A quaint, historic town just outside Helsinki, Porvoo’s reputation as “The Little Paris of Scandinavia” comes from generations of attracting the creative class: poets, artists, writers, and designers —like fashion designer Liisa and famed screenwriter Jussi, whose room you can find on Airbnb.
“Someone used to have a polar bear as a pet here,” Liisa tells us one afternoon. “Now we just have a couple of writers upstairs.” We’re sitting in the living room of Liisa’s pink wooden home, one of the traditional Finnish houses from the 18th century that Porvoo is known for.
Liisa’s home sits right on the edge of Old Town, where cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways are lined with tiny antique shops, cafes, and art galleries. It’s so small, you only need half an hour to stroll through. And then what? “The water is our lungs,” Liisa says looking out into the Porvoonjoki River that leads out to the sea.
“You can take a walk for 30 minutes, cross two bridges, and find yourself in a fairytale forest on Sikosaari island. That’s where I go for inspiration.”
Some of Finland’s most famed works, from the Moomins cartoon franchise to fashion house Samuji, were born in Porvoo’s outer archipelago— a collection of forested islands dotted with wooden cottages (mökki) that fill up with artists and families in the summertime.
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you had your own personal lake and forest, Finland is the place to be— offering a unique ratio of one lake per 26 people, and 70% of the country covered in trees. “I love being able to work from here,” says Airbnb host Madara, looking out at the peaceful scenery as we walk around the snow-dusted woods surrounding her guest mökki in outer Porvoo. “It feels like absolute freedom.”
Deep in the wilderness, our host Terho (a local Finn) urges us to take it slow. “Breathe the clean air, listen to the silence, empty your mind,” he says, leading us to the sauna. Cold lonkero in hand (a sort of grapefruit gin and tonic in a can), we warm up inside a dark, traditional smoke sauna, and then take turns running into the snow in our bathing suits to plunge into an ice hole.
We’d call it crazy, but the Finns call it avanto, or winter swimming; the practice promises an adrenaline-racing sauna buzz and the best sleep of your life.
Locals say this relaxation opens the mind to creativity, and originality is popping up in more ways than just art and design. While the slow food movement may be trending, Porvoo has always had a tradition of hyperlocal, home-cooked meals. And now a new generation of chefs are energizing the town’s food scene with their modern take on Finnish fare.
The reason to visit now may surprise you: go to Porvoo to eat. Madara often takes her paddle boat to Sinne Bistro, the restaurant locals say gave rise to the emerging foodie scene in town. “It feels great to know the fish we’re eating comes from the river you can see from the restaurant window,” a local tells us, taking a bite out of deep fried burbot, a popular ice-fishing catch, with brown butter. Locals make the 45-minute drive from Helsinki just to eat at restaurants like Meat District, Zum Beispiel, and Sicapelle.
We’ve been together for quite awhile and Madara hasn’t looked at her phone once. We don’t want to take up too much of her time but she urges, “there’s no need to rush” with an easy smile. With Porvoo’s off-the-grid retreats, simple lifestyle, and restorative relationship with nature, Finns seem to have nailed the art of the slow life. The rest of us are just now catching up.
Not Yet Trending is an investigative story from inside Airbnb. Tipped off by guest growth data, we search for up-and-coming destinations before anyone else can. To get the story numbers can’t tell us, we go straight to the source: Airbnb hosts.
Photography by Kyle Johnson