remains of the Karelian fold mountains, or Karelides, which were formed in a crash of tectonic plates millions of years ago and were almost as high as the Himalayas. (Thanks Google!) The hills are remarkably lower now and Ukko Koli, the best known of the three vantage points, stands at the height of 347 metres. Traces of the ice ages remain visible in the landscape in the form of boulders, boulder caves, and ripple marks on the rock surface. However, whether or not you are interested in geology, Ice Age, or Finnish artists, Koli is a great place for hiking, nature discovery, photography, and simply resetting your brain!
I have once climbed up to the hotel and heritage centre from the guest harbour but I’m in no hurry to repeat that experience, regardless how much climbing I tend to do on holidays! Taking the funicular cable lift from the main car park and getting a glimpse of the vast forests below during the short ride is a much more attractive option. You can reach the main viewpoints either via the steep wooden steps or the gentler, winding path through the woodland with sights of moss-covered trees taken down by past storms and heavy snow, thick roots snaking on the rock surface, tiny saplings finding cracks to squeeze their roots in, and polypores creating natural art on tree trunks. The paths to the different cliffs are clearly marked, and once you are on top of the world, just breath in, relax, and enjoy the view!
The four photos above are from summer 2011, simply because the view just looks so much better in the sun. Luckily the scenery doesn’t change much otherwise in a few years! In comparison, here are shots from the September visit when the weather was less bright and sunny:
*YouTube: Jean Sibelius : Karelia suite for orchestra Op.11 (1893), Royal Philharmony Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerass