Athens Review, Athens, Texas

September 6, 2013

Travel: A look at Finland's design riches

by Dave Zuchowski
CNHI News Service

McALESTER, Okla. — On the way for a look at Anttolananhovi Wellness Village in Southeastern Finland, I passed by the Ollinmaki Wine Farm. What? “Wine in Finland!” I gasped. I just had to see for myself.

I remember reading that all 50 American states now had at least one winery, but it never dawned on me that far north-lying Finland could even think such a thing. Pulling into the winery parking lot, I found a stone turreted building that once served as a cow barn. Now a cozy wine cellar and 100-seat restaurant, the refitted building is stocked with bottles made from, what else, Finnish berries like crowberries and red, black and white currants and fruits like apple.

I was pleasantly surprised at how sophisticated the wines were, especially a blend of red and black currant, a dry wine that would be perfect with chicken and pork. New at the farm is a red currant sparkler which could easily serve as a celebratory cork popper.

"Finland is a relative newcomer to wine making," said Jukka Villanen, owner of the winery that opened in 1995. "We started with nine wineries in our country and have now grown to around 25."

Off to a good start, I headed to Anttolahovi, a wellness village with a unique spin that started construction in 1978. While guests might opt to spend the night in the 54-room modernist hotel along the shore of Lake Saimaa, the over-the-top experience takes place in the 13 art and design villas.

"We held an architecture competition and picked the two best," said Cecilia Mattila, sales spokesperson. "One was for our lakeside locations, the other for the hillside sites."

Each villa was assigned its own artist who integrated their work into each villa’s unique design. Each also has its own color scheme, but shares ecologically friendly features like walls built from Finnish oak, floors of natural stone and interior textiles made mostly of natural fibers like wool, cotton and linen.

Every villa has its own sauna and fireplace, and guests can order in-house meals, a chef, a beautician or a massage therapist with a simple phone call. A locavore advocate, Chef Markus Maulavirta has been incorporating fresh local ingredients into his cuisine for 25 years.

I got to sample some of his fare during a knock-out lunch that started with ember-cooked sweet and sour whitefish served with pickled cucumbers and watercress dressing, slow-roasted Kuvala pork belly, served with sauerkraut stewed in Huvila beer and tangy butter and carrot sauce, and a wonderful milk chocolate terrine with raspberry sorbet and honey cream.

Like other Nordic countries, Finland is designer friendly. Its capital, Helsinki, served as the World Design Capital in 2012, and the country has had a noteworthy design reputation around the world for decades.

In the 1930s and 40s pioneers like Kaj Franck ands Alvar Aalto led the way. Today, Helsinki has its own design district with around 200 designer shops, boutique and antique stores, and trendy restaurants. A good place to start a look around is on the Esplanade, a fashionable avenue with a long park-like swatch of green in between lined by shops with names like Artek, Aarikka, Marimekko and llitala.

A good way to get acquainted with the Design District is to take the two-hour guided tour in English called the Helsinki Design Walk, or do it yourself by picking up a map at the Tourist Information Office at Pohjoisesplandi 19 on the Esplanade.

To learn more about Finnish design history, visit the Design Museum on Korkeavuorenkatu 23. The museum dates back to 1873, making it one of the oldest design museums in the world. In 1978, the museum moved into its current location, a Neo-Gothic, former school designed in 1894 by architect Gustaf Nyström.

Besides a permanent exhibition that chronicles Finnish design from 1870 to now, the museum stages changing exhibits from its collection of over 75,000 objects, 40,000 drawings and 100,000 drawings. If you have the stamina, the Museum of Finnish Architecture is located on the same block.

For a one-stop look at Finnish clothing, furniture, tableware, jewelry and more, the Design Forum, Erottajankatu 7, is the promotional organization of Finnish design maintained by the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design, founded in 1875.

"In our shop, we have products of nearly 400 designers and companies, the large majority of which are Finnish," said sales coordinator Eija Taljavaara. "There are lots of things here you won’t find anywhere else."

Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at owlscribe@yahoo.com.