Guide / Rovaniemi
Aalto architecture and wonderous wildlife in ”the home of Santa Claus”
The co-founder of Arctic TreeHouse, Ilkka Länkinen, guides to the largest city in Europe by land area with, possibly, the best restaurant variety on the Arctic Circle.
22 Dec 2022

Who are you?

— I am 48 years old, a father of four children, and an entrepreneur. I believe in life-long learning and I have already completed a few degrees and studies, such as an engineering degree and an MBA, and my latest endeavour is an ongoing pilot licence. I am also a Christmas writer, says Länkinen. He continues:

— Me and my wife and business partner, Katja Ikäheimo-Länkinen, opened Arctic TreeHouse in 2016, created by Emma Johansson and Studio Puisto. I laughed when telling her that the extra beds could be put in a cupboard, and this is how our nest beds were born and our pine cone cow suites stand on their own feet. The design of the hotel showcases contrasts that are often found in Arctic nature. Our suites emanate gentle luxury, with a huge window facing nature in the north, from which you can admire the frozen midwinter. Luckily, we decided to make a prototype of the pine cone cow because experiencing the suite first-hand led to us making at least a dozen alterations. 3D images never tell you as much as experiencing a prototype for real. It’s better to make one mistake instead of 60.

”Rovaniemi is Europe’s largest city by area”

For someone who hasn’t been to Rovaniemi, how would you describe it?

— It’s a town that is an interesting combination of different construction styles, which is naturally influenced by a lot of history — Rovaniemi was totally destroyed by fire in the Lapland War, and the town was reconstructed quickly. What’s great about Rovaniemi, is that it’s the capital of Lapland, located at the confluence of two great rivers, and if you depart from the town centre, whichever direction you choose, in 10 minutes you will find yourself in spectacular Lappish nature. There is a lot of Arctic wilderness that is easy to reach, even though the town is also home to Finland’s third-largest international airport, with many international flights. We have more reindeer than people living here, even though Lapland is actually four times the size of the Netherlands. Rovaniemi is Europe’s largest city by area, and thanks to the popularity of international tourism, we have a very rich restaurant and café culture — possibly the largest restaurant variety on the Arctic Circle.

My favourite thing that makes me proud of Rovaniemi:

— Over the decades, Rovaniemi has become my hometown. It’s fascinating because of its smallness, dynamic elements, and efficiency. It is an enormous and vibrant village located on the Arctic Circle, one with a long history and rich nature.

My favourite weekend routine:

— In my spare time, I love to spend time outdoors. Our family has a hunting lodge half an hour away from the town centre, in a nature conservation area, literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but nature. Mountain biking, kayaking, traditional Finnish sauna evenings, and hot tub moments surrounded by the sound of silence really do revitalise you. On top of that, there’s a good 5G internet connection that also allows you to work from the lodge, if necessary.

Weekend activities. Photography: Juho Kuva

My favourite place for dining out:

— I enjoy dinner in our own Rakas restaurant. I know that all the ingredients are of high quality and genuinely sourced from nearby local farms and small suppliers. I also really love the local Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Noodle Bar. It was founded by three students who were unsuccessful at finding work. Their story really appealed to me and the food is delicious. Then there is the Korean restaurant, Hanki, which is also one of my personal favourites. We are very lucky to have plenty of quality restaurants in Rovaniemi. 

My favourite place for a creative or business meeting:

PurePizza and Kauppayhtiö, with its comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Kauppayhtiö is also an antique shop and is located in one of the oldest buildings in Rovaniemi. 

My favourite breakfast place:

— Sara Lähde has conjured up an exquisitely tasty breakfast menu at Arctic Light Hotel. In the summer months, my mornings start beautifully with breakfast at the market. You can’t help but have a great day if you start it at the marketplace with fresh salmon on bread and a steamy hot cup of coffee.

My favourite excursion or city escape:

— In the winter months, I can go cross-country skiing right from my home, or ride a snowmobile on the frozen river, where you can experience the winter of Lapland at its best.

My favourite local entrepreneur or creative person I want to promote:

— Ceramic artist Miki Kim, originally from South Korea, who now lives in Lapland. I find her clear, Scandinavian design both pleasing and appealing.

My favourite hotel for a staycation:

Hotelli Haawe has a very nice concept. It’s different, surprising, and modern. 

My favourite route for a run or walk:

— Here in Rovaniemi, we have Siltojen Lenkki, which is a 9.5 kilometres long ring route tour crossing the biggest bridges. The town sits at the point where the longest rivers in Finland, the Kemijoki River and the Ounasjoki River, join together. Close to the town centre, you can cross these great rivers using three different bridges, one of which is a renowned monument of Rovaniemi, the Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge.

My favourite space for great design: 

The Alvar Aalto Administrative and Cultural Centre. Finland’s best-renowned national architect, Alvar Aalto, designed the Rovaniemi City Hall, Rovaniemi City Library, and Lappia House. He’s also designed the local detailed plan for Rovaniemi which is called the Reindeer Antler Town Plan.

My favourite place for fashion:

— My wife adores the local family-run company, Santa’s Luxury. They have unique imports and reliable quality. I want to rely on the quality of products, as we need to let go of the throwaway culture.

My favourite cultural spot:

— The visiting exhibitions at the Korundi House of Culture are my favourites. With a group of good friends, we occasionally reserve spaces in a gallery and drink some sparkling wine served with tasty appetizers. We admire the exhibition together, after which we dine at one of the many restaurants in Rovaniemi.

My favourite example of technological innovation: 

— Without a doubt, it has to be the electrically powered snowmobile. It is an outstanding example of sustainable Arctic design.

My favourite local media:

Lapin Kansa is the local newspaper reporting news from the entire Lapland region in Finland. It’s a good way of keeping up with what’s going on close to home.

My favourite thing at home:

— I am somewhat of a coffee freak. At home, I always make my own blend of coffee beans, grind the beans per cup, and the aroma remains precisely the way it is supposed to. My coffee is perfected with frothy milk on top. It’s great to start the morning with magnificent coffee.