Before my June 2013 vacation to Finland, I did a bit of research, and knew that midsummer and midsummer’s eve was a pretty big deal. Kind of like Christmas, but with a lot less snow, and fewer hand-knit kitty sweaters from well-meaning aunts.
I had read that during midsummer, most people leave the cities in favour of the beautiful and abundant out-of-doors. Midsummer is a time for summer cabins, lakeside retreats, seaside cottages, sailboats, island homes, and escapes nestled deep within the abundant birch and pine forests.
I had read that people escape the city… But I didn’t really know what that meant….
On Thursday before the holiday, the streets were bustling. Cars drove by, people rode past on bikes, children rode by on scooters and lots of people walked around. On Friday, the situation was drastically different as people had the day (or half-day in some cases) off work and started to leave the city. On Saturday, the once busy streets were empty, the street-crossing horns echoed through intersections, and birds outnumbered people on the riverside pathway. The bustling city had become a ghost town.
Now, for locals, this sudden desertion would be no big deal. You would either get your groceries in advance, or head out to one of the (very) few places you knew was open. For tourists on the other hand (with no mini-fridge or even a kettle in the room) this emptiness posed a different challenge. Not just “what to do?” (since all of the museums, galleries, and shops were closed) but also “where to eat?”.
Our hotel front desk had a short list of options, but we picked some of our own solutions ….
1) buffet breakfasts at the hotel
2) spending the day in the seaside tourist town of Nantali (where it seemed everyone in the region without a summer cabin also headed)
3) eating dinner at the hotel buffet
4) taking a long walk down the riverside, and getting photos from outside the castle (since our inside-the-castle visit was cut short due to time a few days earlier)
5) eating dinner at one of the few places open in the market square area (the Kebab place I mentioned earlier).
Selecting hotels with a buffet breakfast was a great idea. We had a few choices in Turku, but the Centro offered the central location we were looking for along with free wifi (although it was slow) and an included breakfast buffet. The breakfast buffet had a wide selection, and although the dinner buffet was much smaller, this was a good option when we came back from our day trip utterly exhausted.
For Midsummer Eve we visited Naantali, and I’ll share a little bit of this charming city with you today.
Travel to and from
There are two scheduled trips to and two more back between Naantali and Turku’s guest harbour area on the family-owned S/S Ukkopekka which runs during June, July and August. The steamship ride is lovely and winds through the beautiful archipelago between Turku and Naantali. It takes about 2 hours, so we decided to take the boat to get to Naantali, and then take public transit back again. The bus trip is far shorter (about 30 minutes) but far less attractive, so we were glad for the choice we made. Of course, if you have a car, you can drive as well, Naantali is only about 17 km from Turku.
We boarded and went right to the top of the boat, which was lined with birch boughs. Birch boughs are placed around entrances to buildings as a sign of welcome during midsummer – though we had quite the chuckle watching the boat pull up – covered in trees! The top open-air sundeck got very warm however, and quite noisy between the PA announcements and our fellow passengers who were enjoying the bar on the second level. We later headed down to the first level interior, where we saw a regular stream of kids enjoying the children’s programming available on board. (Kudos to the company for thinking of keeping kids occupied during the trip!)
A wonderful welcome
When we disembarked from the steamship we were welcomed in two wonderful ways. Not only were doorways lined with more birch, but the sounds of a saxophone played on the wind, mingling with the sounds of happy people exploring the old town centre – and more than a few who were heading with children to Moomin World – a theme park nearby. Better than the sounds, was a sight to welcome us to town.
The Whooper Swan is the national bird of Finland, and right in the harbour was a large white swan (along with a little duck!) with quite and audience of it’s own. We had seen a few swans from a distance, but this was the first time to see one close on this trip… though not the last!
With sights and sounds taken care of, we were ready to take care of taste and smell… time for lunch!
We weren’t really sure how big the old town area was, or how much selection there would be, so when we found a place that looked good, we stopped for a bite to eat. After being on the boat I was ready to sit down and find my balance rather than walking for too long.
Rantaravintola was one of the first places we found, and we headed up to the upper patio. The lower patio and upper patio were nearly full, as everyone enjoyed the warm weather and sights and sounds of Midsummer’s eve in the small town.
There was a nice little parking stall for strollers and walkers, and interestingly enough, the inside dining room was empty while the porch and patio were bustling!
Rantaravintola is the summer restaurant for Naantali’s Spa, and is in the heart of the old town. It’s billed as “ Casual, quiet and always popular with families who want to combine a tour of the old town with an informal meal, the restaurant serves a relaxed, rustic menu to diners inside and outside too on the pleasant harbourside terrace.”
Since Rantaravintola is clearly geared towards tourists in the heart of a tourist-centric town, pricing was a bit higher than we had seen in other areas, reflecting the ‘tourist surcharge’, not to mention the business dependent on the ‘tourist dollar’.
Appetizers include bread, soup, salad, escargots, and a “plate of the house” including smoked salmon, herring tartar, marinated herring, lamb, potatoes and bread.
While the entrees include ravioli, linguine, sandwiches, hamburgers, and steak ranging in price from 17.00 Euro – 29.50 Euro, we stuck with the other main course option: pizza!
While I stuck with a plain Margarita pizza (tomato and mozzarella) my companion had the “Tropicana” with ham and pineapple. The Tropicana also comes with blue cheese, but she had that held. Both were sprinkled with loads of oregano on top. They also offered the Quattro (ham, mushrooms, tuna, shrimp), Salami (salami, olives, red onion), Bolognese (minced beef, tomatoes, red onion), and Fantasia with four toppings of your choice. Pizzas ran from between 11.50 Euro – 14.50 Euro.
They also offer gourmet pizzas… if I had known how large the pizzas were for the few Euros more, I likely would have tried to split one with my companion again… and tried the Reindeer! (Just to try it!)
The pizzas, as you can see from the photos… are HUGE. Although they have a very, very thin crust which makes them less filling than their thick-crusted cousins, they still are very generous. I’d highly recommend splitting one between two people, or two pizzas between three people. I found the pizza too big also because I started getting tired of the flavour.
Too much pizza also meant… no dessert for us! They offer chocolate panna cotta, lemon meringue cake, ice cream and sorbet. I would have gone for the vanilla ice cream with licorice topping!
Heading through the dining room to wash my hands, I took a quick photo of the room – empty, but I thought very pretty; crisp and clean – even in the warm day it still feels cool and refreshing.
Mannerheiminkatu 2, 21100
+358 2 4455599
Want to see more of Naantali?
Behind the Naantali Church is a lovely beach full of people. We had many things to see while in town (and we didn’t bring our bathing suits!) so I didn’t go in the water, though I would have loved to!
Here’s the side/back of the Naantali church. The church was originally built to serve the Catholic Brigettine Convent, and permission to build the convent was given on August 23, 1443, which is considered to be the founding date of the convent as well as the town of Naantali. The building was consecrated in 1462, and it’s built on a hill and surrounded by trees, which is why it was so hard to get distance shots showing off the beautiful building!
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