hidden europe 29

Salla - in the middle of nowhere

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Cross-border snowmobile expeditions have developed at Salla in Finland, allowing visitors to make an excursion into Russia (photo © Mlenny / istockphoto.com).


There is a roar in the night as snowmobiles approach from the east. New arrivals from Russia. We look at life at a remote borderpost on Finland's eastern frontier - a place which is literally in the middle of nowhere.

Kimi has just finished reading War and Peace. He has time aplenty in his office in the northern forest. Kimi is not a fast reader, so Tolstoy lasted right through summer and autumn, even on into the early winter snows. This is a region of Europe where the night moves on inch by inch, and day, if it comes at all, arrives only grudgingly. Night duty at the frontier with Russia is scarcely demanding work.

The border post near Salla is in the middle of nowhere. It is even more in the middle of nowhere than the town of Salla, which is a dozen kilometres away. Salla is a place that really uses its remoteness as a pitch to attract tourists. Travellers who head for Salla are usually looking for skiing, snowmobiling and sledging. And at a shade short of sixty seven degrees north and right on the border between Finland and Russia, winter in Salla is full of snowy diversions.

Until seven years ago, the border crossing at Salla was strictly reserved for holders of Finnish and Russian passports. Then the Prime Ministers of the two countries met at the border, shook hands, and announced that henceforth anyone with a passport and the necessary visa could cross into Russia at Salla. And back again. One company in Salla, called Kola Extreme, even started running a five day snowmobile expedition from Salla to Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula. “From the middle of nowhere in Finland to the middle of nowhere in Russia” ran the blurb.

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