This historic city packs a punch; TURKU, FINLAND Lucy Todman.
IBut whether you are visiting Turku for a weekend break or as a stopover before heading on to the Pargas Archipelago, one thing is for sure, the little city with a big heart will not disappoint.
There is a saying: "Not everyone can be born in Turku, but luckily, you can move here" and it seems that the bustling city life, from its history to culture and education has drawn people from miles around.
Finland has to be one of the most engaging countries I have visited. The people are welcoming, the air is clean and the attention to detail and respect for the environment are second to none.
While having the title of Finland's oldest city, much of what you see today dates back less than 200 years. This is because the Great Fire of Turku ravaged the city in 1827 and while the medieval streets and houses succumbed to the flames, in their place were built imposing villas and avenues.
One of the only buildings to survive is the 700-year old cathedral which looms over the River Aura and is the final resting place of Queen Karin Mansdotter, who ruled for a few short months in 1568. The cathedral is well worth a visit not just for its peace and tranquillity but also for the murals that adorn the walls of the high altar. The castle at the other end of the town should also be on the visitor's checklist and its granite stone walls hold within them a museum about the history of Finland.
The city's market hall, completed in 1896, brings a delightful atmosphere reminiscent of times gone by.
The old and new meet in perfect harmony and the Market Hall, which extends the length of an entire block, was designed by architect Gustaf Nystrom.
There are traditional meat and fish counters, delicatessen and speciality shops, bread, milk and cheese shops as well as restaurants and cafes.
Whether its fish, reindeer meat, cheese or cake from the renowned MBakery which was voted Finland's Best Bakery in 2015, there is something for every taste.
Life in Turku revolves around the River Aura, which leads out on to the Baltic Sea. What better way to get to know the city than to take to the water in a small electric boat from Lana Boats? Here you can see more of the shipbuilding past of the city, the luxury waterside apartments, dinnerboats and sculptures. One place not to miss is the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum. There is a fascinating museum dedicated to the history of the city including artefacts and the underground ruins of the medieval heart of Turku. You can grab a spot of lunch at the M Kitchen and Cafe which is based in the foyer of the museum and seems to be where all of Turku come to be seen.
The latest attraction to open in the city is the funicular train which runs up Kakola Hill. It is the first of its type in Finland and on the day we visited was a big draw. The funicular takes visitors to the old prison building on Kakolanmaki Hill, where it is rumoured the authorities decided to close the prison because the view was too beautiful.
Here you can find, instead of cells and forbidding walls, a microbrewery (Kakola Brewing Company), the Frukt Coffee Roastery and the Restaurant Kakolanruusu - an offshoot of Michelin Guide Kaskis restaurant which can also be found in the city.
The menu is dominated with fish and fresh vegetables, from the sweetest new potatoes to herring and rainbow trout all served with imagination and artistic flair.
There are many restaurants in Turku vying for your custom but two of the best are Smor on Lantinen Rantakatu 3, and Kaskis on Kaskenkatu 6a. Both pride themselves on the freshness of their dishes and both are unique in their own ways. At Kaskis, the chefs prepare the most exquisitely presented dishes, like miniature works of art, from Spring cabbage, salted and dried reindeer heart and shiitake mushrooms with a mushroom sabayon to Rhubarb and currant granite with white chocolate sherbet.
Smor nestles in an underground vault close to the river and takes diners on a journey of Scandinavian flavours. For example, there is white asparagus with cold smoked reindeer and hay; beef tenderloin with broccoli and smoked butter and to finish, Juniper flavoured yoghurt with rhubarb jam and milk ice cream.
Staying in Turku could not be simpler. The newly renovated Solo Sokos Hotel Turun Seurahuone is an elegant boutique hotel in the heart of the town, just a stone's throw from the river. Rooms are luxurious and breakfasts are even better.
No trip to Finland would be complete without a visit to the Archipelago which surrounds Turku. 40,000 islands and islets form the national park of the Archipelago Sea. There is a circular route to take around the islands, linked by bridges and free ferries.
With a population of just 22,000 people and where there are more boats than cars, it really is the place to get away from it all. Here you may spot one of its 240 sea eagles or take a trip around a traditional lighthouse.
We took a boat to one of the furthest islands, Hyppeis. The island's former schoolhouse has a cool Scandi-chic vibe and hotel owners Sam and Outi welcomed us in.
After a dreamy sleep and a breakfast of locally made jams, breads and meats including some spectacular smoked lamb, we partook of that most basic of Finnish traditions, the Sauna. In a country of 5,500,000 people, there are 3,000,000 saunas, and everything from birth to business is carried out in the humid setting. However, I was not brave enough (!) to follow one tradition with another, a refreshing leap in to the cool waters of the sea.
For a country made up of 75 per cent forest, Finland has more than enough to offer any visitor. And with a new flight route opening up from Luton to Turku, now is the ideal opportunity to explore the small country where everyone is made to feel at home.
FACT BOX ? Turku is built on seven hills which are said to be Finland's best vantage points. It is a European city of culture and hosts Tall Ships Races, the Turku Music Festival, Ruisrock - the second oldest music festival in Europe and the Declaration of Christmas Peace is made from the balcony of a villa in the main square where a Christmas Market is also held.
? While not quite north enough to enjoy complete White Nights, the sun sets late in Turku at around 11pm meaning more time for leisurely strolls along the river calling in at its numerous bars and restaurants. A gin cocktail costs [euro]12 and a half litre of beer can be anything up to [euro]7. ? Stay at the Solo Sokos Hotel Turun Seurahuone with room rates starting from [euro]138. Visit www.sokoshotels.fi to book.
? Wizz Air is launching a new non-stop flight from London Luton Airport to Turku starting on July 2. The route will be operated three times weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on an Airbus A320 aircraft. Visit wizzair.com to book.
? For more information on Turku go to the official website kissmyturku.com