For couples of any age, a romantic weekend getaway every now and then is a must, in order to relax and have some carefree time together. Working weeks are busy, with often so many chores and duties to attend to that by the evening, you just crash into bed, exhausted. Conversation gets reduced to quick ‘how are you’s’ and a few rushed daily anecdotes or fixing schedules and car sharing. You know, how it is – running your daily life is almost like an extreme sport, as one Finnish columnist wrote the other day.
Somebody (Mr Google or Facebook?) must have guessed my thoughts, and sent the offer of a weekend mini-break for two to my news feed. I literally jumped at the chance! Even better that hubby had never been to Hanko, the southernmost town of Finland.
The deal included one night at a hotel, breakfast included, and a bottle of bubbly waiting in the room, plus a 3-course meal at a seaside fish restaurant. Continuing the evening at a local pub with live music was also recommended.
And so, off we jolly well went last Saturday morning, full of anticipation. It was only a 1.5-hour drive, along quiet country roads. To boost our enthusiasm, even the sun was out, although the lovely early spring weather of earlier in the week had changed back to chilly wintry winds.
Hanko is a small seaside town with just under 10,000 inhabitants, about half of whom speak Finnish and the other half Swedish, making the town truly bilingual. It’s a summer town, really, so even at the weekend in late March, the streets were quiet, and the atmosphere idyllically sleepy. The town is best known for its history as a swinging spa resort in the late 19th – early 20th century. The many picturesque wooden villas in all their pastel colours and lacy decorations date from around the same period, and give an oldey-worldey, nicely nostalgic, feel to the place even today. It’s easy to imagine summer visitors – among them prominent political figures, wealthy Russians, the Finnish elite, and artists – flocking these streets in the past. We were sorry to see some of the magnificent villas deserted, at different stages of decay. Hope somebody will be able to afford to restore them soon!
First and foremost, it’s the sea and, for Finland quite rare, sandy beaches that give the town its character. Being the southernmost tip of the country has made Hanko a strategic military area all through the history of our country. Interestingly, it was also from Hanko port that some quarter of a million aspiring Finns left, on steam ships, for a better life in America, Canada or Australia at the turn of the 20th century. During our stay, the beaches were still deserted, the water cold and the rocks covered in wintertime green moss. Nevertheless, the gorgeous glitter on the blue sea in the spring sunshine made me giddy with dreams of summer. Should perhaps come back then, to see all the sailing boats and yachts in the harbour and the open-air terraces of the cafés and restaurants.
Worth mentioning is also the very professionally designed Hanko website, which provides a wealth of useful info also in English.
We were accommodated at Hotel Bulevard, only a few steps from the seafront. We only found out on the day of arrival that it is actually a converted old police station! Quite funny as we’d stayed in a converted prison hotel in Helsinki just last year.
Some rooms were in the actual cells of the old station but ours was upstairs, possibly one that used be an office. A nice detail is that most of the rooms are named after famous Finnish designers, and the interiors get their inspiration from each artist’s work. Our spacious room was dedicated to designer Birger Kaipiainen, who had designed the wallpaper, with his signature style birds on it. In addition to the bedroom, our abode had a small separate ante-room plus a bathroom with a shower. Quite a retro feel in the whole place, and very quiet and peaceful all through the weekend.
The buffet breakfast was typically Scandinavian, quite alright. However, it was the bowler hat light fitments in the breakfast room, aptly named ‘The Commissar’, that especially took my interest.
A big plus was the friendly and personal service, in particular for the chance of having a “private” sauna heated for us in the afternoon. It really was a lovely addition to a romantic couple’s weekend, in particular as we were quite frozen after walking around exploring the town in the icy sea wind.
Can fully recommend this hotel. It’s interesting, clean, good value, centrally located – and they even rent bikes in summer, which would be ideal for getting around in such a small town.
Not far from our hotel, in the same street, we spotted the evening venue, Pub Grönan, during our afternoon walk. Couldn’t resist checking it out straight away. Quite special, Anglo-American ambience welcomed us inside. Must say, the black leather sofa in front of the music stage looked especially inviting! Later found out on their website that the inspiration for the pub had struck two Finnish guys during their road trip in the US, crossing the Rattlesnake River somewhere in Arizona. No wonder then! There would have been a Swedish troubadour performing that night but the fresh sea air must have taken the better of us, and we had to forego the night out in the pub.
RESTAURANT ‘PÅ KROKEN’
In the evening, it was time for dinner in the restaurant ‘På Kroken’, which is Swedish and means ‘on the hook’. It is a cosy little fish and seafood restaurant right by the sea, on the other side of the railway tracks, in Hanko village. Our hotel landlord kindly offered us a lift there, and we arrived just in time to enjoy the pinkish hues of the sunset in the horizon.
Most of the fish served is local, and smoked on the premises. The abundant archipelago buffet is served in a boat in the middle of the room, and consists of one delicacy after another. Hubby’s absolute favourite was the pastrami spiced smoked salmon.
I opted for ‘blinis’ as a starter. They are Russian-style yeasted pancakes made of buckwheat flour. At ‘På Kroken’ they were served with a variety of fish roes, chopped onion, sour cream, mushroom salad, and gherkins. Unbelievably scrumptious!
Super service all through the evening, delicious food, great atmosphere, good selection of wines and beers and interesting, rustic decor! We enjoyed all the dishes so much that could hardly manage dessert at all. Their menu is definitely worth checking out! Apart from the restaurant, there is also a fish shop, and a café that serves, for example, their popular salmon soup with the special, dark, malty archipelago bread. Hmm, a revisit in summer is getting even more tempting!
How about the romance then? In the words of very wise Bridget Jones: “a mini-break means true love”. A weekend away is really worth it! It even got us, after being married 25 years, bold enough to walk barefoot on the empty, sandy beach, holding hands like teenagers. What a giggle, though, as otherwise we still had to wear winter gear! Was it the bubbly, or the sea wind and the spring sun? No matter, probably a combo of everything. Yet, all in all, having pampered ourselves, and devoted some undivided attention and quality time to being together, we came home happy, rested and relaxed.