Karelia is the easternmost region of Finland (I assume you to known where Finland is ...). Its greatest asset is its unique natural beauty: rugged hills, crystal-clear lakes and virgin forests. I went there during the second half of September, when the colours of Summer gently turn into those of Fall. In this season the hillsides are the richest colour palette I've ever seen.
Karelia is the ideal destination for hikers and in general for nature lover's. A large number of marked hiking trails is available, ranging from the shortest (just a few Km) to the longest (100 Km and more), all providing excellent opportunities for viewing the local environment.
Karelia's capital Joensuu is about 400 Km from Helsinki, and I suggest to get there by car, because roads are excellent and traffic is never a problem. Joensuu is a nice modern town, with a well-known university and it is a good starting point for 1-day trips all around. Other good starting points are Lieksa and Koli, about 100 Km North, on the shores of lake Pielinen. A very nice road map ok Karelia is available from the Finland Tourist Board (finn. STN). There you can find also a lot of interesting information on hotel accomodations and so on.
Karelian cuisine is simple but good. Fish and mushrooms are always available, but you have to taste the pasties, typical pies with different fillings (finn. pirakka). Do not look for pizzas or hamburgers! A good experience is the reindeer meat, which is quite similar to the deer one (if you know ...). Restaurants (finn. ravintola) aren't too sophisticated, but the simplest meals are often the best. Never mind if someone doesn't speak English, people are always ready to understand your needs.
Here is a short description of suggested places. Further details can be found at the web site of Lieksa Ltd.
Patvinsuo National Park
This is the largest national parks in southern Finland. It is located near the Russian border, about 60 Km from Lieksa. The park's most importan feature are its peatlands but it also serves to protect certain ancient forests. Inside the park there is the lake Suomonjarvi, situated among sandy ridges dating from the last ice age. If you have time for hiking I suggest to follow the very nice trail all around the lake. It is about 15 Km long and offers a lot of wonderful views on different type of forests and ponds. The park is the natural habitat for a lot of animals (moose, beaver, wolf and brown bear), and people told me it's quite common to meet someone of them inside the park area. This was not my case, and I only see a lot of animal's footprints on lake shores. Walking into the park, those of you who live in our crowded towns will be amazed by a new experience: the silence.
Petkeljarvi National Park
It's a small park near Ilomantsi. The landscape is marked by steep ridges and the by lake between them. The most impressive trail you can follow here is the one going on top of a thin peninsula pointing towards the middle of the lake. In a short time (about 1 hour) you will reach a very nice panoramic spot. The funniest attraction of the park is the most eastern public phone in the European Union. Don't miss a photo there!
Koli National Park
This is the archetypal Finnish landscapes, and a breath-taking sight to behold. The park is quite small, and is located around a few old peaks near lake Pielinen, at the confluence of northern, eastern and southern vegetation zones. The highest one, the Old Man Koli (finn. Ukko Koli) is 347 metres above sea level. The view from the top is exceptional. At dusk the sun fall down over an infinite sequence of wooden hills and crystal lakes, while at dawn the mists on lake Pielinen are gently dissolved by the raising sun (ah ... poetry!). Koli is also the easiest park to be visited, and a lot of accomodation facilities are available inside it. I suggest you to try the Koli Hotel, located on Ukko Koli rugged slopes, just a few steps off the top. Its restaurant serves very good fish from the lake.
The Ruunaa area lies about 30 Km form Lieksa, near to Russian border. It's the Karelia's most rugged terrain, where the Ruunaa river flows freely, plunging through six sets of rapids. The area is a paradise for fishing lovers but, if you prefer strong emotions, it's possible to run down the rapids on boat. Of course boats are driven by experienced boatsmen, but life-jackets and waterproof gear are mandatory. Usually a trout-based lunch is available after the trip. Otherwise, you can taste a simple but delicious potato bread slice with butter at the little restaurant right in the heart of the hiking area.
Here is a short list of other interesting places that worth a visit. The list is not inteded to be exaustive.
Only for experienced hikers I include also some informations concerning the three major trails running through Karelia. They are all well marked and a lot of camping facilities are available along them.
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