During winter, snow-laden winds sweep across lakes and tundras of Finnish Lapland, freezing all in their wake. Reindeer forage for lichen in the chilled earth, and the brief minutes the sun rises above the horizon are bookended by a deep blue twilight that heralds the return of the polar night.
A thousand kilometres south, there’s no snow on the footpaths of the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but it retains its connection with the drama of the deep north through Lapland Hotel Bulevardi, in the chic Design District.
Let me tell you: breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few. But this one – inspired by the food of Lapland – is one of the most intriguing.
To read my story, published by Essentials Magazine, click here
Breakfast buffets, I’ve had a few in this job. But this morning’s buffet at the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, in Helsinki, was one of the best.
I’m currently in the Finnish capital, about to head even further north to Kuusamo, on the border of Russia and Lapland, which is why I chose to stay in this new hotel in Helsinki – to warm up to the Lappish way of life.
It was a mix of the stylish, handmade ceramics by Anu Pentik, the moody setting with its reindeer pelts and the exciting food – much of it drawn from Lapland, where the group is dominant – that makes it an absolute standout.
Top of the list was the most humble dish, an exceptional organic oatmeal porridge, slow cooked in the oven for three hours: I’m not usually a salty porridge girl, but with cherry jam and a swish of Lappish honey, it sung to me.
I couldn’t eat it all, I had to leave space for the spruce sprout smoothie and the sea buckthorn smoothie, the warm smoked salmon and the ice-cellar pickled salmon. Then the smoked reindeer and oyster mushroom omelette, a little of the reindeer blood sausage with lingonberry jam, cloudberries, blackberries, blueberries from Muonio, lingonberry pie and smoked cheeses from Kuusamo (where we head tomorrow). It took a while.
Small Girl tested the mini cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti) and hot chocolate, and declared them perfect.
The chef on the breakfast shift admitted that Lappish cuisine is protein-heavy. “Hearty,” was his diplomatic word for the array of meats, fish, cheeses and cakes that lined the buffet.
The devastating news is that because we are leaving so early tomorrow, we will miss breakfast, which rolls in until 1pm on Sundays.
No wonder Finns are so happy.
It’s the prettiest town in Kosovo, and the centre of Prizren is its Shatërvan square. Its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, snow-tipped mountains send snowmelt rushing down the river through the town’s centre, a Byzantine-era fortress keeps a watchful eye over all: what’s not to love?
If you’re venturing into the Balkans, my advice is to skip staying in little Kosovo’s rather drab, earnest capital, Pristina, and instead make Prizren your base from which to do day trips – to the vineyards, to the mountains, to the capital city.
DISCLAIMER: I travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.
The Balkans are literally the land of honey and blood, named by Turks who netted the peninsula – from Slovenia to Albania – into the Ottoman Empire, where it remained ensnared for five centuries until 1912. In Turkish, “bal” is honey, “kan” is blood. And as they learned, the riches are sweet, but come at a price.
This summer, I spent a couple of weeks on a tour with Intrepid Travel, from the Albanian capital of Tirana through to Kosovo and on to Macedonia, before returning back to Albania.
It was my first time in the western Balkans, though I’ve skirted around the region, in Greece, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria, at different times of my travelling life.
So some things were familiar – using bears as novelty drawcards at restaurants, the Cyrillic alphabet – but there was plenty of new ground – seeing little red-roofed villages, the symbol of Middle Europe, clustered around a mosque, instead of a church, or the sheer beauty of the Accursed Mountains.
Beautiful and blissfully ignored by the mass tourism that pervades such European cities as Barcelona or Paris, I almost don’t want to share them, to preserve their purity.