A tiny village in the far north of Finland is an essential stop for visitors keen to immerse themselves in nature and culture
The tiny town of Inari sits on the western shore of Lapland's largest lake – and its proximity to stunning natural landscapes and fascinating Sámi history make it an essential stop when travelling in northern Finland.
Inari is Finland's most important Sámi centre, with the Sajos cultural centre and seat of the Finnish Sámi parliament sitting proudly in the centre of town. And although the village itself is small – with attractive, painted wooden houses tucked into the trees or sitting on the water's edge – there are some outstanding activities to enjoy during a stay here.
Let's start with the lake. At around 100km long and with depths of up to 100m, spectacular Lake Inarijärvi is Finland's second largest. There are more than 3,000 islands dotted amongst its waters in a vast area of pristine natural beauty.
The best way to enjoy this beautiful scenery in summer is to take a lake cruise with Visit Inari – available as soon as the ice melts in June.
The trip lasts three hours, skimming gently past rocky shoreline and deep green forest, and weaving between tree-topped islands and islets. The destination is Ukko Island – a distinct, cone-shaped rocky outcrop that can be spotted from some distance away. This tiny island is sacred to the Sámi, and was used as a sacrificial offering ground right up until the 19th century.
The boat stops here and passengers have the chance to disembark and clamber to the top of the hill – a relatively easy climb thanks to wooden stairways that zigzag up the slope. At the summit expect spectacular views, with the island-studded waters of Lake Inari stretching as far as the eye can see.
Lapland's nature and history
Back on dry land, another not-to-be-missed attraction is the superb Siida museum. Allow plenty of time to explore this large indoor and outdoor museum – you could easily while away several hours in the absorbing exhibitions here.
The first room to head for is the introductory exhibition. This uses a timeline, interlaced with historic world events, to tell the story of Lapland's nature and history – and introduces visitors to the remarkable way of life of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
In this part of the museum you will discover that the oldest, still-living Inari pines germinated in the 1200s; that Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917; and that the first-ever Sámi National Day was celebrated on 6 February 1993 – along with many other fascinating facts.
Another large room houses a stunning exhibition focusing on nature and the seasons – and how the Sami work with these to survive in the extreme conditions of the far north.
This is a beautifully designed space, with the cultural elements of the exhibition – such as brightly coloured traditional textiles, a lavvu (a Lappish pole tent), sleighs, and information about Sami reindeer-herding – situated within an encircling outer display that guides visitors through a year in Lapland, month-by-month. This explores the seasons – from the summer midnight sun to the endless sunless frozen days of winter – in an appealing way, focusing on the plants and animals that live in the region.
One of the most extraordinary buildings is the Mirham Hut, a courthouse cabin that was used for legal proceedings up until 1905. The walls of the cabin are filled with the carved signatures of the people awaiting trial.
The museum is fantastic for young children – especially in the outdoor area, where they can run around and explore inside many of the buildings. There's also an excellent playroom inside, with a reconstructed cabin, complete with sound effects, that children can crawl inside to play house.
Siida's museum shop is a great place to pick up authentic gifts and Lappish handicrafts, including jewellery, colourful textiles and ceramics. Look out for kuksa – traditional birch wood drinking cups. Available in a range of different sizes, they make a fantastic souvenir.
If a visit to the Siida Museum leaves you itching to get out and about to explore the natural landscapes you've just learnt about, there are plenty of hiking trails branching out from the village.
Outside, an open-air museum showcases a range of Sámi dwellings with an 800m-marked trail looping between some 50 exhibits. These include an assortment of original wooden cabins and farm buildings that date from the 1800s, moved to Siida in 1960 from a Sámi homestead community. Look out for the conical wooden cooking hut, fish-storage huts made from peat, and high-level storeroom, with ladder entrance to protect the food inside from animals.
One of the most accessible of these is a beautiful riverside walk, the Juutua trail, which follows the Juutuanjoki River – look out for red squirrels hopping along the wooded paths.
Or try one of the other trails. From short family-friendly circuits to long and challenging hikes, there's something for all abilities.
Other outdoor activities abound – such as Northern Lights tours, canoeing on Lake Inari, mountain biking or fishing. For more information on all of these, see the Visit Inari website.
Where to stay
Smart, modern and comfortable Hotel Inari is in an ideal location right on the lakeshore in the centre of the village. Rooms are decorated in calming natural tones, with sumptuous soft furnishings and wooden floors – some have private saunas and lake views.
There are spacious two- and three- bedroom apartments, which are great for families. These are also decorated in sleek, modern style and have a fully equipped kitchen, and a living room with flat-screen television. There's a supermarket just across the road – so self-catering is easy.
The breakfast at Hotel Inari is superb, with a range of hot and cold food, including traditional Karelian pies, filled with rice and potato, smoked salmon, eggs, croissants and fresh fruit. Breakfast is served in the dining room, where large windows offer lovely views of the lake.
Hotel Inari offers an exceptionally friendly welcome, with staff on hand to give advice on the local area and help organize tours and activities.
Green Adventures July 2018