What happens when you take a girl (that would be me!) who has never cycled more than 20km 6 weeks before she is about to cycle the Eurovelo 13: The Iron Curtain Trail 1500km across the remotest parts of Finland…alone?
Read on to find out….But first, a bit of background.
THE IRON CURTAIN
When I mentioned that I was cycling the Eurovelo 13: Iron Curtain Trail I got a lot of confused looks, both from North Americans and Europeans.
While I think most of us are vaguely familiar with the concept of the Iron Curtain Trail, here is the official definition from Wikipedia: The Iron Curtain was the ideological conflict and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The term symbolized efforts by the Soviet Union to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the west and non-Soviet-controlled areas.
EUROVELO (EV) CYCLING ROUTES
The Eurvelo is a network of well-maintained cycling routes that connects all of Europe! One of the aims of the Eurovelo cycling routes and the one that resonated the most with me was to promote economically, environmentally and socially sustainable travel.
EUROVELO 13: IRON CURTAIN CYCLING ROUTE
The Eurovelo 13, also known as the Iron Curtain Cycling Route, is what I cycled a portion of. It’s probably the least well-known of the 14 Eurovelo cycling routes.
It covers 10,400km in 20 countries with 14 UNESCO sites en route, along with numerous points of interest related to the Iron Curtain! The Finland portion of the Eurovelo 13 is 1700km long – I completed 1350km of it!
Due to time constraints, my plan was never to cycle the entire 1700km long. Although in retrospect, I wish I would have made the time for the additional few days it would have taken.
The southmost point of the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland starts in Virolahti. I started 223km further north in Savonlinna, where I took a day to search for one of the world’s only freshwater seals, the highly endangered Saimaa ringed seal.
The most northern point of the Iron Curtain Trail is Näätamö. It’s a small village located 12km from the Norweigan border and larger village of Neiden with 250 inhabitants.
You learn very quickly that village in the remote parts of Finland often means a few houses and maybe a mom and pop shop…if you’re lucky! It doesn’t mean that there will be a place where you can buy something to eat!
While I had nothing against Näätamö, I knew early on while planning my route, I would never get there. Instead, my plan was to veer off the Iron Curtain Trail just north of Inari and make my way to Nuorgam.
So what is so special about Nuorgam? It is the most northern point in both Finland and in the European Union (EU)! (Norway is further north but isn’t in the EU). I had also heard that the valley road between Utsjoki and Nuorgam that runs parallel to the Tenojoki River, that separates Finland from Norway is the most spectacular drive in the entire country!
That I couldn’t pass up, even if it meant not fully completing the EV 13! You’ll also want to check out my post with more specific Planning Tips for the EV 13 Iron Curtain Trail.
WHY I CHOOSE THE EV 13 IRON CURTAIN TRAIL IN FINLAND
That in itself could be a full blog post, but long story short, I love how much nature you find in Finland. I thought it would be amazing to see what spending three weeks cycling in nature would do for the soul!
I was ready for whatever epiphany would surely come after being immersed in nature and spending so much time alone! I had been to Finland three times before, but never to the eastern part or to Lapland, where the EV 13 would take me. Finland is also relatively flat – or so I thought…more on that later.
I was also intrigued by the Iron Curtain aspect. Being Canadian, I felt I had a big picture idea of it, but had never delved into the nitty gritty of it, much less so in Finland. I was curious to learn more.
Finally, I’ve been hiking for years and am confident that while I can hike pretty much anything, I hadn’t cycled more than 20km until 6 weeks before the start of this trip.
In preparation, I joined two experienced cyclists for a 350km long jaunt along the EV 6, the Danube, from Passau, Germany to Vienna, but still, I was lacking cycling experience. I was pretty sure I could do it, but not 100% confident and I relished that challenge!
Any why alone? Two reasons: 1) I have done all my big adventures with friends, my husband or in a group. I had never done one alone and wanted to see what I was made of! 2) There are currently no tours, if you want company, you’ve got to round up your own group!
So here’s my day by day account of cycling most of the EV 13: Iron Curtain Trail across Finland, and how my trip ended in a way that I could never have predicted!
CYCLING THE EV 13, IRON CURTAIN TRAIL IN FINLAND DAY-BY DAY ACCOUNT
I arrived in Helsinki and picked up my bike from Bike Planet, it was a great bike and I was very happy with it! I stayed overnight at the hip Hotel Helka, which was close to the train station and in the heart of Helsinki! The next day I took the train to Savonlinna, where my cycle ride of a lifetime would start!
Day 1: Savonlinna
0 – my first day was a rest day!
Cycling Route Description:
What to See in Savonlinna:
Take a cruise on Lake Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland! While you’re there keep an eye out for the Saimaa ringed seal. With less than 300 remaining, they’re one of the most endangered seals in the world! Savonlinna is also a great place to try black liquorice ice cream – a favourite among Finns, while sitting by the lake! If you’re a castle lover like am I, be sure to check out St. Olaf’s Castle, located right on the lake!
Where to Stay in Savonlinna:
Original Sokos Hotel Seurahuone Savonlinna is conveniently located steps away from the train station and provides views over the harbour.
Where to Eat in Savonlinna:
Eat waterfront at brewery restaurant Huvila on the shores of Lake Saimaa. The building dates back to 1912 and was formerly a mental hospital! They even have live music several times a week!
Day 2: Savonlinna – Kitee
Cycling Distance: 80km
Cycling Route Description:
This was some of the most scenic cycling of the entire trip, cycling through Finland’s lake district! I started to count the lakes as I cycled past them, but lost track after 11. I stopped every 90 minutes or so at one of the rest stops by the many lakes to soak up the calmness that comes simply from being near water! There were also several roadside kiosks where you could get a snack or a cup of coffee. I would come to be very grateful for those later on in my trip on days when I couldn’t find a single place en route to get my caffeine fix.
What to See Between Savonlinna and Kitee:
Lakes, lakes, lakes! Did I mention the lakes? Perfect for going for a dip and cooling off on a hot day! I skipped that part since I was there in June and it was a bit on the chilly side!
Besides the lakes, check out the Kerimäki Wooden Church, the largest wooden church in the world, located in the town of Kerimäki 23km west of Savonlinna! It can seat 3000 people and hold 5000. I only saw it from the outside as I arrived on a Sunday morning and there was a church service going on. There is a nice cafe just across from it where you can take in the views of the massive church over a cappuccino. It makes for a nice rest stop and I lingered longer than the 15 minutes I had planned!
There is a nice cafe just across from it where you can take in the views of the massive church over a cappuccino. It makes for a nice rest stop and I lingered longer than the 15 minutes I had planned!
Where to Stay:
I didn’t actually stay in Kitee, but stayed in one of the cottages at the Pajarinhovi Holiday Centre, southwest of Kitee on highway 6. My room was a good size and felt homey – not like a hotel at all!
This was just 5 kilometres off the Iron Curtain Trail, but cycling along highway 6 was one of the very few sections that made me a bit nervous. The road shoulders were narrow and there was a lot of traffic.
For this reason, I would recommend staying in Kitee to minimize the time that you’re on highway 6. Having said that, the Pajarinhovi Holiday Centre is a great place to stay if you are not cycling and are travelling with children. There’s a lake nearby, hiking trails, a small water park and a small zoo.
Where to Eat:
I ate at the buffet at the Parjainhovi Holiday Centre, but there are lots of places to eat in Kitee, located 16 km away.
There’s also a bike shop in Kitee, Koneliike J. Hyttinen Ky, located at Olkontie 6. I bought a replacement inner tune and some oil here.
Day 3: Kitee – Värtsilä
Cycling Distance: 59 km
Cycling Route Description:
This part of Finland reminded me a bit of the prairies in Canada with its farmland. More than once I came across a farmer’s field that had just been freshly fertilized with manure. This proved to be excellent motivation to increase my speed during those smelly sections! I also loved the cherry backdrops of bright yellow dandelions.
What to See Between Kitee and Värtsilä:
The Church of Tohmajärvi’s Kirkkoniemi. It was build 250 years ago, and is the oldest wooden church in North-Karelia! It’s located at Kirkkotie 590, Tohmajärvi. Note: If you plan to visit the church, ensure that you map out your route prior to taking off for the day. It’s actually located 5.7km south of Tohmajärvi.
I didn’t realize this until I was already in Tohmajärvi and ended up missing it since I didn’t want to cycle the 11km there and back. It is on the way though, so it’s easy to incorporate into your cycling route without adding additional distance – if you plan it right!
There’s also a wooden church in Värtsila that I cycled past, but didn’t go inside.
It’s also interesting to get locals to tell you the history, but proceed with caution, as it’s a sensitive subject for some. A large part of Karelia, the region in which Värtsilä is located in, was ceded to the Soviet Union. To preserve Finland’s independence after the Winter War and the Continuation War.
Any Finns living in the ceded territory had to be evacuated into the new borders of Finland, leaving their farms and houses and starting over, albeit with help from the Finnish government. Many residents of Värtsilä were impacted and relocated. You can read more about it here.
Where to Stay in Värtsilä:
I stayed at the Sinilintu Bed and Breakfast. Accommodation is simple, with a shared bathroom – if there are other guests, but the owners are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and make an effort to speak English. They also have a sauna, that they will heat up for you. I also met the stepson of the owners of Sinilintu and he is offering a holistic retreat option nearby- you can inquire at the Sinlintu Bed and Breakfast for further information.
Where to Eat in Värtsilä:
I ate at Sinilintu Bed and Breakfast and enjoyed the home cooking. Ask in advance if they are able to provide dinner. Note: There are no restaurants, stores, or gas stations in Värtsila, so I recommend bringing snacks with you from either Kitee or Tohmajärvi.
Day 4: Värtsilä – Ilomantsi
Cycling Distance: 70km
Cycling Route Description:
This is where I first thought to myself, Wait a minute, isn’t Finland supposed to be flat? For the record, North-Karelia, a region in eastern Finland is not so flat! I was hit with a strong headwind and rain for most of the day, making every rotation seem like double the work.
I won’t lie, I may have cursed a wee bit…OK, more than a wee bit! Gone were the fluffy white clouds and blue skies with fields of cheery dandelions. In its place was a gloomy sky and seemingly hill after hill! Fortunately, the sun did make an appearance again, which immediately cheered me up!
What to See Between Värtsilä and Ilomantsi:
About 30 km south of Ilomantsi you’ll come across the village of Mutalahti. It originally belonged to the ancient village of Melaselkä. But after WW II, Melaselkä, like other parts of Finland, was annexed into Russia. The villagers had to evacuate westwards and reestablish their lives. The chapel pictured below was built to replace the old in Melaselkä that had been destroyed during the Finnish-Russian War in 1941 – 1944.
The chapel pictured below was built to replace the old in Melaselkä that had been destroyed during the Finnish-Russian War in 1941 – 1944.
One of the highlights of my entire trip was discovering Finnish wine in Ilomantsi! Yes, Finland produces wine! A great place to try it is the Winetower – a cafe on top of the old water tower. You can sample Hermanni wines, Finland’s oldest vineyards, dating back to 1989, either by the glass or order a tasting as you enjoy the views! As luck would have it, I arrived in Ilomantsi on my birthday, so I celebrated with a wine tasting! Finnish wine is not bad, and is definitely worth a try!
Also in Ilomantsi, you’ll find the Parppeinvaara Bardic Village,where you can learn about the tradition of poem-singing, Karelian cuisine, war-time events and nature in a collection of historic buildings.
Where to Stay in Ilomantsi:
I stayed in a guest house south of Ilomantsi, which was not a good experience, and it involved cycling several kilometers into the city. I would recommend staying in Ilomantsi itself. Check out these places to stay in Ilomantsi.
Where to Eat in Ilomantsi:
There are several restaurants in Ilomantsi. I honestly can’t remember where I ate there, and lost my diary documenting my journey, so it must have been fine, but nothing memorable. You’ll also want to stock up on food, as the next day is either a really long day, or if you choose the shorter option and stay in the remote cabin that I did, you’ll need to bring your own food for breakfast, dinner and snacks.
Day 5: Ilomantsi – Kivivaara
Cycling Distance: 60.5 km
Cycling Route Description:
Despite the relatively short distance, this day was tough. No doubt in part to the strong head wind and rain! I enjoyed seeing lakes again just outside of Ilomantsi, but the rest of the road was swathed in forest, with not much of a view. Today felt like I was in the middle of nowhere as the road turned into a gravel road. There were no cafes, grocery stores or gas stations along the way and I saw very few cars. At this point into the trip, the isolation felt like a stranger, but later on it would comfort me and I would welcome it.
What to See Between Ilomantsi and Kiviarra:
There are a couple of lakes outside of Ilomantsi if you wanted to go for a swim – it was cold and rainy so I kept right on cycling.
The next point of interest is in Hattuvaara. Here you’ll find a small open air museum discussing the Winter War and the Continuation War. The free exhibit explains that Finland had to cede a third of Ilomantsi (among other regions) to the Soviet Union. I really enjoyed the displays and learning more about the Winter War and the Continuation War, which I was previously unfamiliar with.
There’s also a chapel located in Hatuvaara. It’s the oldest one left representing Karelian architecture in Finland and dates back to 1792.
Note: Despite Hatuvaara being a village, there is no place to eat, or to grab food or any accommodation that I could see – just an FYI!
Where to Stay:
I stayed in a very Finnish cabin in Kivivaara. It’s worth noting that Kivivaara, isn’t a proper village, but a road with a few houses along it. I stayed at the Inn Howling Wolf. It’s several kilometres down a very bumpy gravel road on Kivivaarantie 34. Note: They don’t have a website.
Accommodations need to be reserved in advance, and they’ll leave a key for you under the mat. There is no food available on site, but each cabin has its own kitchen, so ensure that you bring your own. The cabins are located on a hill and a 5-minute walk down a berry bush hill gets you to a lake! There’s also a communal sauna for your use. Bring your own towels as they aren’t provided. I felt very Finnish staying here and was the only non-Finnish guest as far as I could tell!
Note: If you didn’t want to stay here, your other option would be to cycle to Lieksa, which is 158km from Ilomantsi. It would be a long day, but you would have a larger choice of accommodations in Lieksa.
Where to Eat:
There’s no place to eat in Kivivaara. You will need to bring your own food, and enough food for snacks the next day to tide you over until you get to Lieksa which is 80km away. I miscalculated and had brought enough food to get to Kivivaara, but not enough to get to Lieksa, which was a huge mistake.
This section from Ilomantsi to Lieksa is very remote so be sure to bring food for 2 days – or risk going hungry! You’ve been warned…I don’t want you getting HANGRY like I was!
Day 6: Kivivaara – Lieksa
Cycling Distance: 80 km
I headed out on a very bumpy road to get back onto the main gravel road. It was not a good start to the rainy and windy day. After cycling for 20 km, I was ready to collapse.
I quickly learned the importance of proper nutrition, and only having an apple for breakfast and a slice of salami did not cut it. Then it started to pour buckets. Gravel roads and cycling don’t make for a good combination.
Every rotation feels like so much effort as both your tires resist your effort by sticking in the mud. I kept stopping every 5 km in exhaustion, fighting the urge to cry, even though there was no one on the almost deserted road to see me even if I did.
I was starving, my stomach rumbling every few minutes – as if I needed a reminder of how hungry I was. I allowed myself one of my few remaining pieces of salami every hour or so. It was one of my toughest days cycling the Iron Curtain Trail!
It wasn’t that the trail was any more challenging than what I had been previously cycling on, well once I was back on the main road having veered off to get to Inn Howling Wolf. It was a combination of the circumstances. The rain causing my tires to stick on each rotation, and my hunger, leading to my exhaustion that made it so miserable.
What to See Between Kivivara and Lieksa
Not much, it’s a really remote area!
Lieksa itself is nice though. I’m told the Pielinen Museum, which documents Lieksa’s history and features a seasonal outdoor museum with more than 70 buildings is a highlight, but I was too exhausted to visit.
Where to Stay in Lieksa
I stayed at the Timitra Hostel, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed my stay, since hostels aren’t normally my thing. The manager is very welcoming and friendly and speaks excellent English!
Despite my rotten day, he made me feel better almost immediately! I also had my own large room and bathroom – yeah and there was also a sauna, which I had all to myself. It did wonders to take the rough edges of the day and my aching muscles! It was a really comfortable stay, and I would highly recommend it.
Where to Eat in Lieksa
Mmmm, unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendations for you. I was so exhausted that I cycled to the nearest gas station/burger joint, wolfed down a greasy hamburger and was in bed before 9:00!
Day 7: Lieksa to Kuhmo
Cycling Distance: 113 km
I dreaded today. It was by far my longest distance and after a really bad previous day, I feared the worst.
Strangely, it turned out to be one of my best days. It dawned on me that each day was independent of each other. The day started off with rain and a strong headwind, a seemingly continuation of the day before, but it cleared up after an hour or so. My spirits were high, and I was enjoying myself.
I was almost beside myself with joy when I spotted a cafe 30km from Lieksa! It was a welcome and unexpected first rest stop of the day! They even have gluten-free desserts, you just have to ask!
When I arrived in Kuhmo, I was almost disappointed, feeling that I had another couple of hours of cycling in me!
What to See Between Lieksa and Kuhmo:
I really enjoyed the Jyrkänkoski Defensive Positions Exhbit, 14km south of Kuhmo. Here you can see the stone tank barrier wooden fortifications and barbed-wire obstacles that were erected by the Finnish troops to delay the Soviet forces. No major battles were fought here, but some fierce battles were fought a few kilometres away in Hotakanvaara.
Due to my long day of cycling, I didn’t have time to try rapid floating in Kuhmo, but this sounds AMAZING!
Specialized gear keeps you safe, and it can apparently even be done in winter! I would love to go back and try this unique experience!
There’s also the Petola Visitor Centre in Kuhmo where you can learn about brown bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines and reindeer.
Where to Stay in Kuhmo:
I stayed at Hotelli Kalevala located right on the shore of Lake Lammasjärvi and LOVED my stay here!
It’s an elegant hotel with nature inspired decor that made me feel at home the minute I stepped in the door. There’s not one, but four different saunas in their wellness area! This is my kind of place!
Where to Eat in Kuhmo:
I dined lakeside at the restaurant in Hotelli Kalevala which features both international and traditional Finnish cuisine. I prolonged both my dinner and breakfast here – it was so relaxing that I didn’t want to leave!
Day 8: Kuhmo to Lentiira
Cycling Distance: 43.1 km
It was a bit hilly again, with on and off showers and a constant, but manageable headwind.
Given that it was a short day, I didn’t mind and was in high spirits! I didn’t take any full rest days – something I would recommend doing. But this was a partial rest day. And I was grateful for it!
What to See in Lentiira:
Besides needing a rest, my real motivation for the short day, was the opportunity to observe bears and wolverines in an overnight hide with Taiga Spirit.
While I have seen plenty of bears in Canada, I had never seen a brown bear in Europe. Not only that, brown bears are Finland’s national animal!
I had never seen a wolverine, despite spending a lot of time hiking through forests. I was curious to see this creature known for its ferociousness!
Fortunately, I did a chance to see both! Two brown bears and two wolverines – multiple times in fact! I loved my Finnish wildlife safari! You can read all about it at The Best Wolverine and Bear Watching in Finland!
Where to Stay in Lentiira:
I stayed in the overnight hide at Taiga Spirit, but the owner Sabrina, also runs a bed and breakfast, so that’s an option if she’s not on safari!
She’s also an incredible cook and will fill your belly! She’s fluent in Finnish, French and English. Call again or book in advance to make sure her bed and breakfast is open.
Where to Eat:
My Finnish wildlife safari included meals and local cuisine – did I mention what a good cook Sabrina is? There’s also a gas station where you could stock up on snacks.
Day 9: Lentiira to Suomussalmi
Cycling Distance: 107 km
This was another really windy day with on and off showers throughout the day. The storm mostly held off though until the last 20 km into Suomussalmi.
One of my favourite sections was a short section of cycling between two lakes – even though it upped the wind factor tremendously without any trees for protection.
I also saw a moose – the first and surprisingly, only one on the entire trip and my first reindeer! Fortunately, many more reindeer were to come!
What to See Between Lentiira and Suomussalmi:
Approximately 33 km outside of Suomussalmi is the Winter War Museum. Most of the exhibits are signed only in Finnish so that I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but I did enjoy the cafe there. It makes a nice rest stop.
The Winter War Monument is also located there. It’s a very powerful monument comprised of a field of stones honouring the ~20,000 men that lost their lives in the Winter War of 1939 – 1940.
Where to Stay in Suomussalmi:
Spa Hotel Kiannon Kuohut. The staff was very friendly here and the rooms were simple yet clean. I enjoyed the pool and sauna area.
They also offer massages – I really wish I had planned ahead and pre-arranged one!
It was also here that I met another EV 13 Iron Curtain Trail cyclist. She was the only one I met on the entire trip. She had started in the north, the normal direction, so we swapped stories and advice for the remaining parts of our journey.
Where to Eat:
I ate both dinner and the breakfast buffet at the Hotel Kiannon Kuohut and enjoyed it. There are also grocery stores and gas stations nearby to stop up on snacks.
Day 10: Suomussalmi to Hossa
Cycling Distance: 94 km
Cycling Route Description:
It was another windy day with rain on and off, but I loved discovering seeing an art exhibition on the side of the road, which was very unexpected (see below) about 30km from Suomussalmi. Also there is the Field Cafe, where you can get crepes! Does it get any better than that? Today was flatter than some of the previous days.
What to See Between Suomussalmi and Hossa:
The aforementioned art exhibition, The Silent People made of close to 1000 figures. Their straw hair comes from the fields. They have two sets of clothes. One for winter and one for summer!
The artist has never explained the meaning of the figures, leaving each person to draw their own conclusions. But perhaps some clue is given in the figures themselves – which consists of a cross when not clothed.
There’s also a gift shop and a cabin. This was my favourite unexpected find on the whole trip!
In Hossa, you can go swimming in the lake or get up close with a reindeer at the Hossa Reindeer Park.
Hossa is really a great place to just chill out for a couple of days if you need a break. It’s not a village per see, but more of a place where Finns go to get away from it all.
There’s also lots of great hiking in the area – or so I’m told. After so much cycling, I wasn’t up for much exploring. You can get recommendations from the Hossa Visitor Centre.
Where to Stay in Hossa:
I stayed at Loma-Hossa, which was a very large lake-front cottage complete with a sauna, a smoke sauna AND a hot tub – all right by the lake! The owner was very friendly and speaks some English, although her step-granddaughter spoke excellent English.
They left a welcoming plate of appetizers waiting for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here and could have happily hung out here for a week!
Where to Eat:
You either need to bring groceries with you or plan to eat at the Hossa Reindeer Park as I did. Naturally reindeer is on the menu in the converted barn with the walls lined with reindeer artefacts.
It’s a really great atmosphere. If you plan to eat here, call in advance since it’s only open by reservation.
Day 11: Hossa to Kuusamo
Cycling Distance: 75 km
Cycling Route Description:
The day started very quietly, I didn’t see more than 2 cars in the first couple of hours of being on the road. It was a pretty isolated stretch of road and a pretty uneventful, yet hilly day!
But unlike previous days, where I felt isolated, I found myself enjoying the silence and feeling truly alone in a most positive sense.
What to See Between Hossa and Kuusamo:
I didn’t stop anywhere in-between, but one of Finland’s most popular hiking trails, the 80 km Karhunkierros Trail is near by.
Where to Stay in Kuusamo:
I stayed at the Original Sokos Hotel Kuusamo. It’s conveniently located with modern updated rooms. I enjoyed my stay here.
Where to Eat:
I was so tired that I just stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on some fruit which ended up serving as my dinner, but the hotel has a restaurant – I enjoyed the breakfast buffet and there are lots of places to eat in Kuusamo.
Day 12: Kuusamo to Salla
Cycling Distance: 103 km
Cycling Route Description:
I saw reindeer several times today and always welcomed their presence. Albeit, I wasn’t welcomed by them, as I quickly learned that while reindeer have no fear of cars, they were afraid of me on my bike!
Or maybe it was because I smelled? Either way, they wouldn’t let me get very close! You gotta love a day cycling among reindeer, it was a good day!
What to See Between Kuusamo and Salla:
2.7km from Saatunturi, you’ll want to stop at Salla Reindeer Park for a reindeer feeding! I loved learning about the reindeer from one of the most experienced reindeer herders in all of Lapland! It was a really great experience! There’s also a cafe and souvenir shop there.
You could easily spend a week here hiking or rafting in Salla! Again, I found myself longing to spend more time here to really explore the area.
Where to Stay in Salla:
I stayed in a semi-detached holiday house at Holiday Club Salla at the foot of Salla Ski Resort. Note this is 10 km before the village of Salla.
I LOVED my stay here! It was cozy, yet modernly decorated and even had a loft! Best of all, it also had a washing machine. It was the first time I’d had one on my trip, and it had a drying room. All towels and linens were included! I would have happily stayed here for a week if I had more time!
Where to Eat:
I ate at the Kiela Restaurant in Sallatunturin Tuvat which specializes in local food and the real taste of Lapland! Naturally, I had reindeer and enjoyed every single tender morsel!
There are also several options in Salla itself. But it’s worth noting that this is 10 km away from Sallatunturin, where I stayed. It’s not a big deal by car. But it’s a different story when you’re travelling by bike and already spending several hours a day in the saddle.
Day 13: Salla to Savukoski
Cycling Distance: 92 km
Starting in Salla and along the way, you could see the Salpaline, the anti-tank obstacle that is the largest building site in Finland.
It was constructed in 1940 after the Winter War to slow the attack from the Soviet Union. At its peak, 35,000 men were working on it!
As I came closer to Savukoski, the farmer’s fields reminded me of Värtsilä that I had passed on the third day of my trip. This section was flatter, which I welcomed!
What to See Between Salla and Savukoski:
The Salpaline, as noted above. There’s also the Salla Museum of War and Reconstruction, which, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit.
Where to Stay in Savukoski:
I stayed at Hotel Samperin Savotta. My room was a good size and two floors which I thought was cool. It looked out onto woods and the Kemijoki River. Wifi is available in the hotel, although it didn’t work in my room.
Where to Eat:
I also ate a the Hotel Samperin Savotta. As I was there off-season, they left a breakfast of bread, cereal and fruit for me in a breakfast room that was separate from the restaurant.
It was simple, but did the trick – I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway.
Day 14: Savukoski to Pyhä-Luosto
Cycling Distance: 79 km
Typically the EV 13 Iron Curtain Trail goes from Savukoski northwest to the community of Sodankylä. But I headed southwest instead to take in the Pyhä-Luosto National Parks on the recommendation of a Finn, who said I would love it there!
What to See Between Savukoski and Pyhä-Luosto:
Check out the Kopara Reindeer Park before you get to Luosto. You pay a small fee. Then you’re free to wander by yourself reading the exhibit signs that explain about the reindeer. There’s also a cafe there.
I also heard great things about the Amethyst Mine. It’s a sustainable mine but was too tired to go. It takes 45 minutes to walk up. But at this point in the trip, exhaustion was starting to set in. I do think it would be worth a visit though. Tours run every hour throughout the day.
Where to Stay in Pyhä-Luosto:
I stayed at Santa’s Hotel Aurora and even though I didn’t see Santa, I LOVED my stay here.
Nature and wilderness inspired decor combined with modern touches is exactly my style! But my favourite feature? My own personal sauna! Nothing makes me feel like a VIP more than having my very own sauna – especially after cycling!
They also have several glass igloo inspired rooms which would provide an incredible view of the Northern Lights. Albeit not when I was there during the Midnight Sun.
Where to Eat:
You can eat at Santa’s Hotel Aurora, but as I was there off season, they weren’t open for dinner.
Their breakfast buffet was fabulous though! I stuffed myself way too full! Not a good idea right before a half day of cycling, but a testament to the deliciousness of it!
I had a juicy steak in nearby Lapland Hotel Luostotunturi’s Bistro. It’s a large restaurant, yet still feels cozy with all of it’s natural elements. The service was excellent! Had I had more time in Luosto, I would have returned here to eat again and again!
Day 15: Pyhä-Luosto to Sodankylä
Cycling Distance: 39 km
Cycling Route Description:
I was grateful for the purposely short day to catch the Midnight Sun Film festival.
I was feeling exhausted and even though it was a short distance, it felt harder than it should have. It was windy, as usual on this trip, but otherwise uneventful.
What to See in Sodankylä:
I was there for the Midnight Sun Film Festival, one of the most northern film festivals in the world! It’s well known in Finland and internationally in film circles.
Films are shown in a school auditorium and in two tents. Unlike, other film festivals that I’ve attended, this one showed films through the ages.
The first one I saw was from the 1970s and was from what was then known as Czechoslovakia. It was a quirky event that I felt gave me a glimpse into Finnish culture.
Where to Stay in Sodankylä:
I stayed in student accommodation as I was in Sodankylä as media covering the film festival. The Hotel Sodankylä was where all the film directors and VIPs stayed. I ate breakfast there, and it was just OK.
Where to Eat:
You will find several cafes and eateries on Jäämerentie Street. There’s also a grocery store and convenience store.
Day 16: Sodankylä to Kiveliön Kala (between Sodankylä and Saariseklkä)
Cycling Distance: 66 km
This was my favourite day of cycling! It was sunny again – yeah, and the wind was barely blowing – another yeah!
Just north of Sodankylä there’s a separate bike path right along the Kivinen River! After cycling among forests for so much of the trip, it was a welcome respite to cycle in openness.
I also LOVED Cafe Harianna, located right on Lake Vajunen, about 40 km north from Sodankylä – and yes I had an ice cream at 10:00 am!
What to See Between Sodankylä and Kiveliön Kala:
As if cycling along the Kivinen River wasn’t enough, there’s also Ilmakkiaapa. It’s a national peatland protected area that is a major bird habitat.
You can walk along a 400 m long boardwalk and try your luck at bird watching. Or head to the bird watching tower at the end of the plank.
This was one of my favourite stops along the Iron Curtain Trail – it reminded me of the biodiversity to be found in seemingly nothing.
Where to Stay:
There are a few places you can stay between Sodankylä and Saariselkä. I stayed at Kiveliön Kala, which offers simple cottages. Bedding is provided, but you have to make your own bed.
The bathroom is shared and is about a 1 minute walk outside from your cottage. The owners are very friendly and personable.
Where to Eat:
I ate at the cafe at Kiveliön Kala. They’re famous for their fish and supply fish to much of Lapland, so be sure to try that. Unfortunately I don’t eat fish, so they served me a tasty reindeer dish instead.
Day 17: Kiveliön Kala to Saariselkä
Cycling Distance: 64 km
It was windy and rainy again, but I enjoyed cycling the short section of road between two lakes. It was nice to be in the open after cycling through so much forest.
What to See Between Kiveliön Kala and Saariselkä:
Try your luck at gold panning at the Tankavaara Gold Village, located 30 km south of Saariselkä. There’s an indoor and outdoor museum with the option to pan for gold.
There’s also a re-constructed gold mining town that’s worth a look and a restaurant.
Where to Stay in Saariselkä:
I stayed at the huge Santa’s Hotel Tunturi, which consists of several different buildings. I think it felt especially large since I was there during the off-season. The lobby of the building I was staying in wasn’t officially open. I loved my room thought, which was modern, yet inspired by nature and had it’s very own sauna!
Where to Eat:
I ate in the restaurant of Santa’s Hotel Tunturi and enjoyed it. The server was amiable.
Cycling Distance: 70 km
It was rainy and windy again, but it was exceptionally windy today. According to the weather forecast I had seen earlier in that morning winds of up to 50 km an hour were expected.
I was cycling on a highway with a narrow shoulder. It was all right if there was just one car. Finnish drivers are courteous and give you ample room.
But when two cars passed at the same time, there wasn’t any place for them to go. They came too close for comfort with the wind seemingly sucking me into the cars.
On top of that, I was suffering with a severe case of Handlebar Palsy in both of my hands- in which the ulnar nerve becomes compressed and your hand goes numb.
I hadn’t been able to feel a good portion of my hands in days. Cutting up food was difficult, as was doing up the button on my pants – anything that required dexterity.
This unfortunately including being able to steer my bike straight into a crosswind that was blowing me sideways into cars. I felt the swish of one car, then another, then another. My heart was pounding.
I stopped at a rest house in Ivalo for a hamburger and called my husband in tears. I had cycled 31 km, but still had another 39 km to do.
Determined, yet feeling defeated, II sat there with tears dripping down my eyes for all to see. But feeling too defeated to care, I made the tough call to take a bus the 39 km to Inari.
I felt like a failure, and like I had made the right decision at the same time. As stubborn as I was, I also knew that it wasn’t safe to continue with the wind when I wasn’t able to control my bike properly.
What to See Between Saariselkä and Inari:
There’s the Kamisak Husky & Horse Expeditions, which I wasn’t able to visit, and also the Design House Idoli. I’m not sure exactly what this is, but it came recommended. At any rate, it’s closed through the summer of 2015, so it wasn’t an option.
In Inari, there’s the Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sami and the Nature Centre of Metsähallitus, along with a cafe. I really recommend taking a couple of hours and stopping here.
The Sami are the last remaining indigenous people in Europe. Surviving hundreds of kilometres north of the Arctic Circle isn’t easy, yet they figured it out thousands of years ago.
I hadn’t heard of the Sami before and enjoyed learning more about them and their way of life.
Where to Stay in Inari:
I stayed at the Hotel Village Inari, which provides camping and self-catering cottages. Some cottages have bathrooms like mine did, while some have shared bathrooms outside the cottage.
It’s right on the shores of Lake Inari. Some cottages provide a lakeside view. You can either bring your own bedding, or rent it from them on site.
Where to Eat:
I ate at the Hotel Inari and enjoyed my elegant meal. There’s also a grocery store in Inari where you can pick up what you need for breakfast and some snacks.
Day 19 and 20: Inari to Nuorgam
I planned to cycle 99km from Inari to my accommodation Kenestupa, located 27 km from Utsjoki. And then on Day 21 cycle the 71 km to Nuorgam the end point of my trip. And the most northerly point in both Finland and the EU.
I had noticed that the road got bumpy, and stayed that way for a while, before admitting that it wasn’t the road, it was a flat tire. My first one in 19 days of cycling (I didn’t cycle on day 1).
I was in the middle of nowhere, well somewhere 30 km north of Inari.
I felt panic arise in me as I forced myself to breathe. Mechanics of any kind are not my strong suit. As luck would have it, it was my back tire.
Unable to feel most of my hands due to the compressed nerve, it took me 20 minutes just to release the lever to get the tire off. I searched for the hole, but was unable to find it.
No problem, I had purchased a spare in Kitee from a bike shop. Just breathe, everything will be fine, I whispered under my breath. Except that the valve was too big, even though the tube was the right size. There was no way it would fit in the rim of the tire.
Panic boiled up inside me again, as went back to searching for the hole on the original tire. Two hours later, I admitted defeat.
My worst nightmare was happening, what I had worried about for weeks before the trip – being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike!
As luck would have it, I was planning to meet up with Tiina from Aurora Holidays, when I arrived near Utsjoki, which was still 80 km away. In her last message she had said that she could pick me up if I needed a ride.
I thought this was a nice gesture, if not a little bit strange. Why would I need a ride, when I was cycling? After two hours, I messaged her and told her my predicament.
Within minutes, she was on her way driving 70 km to pick up a girl she’d never met, only briefly exchanged messages with.
Once she found me, we drove to Kenestupa, self-serviced cottages, where I was to spend the night. Unfortunately, my cabin was locked.
Tiina had been in touch with the owner and called her to get the code to my cabin. Unfortunately the owner didn’t have the code either and tried to reach the employee who did.
After waiting for 30 minutes, with no way to get into my cabin and no foreseeable resolution, I took it as fate that I was supposed to continue to Nuorgam. I would cycle under the midnight sun!
In the meantime, Tiina took my bike to a friend of hers who had a snowmobile and boat motor repair shop to get the bike fixed. The plan was to do some sightseeing in Utsjoki, and then I would cycle the remaining 40 km to Nuorgam later that night.
It didn’t matter when I left, since it was 24 hours of sunlight! One of the joys of cycling in Finland – you never have to worry about it getting dark in summer, especially when you’re in Lapland!
After some sightseeing and a homemade dinner at Tiina’s house, I hosted a Twitter chat. It involves a flurry of typing and had me howling out in pain minutes into the chat.
My hands resembled those of someone ladened with crippled arthritic hands. I couldn’t straighten my fingers and I had no feeling in half of my hands and two of my fingers on each hand.
I had no idea how I was going to be able to grip my handlebars for 40 km.
As luck would have it, Tiina was going to work later that night in Norway, and Nuorgam was on her way.
Once again, I set aside my pride and took a ride from here. My 1500 km cycling trip across Finland, had become a 1350 km one.
What to See in Utsjoki:
The Utsjoki Old Church Village just outside of Utsjoki date back to the 18th century. They’re some of the oldest buildings in Finland.
They Churchgoers who travelled too far to return the same day slept in them. A few of them were open so that you could peek inside.
You’ll also want to spend some time on or near the Teno River! It’s reportedly the best salmon fishing in all of Finland, and attracts fishermen from all over the country.
The road from Utsjoki to Nuorgam, follows the Teno River and is one of the most scenic in the country. This is what I had REALLY been looking forward to cycle, but now had to settle for driving it.
It’s some of the most unique landscape in the entire country. I found it fascinating to see how much grows 400 km north of the Arctic Circle.
I also recommend crossing the Sami Bridge which connects Finland to Norway – selfie optional!
There’s also Giisa Cafe and Handicraft Shop, right in Utsjoki,. It sells handicrafts made by locals.
Although I didn’t have the energy to experience it, there are some great hiking trails in the area.
You can check with the local tourist office in Utsjoki for further trail information.
Where to Stay in Utsjoki:
The aforementioned Kenestupa located 27 km from Utsjoki is one option. Alternatively, you can stay in one of the cottages that Tiina has approximately 10 km east of Utsjoki on the way to Nuorgam.
What to See in Nuorgam:
I did manage to do a wee hike and drag myself to the hilltop for a view of the Teno River. But there are much longer hikes you could do if you weren’t exhausted as I was.
I would love to go back just for the hiking!
I also couldn’t resist going just a few kilometres outside of Nuorgram in the direction of Norway and visiting the monument marking the most northern point in Finland – and the EU!
There’s also a museum a few kilometres further down the road in Norway. But it was closed the day I was there. Apparently, the king and queen of Norway were visiting nearby. Everyone had gone to see them.
I’m not a fisherman, but I did enjoy hanging out by the Teno River. I found its slow-moving waters to be incredibly peaceful and comforting.
Where to Stay in Nuorgam:
I was supposed to stay one night at the Nuorgam Holiday Centre but ended up spending two due to not spending a night at Kenestupa.
I enjoyed my stay in the good-size self-catered cottages which includes towels and bedding. It’s a family run business, and the owners are amiable and helpful!
Where to Eat:
I alternated between eating at the cafe-restaurant at the Nuorgam Holiday Centre. Hanging out here to read while sipping mugs of strong coffee, and cooking in my cottage. There are two grocery stores nearby.
My EPIC trip didn’t have the ending I had pictured. In which after 19 days of cycling I would imagine a crowd cheering me to the finish line.
Just as I had done the previous summer for the Tour du France. But this time I would be the one they would be cheering on! I realized that this would only happen in my head, but still, I would be a hero, if only to myself.
Instead, my adventure had an anti-climatic ending. Having to be picked up and dropped off at my end point.
That didn’t deserve a cheer in my book. On the other hand, that’s what adventure is. You never know what’s going to happen along the way, or how it’s going to end.
I’m happy mine ended meeting a new friend and reminding me of the kindness of strangers. Besides, I still cycled 1350 km – my longest cycling trip by far. And a reason to proud!
Whew, that was a looooong post – over 8400 words! Also be sure to check out: Everything You Need to Know About Cycling the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland post, in which I address even more practical issues!
Note: My epic cycling the EV 13, The Iron Curtain Trail through Finland was made possible from Visit Finland and the EV 13 Finland. As always, all opinions are my own!