FINLAND HAS ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN FOR ITS SPARE, CLEAN AND FUNCTIONAL DESIGN, a reputation that burst forth internationally at design fairs around the world in the '50s and '60s. Today the country's talent still maintains a thriving arts scene, and it translates into special shopping and cultural opportunities for visitors.
On a recent visit to Helsinki, Travel Agent enjoyed a whirlwind tour of the city's design shops and museums. We noted a rare energy in this Scandinavian city, which had just wrapped up its annual Design Week, a period when designer studios and installations staged in private homes are open to the public and a wide range of fairs, exhibitions, shows and get-togethers are held all over the city. (The next Helsinki Design Week will be held September 24 to October 5. See www.helsinkidesignweek.fi.)
It's easy to enjoy the city's artistic elements throughout the year. Start your visit at Design District Helsinki (www.designdistrict.fi), a sprawling region that is home to more than 150 boutiques, studios, galleries and restaurants.
Of note is the Design Forum Shop, operated by Design Forum Finland (www.designforum.fi), where the merchandise comprises products that are 100 percent Finnish in their design.
Shoppers looking for unusual clothing and accessories will be delighted with the number of options in Helsinki. Travel agents should, however, advise their clients that they won't find an overabundance of the standard luxury brands typically found in big shopping cities worldwide, since Helsinki has not yet been "discovered" by those designers and manufacturers. We found that to be rather refreshing in a way, since it leaves the main focus on young, enthusiastic artists who are able to display their concepts in an uncluttered environment.
For example, when we went to the shop of Nessi Hovi (www.nessihovi.com), we heard the designer explain his affinity for custom-made designs of casual wear and other leisure items. At Secco Shop (www.seccoshop.com), which specializes in "treasures of the wasteland," we learned about recycling non-apparel goods to create clothing and accessories. Here, tire inner tubes are turned into handbags, washing machine drums into stylish bowls and computer and typewriter keys into magnets and key rings.
We also stopped in at Lumi Accessories (www.lumiaccessories.com), which designs handbags and accessories for men and women. Its trademark is its use of premium leather. Check out Hanna Saren (www.hannasaren.com) for stylish clothing, handbags and shoes. We also recommend Helsinki 10 (www.helsinki10.fi), a department store where a number of designers' works are on view and available for purchase. At IVANAhelsinki (www.ivanahelsinki.com the designs were quite sophisticated, with racks of brightly colored clothing on two levels to explore.
Shoppers must not miss Marimekko (www.marimekko.fi), probably the most familiar Finnish design name in the U.S. market. The company's known for its dramatic patterns and high-quality textiles.
Where to Stay
During our visit to Helsinki, we stayed at two four-star hotels. The city-center Restel Crowne Plaza (www.crowneplaza-helsinki.fi) is an active business hotel, where we found the accommodations comfortable and fully equipped with the necessary amenities to make our stay pleasant. We loved its Restaurant Macu, which has an extensive lunch and dinner menu and a full breakfast buffet option.
We truly enjoyed our stay at Hotel Glo (www.palacekamp.fi/in_english/hotels/hotel_glo), described by its promoters as an "urban lifestyle" property. Our room was compact, with a bed, desk and seating area. We loved the Glo's proximity to Kamp Galleria, an upscale shopping mall (read: Marimekko, Bang & Olufsen, Mexx) accessible from the hotel's lobby. Leave time in the evening to enjoy its active bar scene.
Glo is a member of Palace Kämp hotels, as is the adjacent Hotel Kämp (www.hotelkamp.fi), part of Starwood's Luxury Collection and considered one of Helsinki's best properties. We were impressed with our site inspection of this grande dame of hospitality, which has welcomed dignitaries since its debut in 1887. Contact Katriina Lahti ([email protected]) for more information.
The more modest Klaus K Hotel (www.klauskhotel.com) belongs to Design Hotels; its rooms are themed around the emotions depicted in mythical literature, such as mystery, passion, desire and envy. The hotel is overseen by General Manager Marc Skvorc; travel agent liaison is the director of sales, Pasi Nakki ([email protected]).
Our guide was Biggi Korhonen, a pleasant and knowledgeable docent who is intimately familiar with the city ([email protected]). Another name to know is Anders Westerholm, who can arrange shopping and dining tours. Recommend him to your Gen-X and Gen-Y clients, since he's the chief editor of Helsinki Nightlife Guide and owner of a local nightclub ([email protected]).
The company Helsinki Expert Oy (www.helsinkiexpert.fi) provides ground transportation, private tours and programs for groups, including shore excursions. Contact Enna Paavola, director of marketing and sales, at [email protected] Another firm that handles private tours is Cosy Finland (www.cosyfinland.com); contact Kirsti Sergejeff at [email protected]
A highlight of our experience in Helsinki was dining at Saslik (www.asrestaurants.com a Russian restaurant with a strolling trio of musicians. The top-rated dining spots in the city include Chez Dominique (www.chezdominique.fi), which serves contemporary French and Nordic cuisine, and Savoy (www.royalravintolat.com acclaimed as the "flagship of Finnish restaurant history" by local in-the-know publications.
Helsinki also has a lively nightclub scene. We recommend Vinyl, a cocktail lounge and record store; Kämpclub, a cosmopolitan late-hours club; Mecca, a bar, restaurant and lounge all in one; and Lux, which enjoys a penthouse location in the heart of Helsinki. It has five bars, a VIP lounge, a terrace and booths that can be reserved.
On a final note, we suggest clients purchase a bottle of Lakka liqueur from the duty-free shop at the airport on the way home. It's produced from the cloudberry fruit and is guaranteed to bring back memories of their grand Scandinavian shopping adventure!