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Russia's summer hangout

Hanko sells itself as the sunny south of Finland, so it had to rain the day I got there. It was pouring so badly that I had to abandon mapping and take shelter in my villa.

It was the Russians who started with villas when they decided Hanko would make a good spa town. And they threw in a casino for good measure. The villas are the old dames of the town, sunning themselves by sea and many growing old gracefully. My villa is one of the few that's not named after a wife or daughter of the Russians who built them. It has seen better years and the single room could be a blocked-off corridor. I can't open my bag and stand up at the same time because of the limited floorspace. You can well imagine Uncle Vanya being set in one of these creaking old beauties.

Still in the morning it's possible to go out and explore with the sun living up to the tourist brochure. The beaches are fairly narrow by Antipodean standards, but there are huge lumps of granite that loll on and off the shore like half-submerged seals. Granite from around Hanko was used to sculpt the figures outside Helsinki railway station.

A local sculpture made an interesting historical backflip. The Monument to Liberty was originally put up in 1921 commemorating how the German troops "assisted out country in the struggle for liberty." The Soviets were given Hanko for two brief years (1940-1) as a peace offering and when they returned it, the statue had been trashed. Obviously neither Finns nor Russians were too fond of the Germans during the 1940s, but the statue was a point of civic pride. When townspeople put it back up in 1943 the inscription changed to include "This stone was defiled and demolished by enemy hands". Hardly inspiring wods of liberty.

The statue was taken down again after pressure from the Soviet Union was brought to bear in 1946. By this stage the chiseller must have thought he was out of work and done with fickled re-drafts. Nope. It was re-erected in 1960 for the last time, with a simpler and more PC message: For our Liberty.

Sauna-o-meter: 5, I am a shame to Finns everywhere.
Price to re-fill the hire car: E56.
Best 'we almost forgot the vowel' place name: Gylto


  1. Fin-de-siecle villas, ocean views, saunas, casino - sounds like the Finns' mecca for some illicit hanko panko.

    (No doubt driving home via Gylto.)

    Mind you, with not enough floorspace for suitcase and body at the one time, you'd have to be pretty resourceful.

  2. I almost went with the Hanko panko header myself, but as Hanko's Swedish name is Hangon this is a more obscure gag header.
    There were certainly plenty of ice-cream slurping Finns around when the weather had fined up. I reckon the villas are best explored as a tourist attraction though rather than a bunking option.

  3. Not sure if Finland gets a look-in, but have you seen that mind-blow video, Where The Hell Is Matt?

    Next time you log into your friendly local cybercafe, head for YouTube. This guy jigs everywhere except the foreshores of Hanko.


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