6 Things to Do in Mänttä, Finland – The Art Capital That Toilet Paper Built.
We spent a few days this summer in Mänttä for the town’s art and music festival. Before arriving, we didn’t really know what to expect, but we soon discovered the intricate charms of a small Finnish town in the midst of a revival. Located in the heart of Finland, approximately 180 miles from Helsinki, Mänttä’s former claim to fame is toilet paper, and now it’s art, especially in spring and summer when the festival season is in full swing. But the town of 7,000 has even more to offer to visitors. Here are six things you can do in Mänttä no matter what time of year it is.
When it comes to location, Mänttä has the best of both worlds–a lake to swim in and an old growth forest to explore. One morning we hiked Mäntän Mountain up to an overlook tower, which provides exceptional views of the town. Mäntänvuoressa, as it is known locally, is a nature preserve with several trails that wind through indigenous plants and trees, and is open year-round.
In Finland, taking time for a sauna is not a luxury for the rich, it is a way of life for everyone. The country loves its saunas and it’s not uncommon to find them built in or outside of homes. During our stay in Mänttä, our terrific guide, Tiina Nyrhinen, who is the executive manager of the Mänttä Art Festival, offered up her own personal sauna to us, and it was awesome. We spent about 45 minutes in the sauna, where we’d work up a good steam for 10 minutes and then step out into the cool evening air.
Summer, spring, winter, or fall, the Finns love a good swim. Mänttä’s swimming hole is Lake Kuorevesi. It’s a medium size lake perfect for boating or taking a dip (or polar plunge in the winter month’s). Tip: The section of the lake in front of the paper mill is off-limits for swimming due to strong currents; the town beach is located on the north shore of the lake and has a great dock for cannon balling, a changing area, and plenty of sand to rest on.
Serlachius Museum #1: Gustaf
So what about that toilet paper bit I mentioned earlier? Mänttä IS the town that toiled paper built. Gustaf Serlachius came to Mänttä in the 1800’s to make his fortune producing toilet paper. At the time of his arrival Mänttä was a small, isolated town from which he built a thriving paper business that still continues today. He also laid train tracks connecting Mänttä to Tampare and made the decision to preserve the old age forest we hiked through. The town still reveres Mr. Serlachius – even the church has a huge stained glass window with flowing toilet paper and his initials (which ironically spell GAS) dedicated to him. Serlachius was also an avid art collector and the museums in town are based on his collections and named in his honor.
There are two museums under the Serlachius art umbrella: Gustaf (shown above) and Gosta. Gustaf is a fun and interactive museum – perfect for families and those who love history but don’t get a big kick out of gazing at paintings. Gosta is a more traditional museum featuring the golden age of Finnish art, along with the works of some European masters. Additionally there is Gosta’s Pavillion (located right next to Gosta) which houses the space for the piano recitals we attended, a fantastic restaurant and a modern art museum.
The Gustaf museum is worth a visit on your trip to Mantaa and is one of the more interesting and interactive museums we have visited on our travels. There is a audio tour called The Paper Devil, dedicated to the life of Serlachius and the toilet paper industry he created in town. It’s much more fascinating than it sounds with full size paper mache figures that are set in very dark rooms among electronic installations. The figures sense your presence as you walk in and start conversing with each other and over the course of several rooms tell the tale of Serlachius’ life because as it turns out being a successful toilet paper mogul doesn’t come without it’s tribulations, greed and jealousy. We also had time to visit another interactive exhibit in the museum called Operation Art Town which is about Mantaa’s rise from the toilet paper industry to becoming a cultural capital of Europe. Another amazing exhibit, this one was huge and based around a 1970’s Charlie’s Angels spy theme – there were maps, old tvs, old photos and movies just to name a few. It’s up to you to solve the mystery by using all of the items to gather clues. There were other exhibits in this museum as well and sadly we did not have enough time to explore them. I loved all of the Serlachius Museums but Gustaf won my heart with it’s quirky and interactive historical based installations. This museum is simply a lot of fun to visit and perfect for all ages.
Serlachius Museum #2: Gosta’s Pavillion
You may or may not be a fan of pop art but it’s role in the modern world is certainly important and undeniable. I loved this SuperPop gallery exhibit because not only did I get to check out the works of newer pop artists but I also was able to see the works of some of the masters including Damien Hirst (Diamond skull featured above) and Andy Warhol. Each of the pieces here were thought provoking and fun to check out, my favorite being the pieces featured here by Jani Leinonen – The Choice Is Yours (cORnflakes cereal box piece) and One Day. Exhibitions at Gosta’s Pavillion change regularly so there is always something new to see.
Cruise around town in style
One of the best things about Mänttä is that it’s extremely easy to get around by bike. You can take the train in from Helsinki or Tampere, and then spend the rest of your trip on two wheels. We biked to all of the different art installations and music shows and it’s is easy to cruise around with bike paths built into the town’s streets and through the woods as well. It should also be noted that the Finn’s are very good drivers, traffic here is minimal and calm, so biking is relaxing and fun. The only place in town to rent your bike is at the Gustaf Museum, and you can keep the bike for your entire visit. If you’re going to town for the art and music festival (in August every year) you should make the reservation for your blue beach cruiser well ahead of time, because they will sell out. Bike rentals cost 10 euro a day.
Enjoy Home Cooked Finnish Cuisine
Finish food can be quite foreign depending on your taste buds. If you love meat and fish, then you’ll feel right at home in just about any eatery in Finland. However, if you’re a vegetarian or just a picky eater, then you will definitely enjoy having a meal at Cafe Myllyranta. The unimposing cafe sits on one of the best locations in town making your dining views spectacular AND artsy–there are outdoor art installations tucked into the woods across the lake. But what really stands out here is the food. They have a wide variety of plates to choose from including a traditional Finnish buffet (perfect for me) and a non Finnish buffet, which was perfect for Beth. The restaurant also offers a range of pies, quiches, and other cafe standards. The food is excellent, the prices are good and, if it’s warm, you can sit on the deck overlooking the lake. If it’s chilly outside, you can still get the views through the large windows.
Know Before You Go
- Mänttä is a small working class town with a huge heart for art. The town’s art festival runs from mid-June to mid-August, and the music festival takes place in early August.
- There are several hotels in town but the best is Hotelli-Ravintola Mäntän Klubi, which is housed in 1920s mansion close to the city center and lake.
- Mänttä is an approximately a 3.5 hour train ride from Helsinki via Tampere, and costs about 30 euro/each way. The stop for Mänttä is Vilppula. From the station, it’s roughly 4.5 miles to city center, and there is usually a taxi waiting at the station when the train arrives.
Want to discover more unique festivals? Follow our friends and fellow travelers as they share their journeys from this summer and fall with Must Love Festivals and through the #MustLoveFestivals on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Disclosure: Visit Finland is a Must Love Festival Partner, and provided our accommodation and transportation while we were in the region to cover the Mänttä Art and Music Festival. As always, though, our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.