Just over a year ago my family (retired husband, three school-aged children and me) felt that it was time to find a new place to live in Finland. We sat round the kitchen table and talked about the kind of place that would suit us the best. The cost of living and anonymity of the Helsinki region did not appeal to us – we were looking for somewhere smaller and with a more distinct identity. At the same time, it was important for us to find a place with all the facilities that our family would need. We are frequent travellers, so we wanted to stay in the south of Finland for easy access to the airport and for the milder weather in comparison to the north of the country. We also wanted somewhere with good transport links, local healthcare, a variety of shops and the possibility to practise several hobbies. In our case this was basketball, cheerleading, acrobatics and horse-riding.
Mikkeli – friendly, good transport links and excellent facilities
Having moved to Finland from England 11 years ago I also wanted to live somewhere where it was easy to get to know people. My experience of living in different regions of Finland has taught me that those living in the east of the country are often more open and willing to chat to strangers. In Mikkeli. when you walk into a shop you will be greeted with a smiling face and a “can I help you?” that feels genuine rather than rehearsed. Most people here enjoy chatting to strangers, so a normal day is often punctuated with lots of new and interesting encounters as you go about your business. The town is also surprisingly cosmopolitan and vibrant. With all these things in mind – Mikkeli soon emerged as the perfect choice. Mikkeli has a population of just under 50,000 and is a town which is very easy to get around. Nowhere is more than around ten minutes away. The town also has fantastic transport links with six trains and twelve buses to Helsinki every day as well as direct links to many other major towns. There are two swimming pools, an athletics track and sports field in the centre of town as well as a brand new sports complex (Saimaa Stadiumi) offering a whole range of possibilities for sporting and other events.
Mikkeli is not just a summer town
Because of its location on Lake Saimaa and the stunning scenery nearby, thousands of people flock to the Mikkeli region during the summer to stay in their cottages, swim in the lakes and enjoy the atmosphere of the summer market. It would be a mistake, however, to see Mikkeli as nothing more than a summer town. When the children go back to school in August people say farewell to the summer and busy themselves with the incredible range of new hobbies and activities that are on offer here.
Christmas in Mikkeli
As Christmas approaches, the lights go up in the centre of town, carol services are held at the church (including one in English!) and sports and dance societies put on their end-of-term shows. As well as the big supermarkets, Mikkeli has two shopping centres, Stella and Akseli. In addition to its year-round shops, Christmas pop-up shops also appear selling presents and decorations for the festive season. Less than a mile away at Kenkävero, a visitor attraction with a charming rustic café and gift shop selling Finnish products, a Christmas night is held at the beginning of December. The event includes a market selling all kinds of Christmas goodies and the buildings are lit up creating a magical atmosphere. Whilst friends in Helsinki complain on Facebook about how dark it is there, here in Mikkeli the ground is covered with snow for most of December so it feels much brighter and like a “proper winter” in the lead-up to Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, a traditional children’s event is held at the Mikaeli concert hall followed by fireworks at six pm. There is also another fireworks display at midnight to welcome in the New Year.
A new year in Mikkeli
At the end of this month it will be a year since our family moved to live in Mikkeli. Despite not really knowing anyone before we arrived, we have found the people of Mikkeli to be friendly, welcoming and easy to get to know. There is a sense that the people of Mikkeli are proud to live here. At the same time they are keen for the town to grow and prosper so they are very open to welcoming new residents and businesses. Mikkeli offered me both study and work opportunities where these were hard to find elsewhere. Having had the chance to live in several different countries, it seems to me that Mikkeli is a gem of a town still waiting to be discovered by the many who would enjoy living here. I know that my family is looking forward to finding out all that Mikkeli has to offer over the next year and beyond.
Happy New Year and a very successful 2020 to you all!
Resident of Mikkeli for the past year
Teksti ja kuvat: Jody Merelle