I was prepared to spend my whole life looking for Neverland, travelling far and wide in search of a fairytale island where I could remain forever young. The good news is that I have found it. It’s called Herrankukkaro and it’s magical.
If you have never heard of Herrankukkaro, don’t feel bad. If you can’t pronounce the word, don’t feel bad either. Herrankukkaro – aside from sounding like a word I made up my letting a kitten traipse across my keyboard – is a little island in the world’s largest archipelago. Where is that, you ask? The somewhat surprising answer is Finland.
The Finnish Archipelago Sea is home to about 50,000 little islands, but even so I promise that Herrankukkaro is much easier to locate than Neverland. The directions to the latter? Fly second star to the right, and straight on till morning. Not very helpful. Herrankukkaro, on the other hand, can easily be reached by bus or car in about half an hour of driving from downtown Turku. There are even proper sign posts to show you the way!
Upon arrival to Rymättyla island where it is located, you will find yourself in the quaintest, most picturesque fisherman’s homestead that I have ever seen. Traditional cottages are sprinkled around the island with the playfulness of a child, remote enough to offer privacy but close enough to promise tonnes of impending fun.
Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very nearly real. That is why there are night-lights.J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
On this island, nothing is what it looks like at first sight. Sure, some of the cottages are actual places of rest and recuperation… But some of their doors open to reveal the world’s largest smoke sauna or the world’s most adorably rustic dining room. I may have made up the second superlative, but my point stands – Herrankukkaro is a tiny island playground filled with the best of toys.
What can you do here during the day? Not much… Aside from fishing, archery, rowing, zip trekking through a luscious maze of trees, sweating in a gigantic smoke sauna or cooling off in an outdoor bath overlooking the archipelago shore. Before we move on, a few more words about the smoke sauna. The place is big enough to hold up to 124 guests, according to owner Oskari – I’d be optimistic and say you could probably even fit 125 people in there, but I don’t want to appear flippant. Either way, the oxygen-packed steam will leave you feeling revitalised, recuperated… and hungry.
That’s lucky because in Herrankukkaro eating is a lot more than a measly few minutes spent shovelling food into your mouth. As is to be expected, there are no nasty additives in this Finnish Neverland – just loads of locally grown deliciousness. Freshly caught salmon cooked over an open fire? Not a problem. You can also have it smoked, broiled or ember-roasted though, or served in a top hat. You will have to make some prior arrangements for that last option, but I believe nothing is impossible.
The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Other items on the extensive menu include venison, wild game sausage, smoked pork ribs, wild herb casserole, creamed mushrooms, vinegar-salt pickles, smoked cheese, lingonberry jam, served with home-baked archipelago bread and sea buckthorn butter. There were more, but I stopped writing them down after a while because I needed to inconspicuously wipe the saliva off my chin. I apologise for that visual.
But what then? What happens after dinner? I know Wendy, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell would rather stay up all night gossiping, but during my short stay in Herrankukkaro I used my nights for nothing but rest. After all, how else could you make full use of the exciting activities offered here?
Of course Neverland had been make-believe in those days; but it was real now, and there were no night-lights, and it was getting darker every moment, and where was Nana?J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Don’t worry though – even the sleeping arrangements in Herrankukkaro are exciting. You don’t even need to sleep on land if you don’t want to… You can sleep on a boat!
I vividly remember my first time sleeping on a houseboat. I was about six years old and had just received a little pink journal from my parents and I was using to complain about life. “Dear Nelly,” I wrote. I have this strange tendency to give names to inanimate objects, but what’s more important is what came afterwards. “My parents abandoned me and now I have to stay with my grandparents on a boat. Life sucks.”
I shudder writing this down, because a) I was clearly being extremely ungrateful to my lovely grandparents and b) very little has changed since then, although now I have all of you reading my would-be diary entries as well. To be fair to my six-year-old self though, my second entry was much more optimistic. “Living on a boat is amazing! It’s very cosy and Brumla [my favourite teddy bear] loves it here. Life is great again.” I have become slightly more eloquent, but that’s all I can tell you – life is suddenly great when you’re sleeping on a boat.
There is one piece of potentially bad news you need to know before you hop on a plane to Finland… Herrankukkaro is not a place where you can just show up one day, unannounced, demanding a place to stay. Oskari who runs the island (how cool is that?) is a very kind man, but the place is reserved for bookings by groups and companies. Having said that, can you imagine a better getaway for your extended family or friend group? The island can accommodate more than 100 guests in idyllic cottages and the houseboat I mentioned above, so put your planning hat on – Neverland is calling.
Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Have you found you personal Neverland? If so, where is it and what does it look like? If not, where is the first place you would look for it? Would you consider staying at Herrankukkaro?
Disclaimer: My stay at Herrankukkaro was part of a larger press trip with Visit Turku, courtesy of nbeFinland.