Belinda Jackson checks into a Lapland-inspired hotel in Helsinki’s chic Design District.
During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.
A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north. Bulevardi is the main street in the super-smart Kaampi district, and Lapland Hotels Bulevardi is one of the city’s newest hotel openings.
The Lapland Hotel group’s origins are – as the name suggests – from the frozen north, and it brings that land of ice and wilderness to the city, starting with its motif, reindeer antlers. They appear on the tableware and mugs, above bedheads and on cushions, adorning the reception, restaurant and bar. The ‘Do not disturb’ sign reads, ‘Counting Reindeer’.
The Lapland-based hotel group has teamed up with leading Lappish design company Pentik, founded by one of the country’s premier potters, Anu Pentik, whose ceramics factory operates from Posio, in Finnish Lapland. Stepping into the Kultá kitchen & bar for breakfast on a wintery December morning, my hands are filled with the warmth of Pentik’s grey, antler-embellished ‘Posio’ mug, filled with hot tea, as a prelude to the meal.
Let me predicate this next statement with the fact that, in this job, I’ve had a buffet breakfast or two. I know my way around the bain-maries of the world, from a Cambodian soup spread to an Irish fry-up or a Peruvian platter. But this: this is one of the most exciting breakfast buffets I’ve ever encountered.
I start with a healthful spruce sprout smoothie, before moving to the sea buckthorn smoothie, then cruise the cold cuts featuring hot-smoked and ice-pickled , set beside smoked cheeses from Kuusamo, 800km north on the Russian border in central Finland, which is my next destination.
In the hot section, reindeer blood sausage is teamed up with lingonberry jam, and I choose an omelette – with smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom. The chef on the breakfast shift admits that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. ‘Hearty,’ is his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that line the buffet. Dove-grey bowls of fruits yield Lappish cloudberries, blackberries and blueberries, and this being Scandinavia, the warm korvapuusti (cinnamon scrolls) and hot chocolate lure younger guests.
‘We Laplanders eat what we see outside our window,’ says Tero Mäntykangas, executive chef of the hotel group. ‘It is fantastic to serve our guests food that we know exactly where it came from.’
But the standout dish is also its most humble: Finns are the masters of nurturing porridges, and on the buffet today is an organic oatmeal porridge with a dash of salt, slow-cooked in the oven for three hours. I embellish the dish with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, and its goodness and honesty has me devising migration plans at the breakfast table.
The coffee is international espresso as well as Finland’s traditional brewed coffee, of which Finns typically drink – black and unsweetened – on average of four cups a day, making them the world’s largest consumers of coffee. Up in my room, a dreamily named Mystic Deluxe, the queen-sized bed is dressed in soft grey wool and crowned with a set of antlers above the headboard, while a glass window looks into the sauna, set for 80 degrees. It smells of pine wood and the hot stones sizzle as I practice my löyly throwing (tossing water onto the sauna rocks).
The 182-room hotel is an ode to everything beautiful and unique to Finnish Lapland, from the thick pelts thrown over dining seats to the forest mushrooms, the buckwheat blini, the salmon and rye bread on the menu.
At night, fire pots line the hotel entrance, where the long stone bar blends vodka with reindeer stock or spruce sprouts and pine wood tar; vermouth is paired with buckthorn and thyme I order the reindeer burger and a glass of warming red wine while my sauna heats up. As the long night closes in, it’s time to allow Lapland to seep a little further into my bones.
Lapland Hotels Bulevardi
From EUR $150 per night
Bulevardi 28, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
Tel +358 9 25251111