While Finland is no real match to the description of a “concrete jungle”, not even the capital, Helsinki, Finnish people have made sure to maintain a close relationship with nature, ever since sleeping outside in -30°C as an infant.
But just in case the five-minute walk/drive to the nearest forest path does not feel like enough of an escape to nature, Finnish people have developed a concept, perfect to those who like to play Bear Grylls every now and then without stepping too far outside of their comfort zone. This concept consists of five letters and a direct English translation is nearly impossible to find. I am referring of course to the concept of “Laavu”.
After various searches, I found the translations closest to the meaning of laavu; a “lean-to”, a “shelter” and a “bivouac”. Sadly, laavu is such a purely Finnish (/Nordic) concept that none of these English equivalents describe the word rigorously enough. Laavus are basically wooden shelters where one can usually put a fire and possibly spend a night, if they’re lucky enough to live the Finnish dream of no one interrupting one’s moment of pure solitude.
Laavus vary in shape and size but they characteristically consist of a steep, vertical roof (for protection from the wind and retainment of any heat extracted from the fire) and of course a hearth for setting up a campfire. Some laavus have flooring and walls or even already chopped wood, while others are more simplistic and humble and require perhaps more equipment from the visitors.
Luckily enough, there are dozens of laavus to choose from in Lappeenranta with an absolute personal favourite being “Mikonsaaren laavu” also known as “Kotaniemi” (circled in red in the map below);
So, what does one do on a ‘laavu adventure’? A laavu adventure typically consists of some walking on a forest trail, while picking some berries along the way (in the summer), chopping wood and setting up a fire, grilling sausages and frying Finnish “lettu” pancakes on the open fire while sipping on coffee and appreciating the beautiful nature, peace and quiet.
Kotaniemi, located in Mikonsaari -an isle just outside the centre of Lappeenranta (not more than a 15-minute drive away)- is a laavu that is accessed by following a beautiful nature path which is easily an under-half-hour trek. What makes Kotaniemi, a top-pick in Lappeenranta, is that the location is just beside the lake, giving you the opportunity to swim and wash any dishes and utensils used, with a view to the most breath-taking sunsets you can catch in Lappeenrata. Kotaniemi, is one of the more ‘luxurious’ laavus, as it provides visitors with chopped wood and/or tools to cut wood and cook and even chair pads and throws to keep you and your bottom warm. Families with children particularly enjoy this laavu, due to its proximity to both the city centre and the parking lot, fun forest path and well-equipped facilities.
There is no reservation system when it comes to visiting laavus; the policy is first come first served. The polite thing to do of course, is to give way to the next visitors should you encounter them after having spent a fair amount of time in the laavu. You should typically find some kind of list with rules such as the very important one of cleaning after yourself and putting the fire out before leaving but other than that, laavus are pretty much free zones where one can enjoy the freedom of being in the wild. Visiting a laavu won’t cost you anything but do treat the facilities with respect so that they can remain cost-free and the nature stays as pristine and beautiful as found initially.
By Veronica Kontopoulou