Finland is a land of glacial lakes and pine forests, tundra reindeer, saunas and summer houses. Somehow less famously, it’s also a country of islands, tallying over 180,000, from its western shoreline to neighbouring Sweden, heralding the world’s largest archipelago.
Between the border and Helsinki in the south, rolling pasture dotted with Falun red farms gradually dissolves into marshland (from which the Finnish word for the country, Suomi, gets its name) before morphing again into meandrous rocky coastlines. They are connected at first by road bridges, ferries, and eventually – only by boat.
Before even departing the capital, Finland’s maritime spirit rises, for Helsinki is itself an archipelago encircled on three sides by the sea. Just ten minutes by boat from the market harbour, past former military outposts and ice breakers, a new breed of residence rises from a rocky outcrop: the Majamaja eco-cabin.
Majamaja – elegant off-grid living
Blending Finnish wooden architecture with patented green technology, this 3-sleeper ‘little house’ (which starts from €230 per night) marks the emergence of an off-grid village, part of the City of Helsinki’s Maritime Strategy 2030: committed to preserving the natural environment and achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
Led by architect Pekka Littow, Majamaja is a minimalist’s nirvana, complete with a mezzanine bedroom, solar energy kitchenette, bespoke foldable furniture, and closed-loop water system – reusing 98 litres out of every 100 and ensuring zero greywaters enters the sea. Every element optimises resources and space – including foldaway stools, beds and a geometric Japanese-style staircase.
A morning on the terrace, in the company of nesting seabirds and passing fishermen, the case for the Majamaja lifestyle is quickly irrefutable.
The template set by Majamaja is not just one of radically rethought, spartan architecture but a mode of slow travel – recast in varying guises across the country’s sparsely populated landscape.
The Baro cabin hotel
One of the newest and most luxury interpretations is an hour from the city at the Baro Hotel. As sleek as it is secluded, Baro comprises 18 pre-fab cabins zigzagging through the trees. Ensuites, espresso machines and the obligatory bedroom panorama complete the picture. Meanwhile, the hotel’s waterfront sauna and canopy restaurant are soon to be boosted by a Japanese onsen and Turkish hammam-inspired spa complex and a 40-seater restaurant.
Big plans are in the works, but the hotel’s environmental ethos is unwavering. Baro owner Jussi Paavoseppä relays how he struck a deal with the builders that they wouldn’t get paid until the moss had grown back on the land. ‘The main point is, we really didn’t want to destroy nature’, Paavoseppä insists.
Nolla Vanö island
From the eco-driven to the luxurious, Finland’s cabin architecture continues into the depths of the Turku archipelago. Vanö island is home to a community of a dozen or so fisherfolk. It is soon to welcome a cache of 8-10 cabins from Nolla – the Helsinki-based ‘primitive luxury’ glamping company, whose existing destinations are close to the capital and Hossa National park, launching in summer 2022.
Nolla’s tent-shaped designs (which rent from €200 per night) combine local pine and plywood with mirrored facades and glass fronts, balancing camouflage with permeability.
‘There’s no road, unfortunately’, quips Nolla’s Roope Lemmetti as we clamber from boat dock to boulder, bound for my cabin on Bärsskär. Serving up a generous slice of Finland’s natural landscape is essential to the Nolla experience, explains founder Joel Uussaari (and Lemmetti’s childhood friend): ‘We don’t just build anywhere…when people visit one of our cabins, they can be sure the setting is really unique.’
Hilltop Forest in Inkoo
If anywhere offers the perfect blend of remote, ‘laid-back-luxury’ – it’s at the end of the gravel track at Hilltop Forest.
Launched this spring by Finnish-British couple Tiia Soppela & Craig Mcdonald (who have made their home in Inkoo, one hour from Helsinki), Hilltop Forest is a boutique resort ‘with a good conscience’, with three secluded cabins for ultimate privacy and escape, starting from €198 per night.
And if ever Finland had an answer for forest bathing, this is it, with its glass-fronted, wood-fueled saunas poised for sunsets through the pines. Personal design touches – from the careful sourcing of linen bedsheets to oak pizza boards – are matched by eco-driven problem-solving, easy charm and commitment to doing things right.
‘We have this deep belief that companies genuinely need to do better,’ says Soppela.
Stepping through the doorway of these unique cabins, there’s the sense of the infinite value of nature – and that its protection is vital.