Kuhmo, once a major tar producer, is a good launch pad for the wilderness; it makes a natural base for hiking the UKK route, Finland’s longest marked trek. The vast taiga forests run from here right across Siberia and harbour ‘respect’ animals like wolves, bears and lynx; you can learn about these creatures in the nature centre.
It’s also the unofficial capital of Vienan Karjala, the Karelian heartland that is now in Russia. This was the region that artists explored in the Karelian movement, such a crucial part of the development of Finnish national identity. Most of their expeditions set off from Kuhmo, as did one of Elias Lönnrot’s, when he headed into ‘Songland’ to record the verses of bards that he later wove into the Kalevala epic. There’s a fine Kalevala resource centre in town, as well as a theme park.
This likeable little town also has a great chamber music festival in July, when there’s a real buzz about the place, and quality concerts at accessible prices.