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TIME : 2016/2/18 18:36:54

Finland’s only Orthodox monastery is a great visit. Monks and novices, almost a thousand strong a century ago, can now be counted on one hand, but the complex in general is thriving. Visitors are free to roam and enter the churches. The first was made by connecting two sheds; the rustic architecture contrasts curiously with the fine gilded icons. The new church, completed in 1977, has an onion-shaped dome and icons, and is redolent with incense.

One of the ancient Russian monasteries, old Valamo, set on an island in gigantic Lake Ladoga, survived the Russian Revolution's aftermath because it fell just within newly independent Finland, but was endangered during the 1939 Winter War. Ladoga froze (a rare occurrence), allowing a hurried evacuation of monks, icons and treasures. Those that survived the journey resettled here in a beautiful lakeside estate.

From June to August there’s a service at 1pm. Guided tours (€5) are recommended for insight. Take time to stroll to the peaceful cemetery , with a tsasouna (chapel) dedicated to a Valamo missionary monk who took Christianity to Alaska. There’s also a museum and summer boat cruises to fill out the day, or you could take a walk to the Pilgrims’ Cross.

The community encourages visitors, whether just for coffee or chant CDs, or the opportunity to engage further in Orthodox culture by attending a service or doing a course in philosophy or icon-painting.

Valamo makes an excellent place to stay , especially peaceful once evening descends. Guesthouses in picturesque wooden buildings provide comfortable, no-frills sleeping with shared bathroom; there are also two grades of hotel room offering a higher standard. Prices drop midweek and outside summer. The complex’s eatery, Trapesa , has high-quality buffet lunches and, in summer, Russian-style high tea (€10). There's no monastic frugality: try its own range of berry wines.