Every October our kids get a week off school and it’s a chance for us to spend some time together as a family. This year we had an autumn cottage holiday in Ukkohalla, and we were very glad we did.
Ukkohalla is a little-known but excellent little ski resort, located between the towns of Kajaani and Kuusamo in northern Finland. It took us less than four hours to drive there from our home in Joensuu, heading north through the pleasant scenery of autumn-coloured forests and misty fields. According to the road signs as we neared our destination, we’d travelled far enough north to be in reindeer country (when you travel northwards in Finland, at some point the roadside warning signs about moose, become warning signs about reindeer), which is a little exciting (at least for us), and we were looking forward to spotting some of these four-legged fellows.
This being October, there wasn’t enough snow for skiing, but we didn’t care. In fact, we were perfectly happy to be in Ukkohalla when there was no snow at all. This is because Finnish ski resorts are well worth visiting even in the off-season. There are many beautiful, family-sized cottages to stay in, located close to lakes, woodland walks, national parks, and places to grill sausage on an open fire. And in addition to all the surrounding nature, you are also close to facilities such as bars, shops, restaurants and other resort amenities.
We stayed at AURINKO SAAGA 2, which is perfectly situated in a quiet lakeside location, yet within easy walking distance of the resort centre. When we arrived at the cottage, we were immediately impressed with the peaceful waterside setting, but also because it’s a modern and stylish property, with a fabulous fully glazed terrace, where guests can sit and enjoy stunning views of the lake, the slopes and resort. A timber walkway leads down to the shore, where we were pleased to find a small sandy beach, a rowing boat and a lakeside barbecue hut – all handy ingredients for a Finnish cabin holiday.
We thought the inside of the cottage was equally impressive. There was plenty of space for our family to spread out, with five bedrooms, a kids’ play area on the landing, an excellent sauna, a double shower room, a well-equipped kitchen, plus a spacious living area with a comfy sofa, a big table and a cosy log fire. The owners have clearly put a lot of effort into the interior décor, which includes carefully chosen furniture, lamps, decorations, ornaments and candle holders, plus useful features such as a Chromecast, allowing us to easily connect our phones to the TV and sound system. We were also delighted the owner left us a massive bar of Finnish milk chocolate as a welcome gift, which was much appreciated (and happily scoffed) by all.
Footpaths start almost from the cottage door, making it easy to go exploring on foot, and we made use of the convenient bridge that leads across the lake to the resort centre, located at the base of the fell. There’s a hotel and ski chalet complex, which all looks very neat, modern and the place has a nice village feel. The resort is comparatively small yet has around 300 cabins and apartments in addition to the hotel rooms. There’s a small supermarket, a café, sports shop, ski hire and also a bowling alley, but one of the main attractions at Ukkohalla is SaunaWorld. This is a spa within the hotel complex, with pools, jacuzzies and nine different types of sauna, including a smoke sauna, an infrared sauna, a cave sauna and sauna with panoramic views. It’s an impressive collection of saunas by anyone’s standards.
After looking around the resort, we hiked up Ukkohalla Fell, following a twisty path up the slope, and doing our best not to get in the way of a pair of keen frisby-golf players. I’m not sure how far up the fell we managed to get before the children started to complain about being tired and wanting to head back – maybe we were halfway up – but the view down to the lake, the resort and the cottages on the opposite hillside was impressive. But because we wanted to know what the view looked like from the top, another day we took our car and followed a gravel road to the summit. From there, we could see far more of the landscape, and the sight of rolling forest-covered hills stretching all the way to the far horizon, was truly majestic.
While at the summit, we discovered a small ‘mountain-top’ café, which unfortunately was closed (not surprising given that there was no skiing going on), but this was nevertheless a great spot to take photos of the stunning fell landscape. After we’d finished taking our tourist snaps, we enjoyed a stroll through the woods, because the summit area also has woodland walks and hiking trails, where you can enjoy the fresh air and peaceful forests.
We also ventured outside the resort, to see some of the local area. The Komulanköngäs Falls, located just a few minutes’ drive from Ukkohalla, was one of the highlights of our trip. From the car park, we followed a path through the trees and came to a delightful clearing with the remains of an old mill and water wheel. We crossed a small bridge over the rapids and continued walking through the trees and down some wooden steps, until we found ourselves stood on the edge of a rocky precipice, where two waterfalls empty into a large pool. It’s hard to put into words what an enchanting place this is. The stony cliffs, snow-sprinkled trees and water cascading across the stones, made a magical scene. We were all spellbound.
The nearby town of Hyrynsalmi has quite a ‘Finnish-retro’ feel, with a number of charmingly old-fashioned shops along the main drag, which look like they haven’t changed much since 1970. You’ll also find some useful services there such as a supermarket and petrol station. There’s also a waterside park area with pretty wooden bridges, from which you can enjoy serene views of Hyrynjärvi lake and the opposite shoreline.
Back at the cottage, we made sure to try the boat and had fun rowing on the water and visiting a sandy beach on the opposite shore near the hotel, where we found a playground with swings, tennis court and basketball hoops. Much of the time however, we were happy just to be indoors, appreciating the pleasures of cabin life. We’d brought a large sack of books from home, plus another filled with board games, which we enjoyed while slumped together on the comfy sofa. Our evenings were spent relaxing in the sauna, getting cosy in front of the log fire, listening to music, watching movies and just enjoying the calming lake view from the large windows.
We were delighted to be visited by a number of small birds during our stay, who hopped about on the terrace and swooped through the nearby trees. We were also very happy to spot a mink, which must have a home nearby, as we saw it more than once running about by the lakeshore and in the area behind our cottage. What we didn’t get to see however, were reindeer. Not one. They must have been hiding. But despite the lack of reindeer, we had a great time on our autumn cottage holiday in Ukkohalla.