After our first trip with the baby to Posio, we waited only a week to go for another weekend trip. This time almost opposite direction – to the northern tip of the Baltic Sea. We always wanted to explore the area around the border with Sweden. Unlike the last weekend, this one was expected to be sunny and hot (for Finnish conditions) with temperatures over 20 degrees. As the polar days have just started we hoped to enjoy the sunshine all around the clock! And it actually happened!
The world’s most northern motorway
Already when we left Rovaniemi on Friday afternoon, it was warm and sunny and trees were finally green. At last, the birches had leaves. The first weekend of June was cold and snowy and there were no leaves on the trees at all. It takes about 2 hours to reach Tornio, so we thought we would reach it in one go. But this time Mieszko had other plans. More or less halfway from Rovaniemi he started crying and forced us to find quickly a place to stop and feed him. We arrived at Tornio quite late, even though the last section of the way goes on the world’s most northern motorway.
First impressions of Tornio
The town of Tornio is connected with Haparanda on the Swedish side. Even though it’s right on the border with Sweden, there is no Swedish minority and Finnish is spoken unlike on the southern and western coast of Finland. We stayed at Park Hotel Tornio that is right in the downtown with a great view of the Torne river. After the check in, all of us were so tired that we decided to take a nap.
When we rested, we went for a midnight sun walk around downtown. Mieszko continued sleeping while we were discovering nice spots of Tornio around the hotel. It was sunny and warm so we stayed outside quite long and even ventured a bit to Sweden so that Mieszko went abroad for the first time in his life! And we crossed the border right where the most northern Ikea store in the world is 🙂
Road trip to the rapids and exploring Sweden
Saturday was going to be busy. We had many places to see on our list. We were quite sure that the list is too long for one day with Mieszko. We started the day with delicious and big buffet breakfast served in one of the hotel’s restaurants. We planned to be away from the hotel for the whole day to explore few popular and some off-the-beaten-path attractions.
The weather was perfect for spending time outdoors, so even though we had a spacious and comfy room, we didn’t want to stay long inside. There are plenty of nature spots to see close to Tornio. We started the day from one of the most popular rapid, Kukkolankoski. It was a short drive up the Torne river from the hotel. The river is wide and with a stretch of rapids on its whole width. This was the biggest rapid we have seen so far and the biggest in Finland. There are many other rapids in the country, but what we have visited earlier are mainly on much narrower rivers and therefore are not as impressive. The exception might be the picturesque Myllykoski near Juuma in Oulanka National Park.
Short stop at Matkakoski
Mieszko, unfortunately, overslept the rapid, but he saw another rapid later that day. We followed the river north to Matkakoski rapid. That place is nice too, but it’s better to visit it from Swedish side. When we arrived there on Finnish side, the access road was crowded with parked cars of anglers. The whole shore was full of people angling. There were a few of them in Kukkolankoski, but here, there were way too many people fishing and we couldn’t really enjoy the rapid. After a quick look, we simply went on to another place we wanted to see.
Hiking at Nivavaara
We planned that Nivavaara will be the first hike of Mieszko. The way is The trail is only 700 m long from the parking lot. It leads through the forest that was bit wet and muddy. At the end of the trail, close to the top of the hill, there is a lean-to. It is a good place for sleeping, but the wood supply is not maintained, so everyone needs to bring their own. Around the shelter the landscape is different. The hill is covered with rocks and there is a good view of the river valley. Few pictures later we continued down to the car. The first hike with the baby done! It was a good exercise to carry him up even on such short trail.
That was everything we wanted to see on the Finnish side of the Torne river. In the other part of the day, we wanted to check Baltic Sea and its islands on the Swedish side. But instead of driving back the same way we went still a bit more north to Ylitornio and crossed the border there. We wanted to see how different Swedish side of the valley is. The main difference turned out to be bad road quality. But there were two good spots to stop! Maybe even more, but we know only about these two.
Improvised stop at Luppio Hill
From the road, before we actually crossed the border we noticed a rocky hill with big Swedish flag swinging gently in the wind. It turned out to be called Luppio hill. We spotted the name on the tourist signs on the roadside. We thought it’ll be another short hike for today, but we didn’t expect that it’ll be that short. There is a restaurant accessible by car from where you can walk on the rocks for about 400 meters to the flagpole on the top of the hill.
The views are nicer than from Nivavaara as you are on the top of large, steep rocks. The way down can be even shorter if you are not afraid of jumping off few rocks instead of following the trail with wooden stairs.
Matkakoski from Sweeden
The other place worth stopping on Swedish side is Matkakoski. It’s a bit further from the main road than on Finnish side, but unlike there, in Sweden it’s empty. There were no other people when we arrived at the parking lot. And we could see not only the rapid but also the crowd fishing on the other side of the river.
The Baltic Sea and its pretty island: Seskarö
Our next destinations were the islands on the Baltic Sea, especially one, named Seskarö. Like mentioned earlier, the Swedish roads were not as good as on the Finnish side. On the way between Ylitornio and Seskarö, I have seen every speed limit between 40 and 110 by every 10 km/h. Along the river, the speed limit is 80, then down to 60, back to 70, down to 50 and so on 🙂 The road to the island is a scenic drive with several bridges between the islands. The island is mainly covered with pine forest. On the northern side of the island, there is a small settlement named originally Seskarö. There are less than 500 people living on the island now which is roughly half of the population from the 60s. The settlement is connected to the mainland by bridges only since 1978.
Seskarö is a lovely place in good summer weather with a lot of sunshine and definitely worth visiting, but it seems a very demanding place to live permanently especially in dark winters. We went first to a jetty next to an industrial area that looked like a meeting place for elderly inhabitants who enjoyed the good weather. Later we crossed the island towards its southwest end where we dipped in the Baltic Sea on the local beach. Unfortunately, Mieszko wasn’t allowed to swim yet 🙁
Back to Tornio
From Seskarö, we headed back to the hotel to rest in our room. After the long day spent in the car, we wanted only a shower and the comfortable bed. When we arrived, we were unpacking, but when we looked outside, we noticed flames above the trees. There was big fire on the other side of the river. It just started based on the short smoke trace on the sky. The fire was higher at some point than the nearby apartment buildings. We didn’t know what was burning, but we guessed it was some railway building based on the map. It turned out we guessed right. Ten minutes later when I arrived there by car there was only a skeleton of the building left and no more big flames, only smoke.
A bit more Sweden
We spent whole Saturday outdoors on the car trip with many stops. We did even more than we planned for the day. Thus on Sunday, we had only a few places in mind where we wanted to stop. We knew we will sleep in our comfy beds as long as Mieszko lets us 🙂 We indeed slept quite long and without interruptions at night, but in the morning we didn’t manage to eat breakfast in the restaurant with Mieszko as he started crying soon after we sat down. That meant that we had to eat in turns, but it was actually good as we didn’t need to rush and could enjoy a real summer strawberry dessert! It’s a pity that the whole weekend we were so busy we have never had time for checking sauna and swimming pool in the hotel 🙁
First, we headed back to Haparanda to have a walk with Mieszko in Riekkola-Välivaara Nature Reserve on the shore of the sea. The area is nice for a short walk, but as it’s very small we didn’t stay there long. Instead, we headed back to Tornio to check arboretum. It’s possible to enter for free. It is a very little garden, but in the middle of June, it was full of blossoming flowers, so definitely worth to take a look.
A World Heritage Site at Aavasaksa
On the way back to Rovaniemi, we chose a bit longer route. We left Tornio and headed north along the river to Aavasaksa. We wanted to see one of the points of Struve Geodetic Arc that is part of UNESCO World Heritage List. The arc stretches from Hammerfest in Norway to the Ukrainian Black Sea. The chain was established in 19th century in order to measure the exact size and shape of Earth. One of the measurement points is on the top of the highest hill in Aavasaksa. Nowadays car road leads to the top of the hill and there is an observation tower that is a good viewpoint to the Torne river valley. Next to the modern tower (built in the 1960s), there is the oldest cottage in Lapland that was erected as a shelter for travelers. At the moment the shelter is a museum and is open to visitors only in summer. We could see it only from outside at the time we were there.
From Aavasaksa we headed through Finnish countryside straight to Rovaniemi. We had an awesome weekend and Park Hotel Tornio was a perfect place to stay for exploring the natural jewels of Torne river valley and the northern tip of the Baltic Sea.
Disclosure: Park Hotel Tornio provided us a cozy accommodation, but opinions expressed here are our own.