A small town in Northern Karelia by the Russian border, Kuhmo is best known in Finland for being a focal point for Karelian culture and the Kalevala, the country's national epic, and for the Kuhmo Festival of Chamber Music, a two week long event that has been running for 40 years. Kuhmo is idyllically situated, surrounded by the lakes of Ontojärvi, Lammasjärvi and Lentua, with the pristine nature of Hiidenportti National Park close by also a major attraction, one best appreciated by a visit to the Petola Visitor Centre before exploring the park.
Perhaps the most significant events in its history occurred in the Winter War (November 1939 - March 1940), when the town was bombarded 48 times, with ground battles being fought just 10km from the town centre. After the war Kuhmo maintained its eastern border unchanged, and it remains unchanged today over 400 years since they were agreed in 1595 in the Treaty of Tyavzino. In the Winter Museum this fascinating period of history is presented in an exhibition that portrays the lives of both Finnish and Russian soldiers, as well as the problems faced by civilians at that time.
One of the principal tourist attractions in the region is The Kalevala Village, an open air museum of Karelian folk history with log buildings filled with cultural exhibits and artisan displays, where costumed staff demonstrate the old skills of tar-making, woodcarving, fishing, and more. There is also a recreation of the log cabin and desk of Elias Lönnrot who first set down the epic Finnish poem in writing. At Pohjola House you'll find a gallery, with works representing the Kalevala, and a café. During the latter half of December and the first half of January the Kalevala Village opens as a Christmas Village. For those further interested in the Kalevala, and in Karelian culture and history, a visit to Juminkeko is well advised. Juminkeko is a beautiful wooden building made using traditional methods but with a modern styling, which houses several detailed exhibitions every year. The auditorium's walls were hand worked with adze, and Finland's largest collection of Kalevala books, translated into over 50 languages, is also on display here.
The Tuupala Museum is housed in a delightful Karelian farmhouse which has also previously been a general store, an inn, a post office, a pharmacy, and even home to local Police Chief. It now houses an exhibition of items relating to local history. Also of interest are the two local churches. The Orthodox Church, although less than 50 years old, contains several 18th century icons painted in the Valamo Monastery prior to it being annexed by the Soviet Union, and a 300 year old Madonna. Kuhmo Church in the town centre is a striking wooden building built in 1816, and is now also a venue for concerts during the festival of chamber music.
Lovers of classical music flock to Kuhmo every year for the Kuhmo Festival of Chamber Music which has been running for 40 years. Taking place over a two week period in mid July, this festival features over 70 performances, lectures and workshops from a variety of venues including the modern Kuhmo Arts Centre and the much older Kuhmo Church. In 2009 the festival attracted over 70,000 people to performances and it has been recognised as one of the best, and most important classical musical festivals, listed as 14th in the World's Best Festivals in the prestigious Austrian Festspiele magazine.
Kuhmo also attracts as many nature lovers as it does culture vultures, being the closest town to the beautiful, and secluded, Hiidenporlti National Park. The Petola Visitor Centre in Kuhmo is the perfect place to start an exploration of the surrounding wilderness, with exhibitions and AV presentations such as 'Predators on the prowl', a richly detailed overview of Finland's large carnivores like the brown bear (Karhu), wolf, wolverine, and lynx. From here you may choose to take part in a wildlife watching trip to see these elusive animals in their natural habitat, in the safe company of an experienced local guide.
Kuhmo offers the visitor a rich cultural experience, whether it is discovering the roots of the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, and learning about Karelian folk history at Juminkeko or Kalevala Spirit, or enjoying one of Europe's most prestigious classical music festivals, or simply wandering around the Kuhmo Cultural Centre.
Kuhmo is a base for some of the best adventure sports and nature experiences in Finland, be it winter or summer. Cross country skiing, adventure safaris, ice-fishing, and toboganning keep travellers busy in winter, while summer offers the chance to enjoy some unique nature walks and hikes, fishing, and watersports.
The restaurants in Kuhmo aren't many, but what the town lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, and you can find excellent a la carte options offering a mix of Karelian, Lappish and Finnish specialities, the local trout dishes being especially delicious.
Visitors to Kuhmo may have just two hotels to choose from, but Kalevala Hotel in particular is almost worth visiting just for its natural beauty. There are bed and breakfasts in the town, and just outside there is a nice selection of holiday cottages and log cabins for rent.
Let's be honest, Kuhmo is not shopping heaven. The town provides the basics, and there are plenty of souvenirs you can pick up in the few boutiques around the town, but most travellers find something to take with them when they visit the main attractions.
To get to Kuhmo you will have to get to Kajaani which is on the main rail line from Helsinki to the North, and which also boasts its own airport. From Kajaani you must then take a bus, but the service is regular and timed to meet trains and flights.