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History of Hotel Tunturi

“Tunturi” is a Finnish word meaning a fell. ”One must go to the fells…”, sings poet W.E. Törmänen.
The landscape in Saariselkä, fells and creeks, have seen a lot of different kinds of people over the decades. The paths to the north and south have passed Kaunispää and Saariselkä for centuries – run by reindeers and horses during the winter and by foot in summer time. The vendors, fishermen, hunters, gold diggers and Sami people have traveled these icy winter routes and rocky summer trails.

When the road to Petsamo – on the shore of the Arctic Ocean – was built in the 1930’s, also tourists started to arrive to the fells of Saariselkä. This road to the Arctic Ocean became a major tourism route with a regular bus connection between Rovaniemi and Petsamo. At that time there was only one inn serving travelers in Saariselkä. It was the former head quarter of Prospector mining company.

Re-building and children's camps

After the war in 1944 Finland had lost Petsamo to Russia. This Ultima Thule – the unknown northern land - had drawn tourists from Finland and abroad with its exotic nature. In this new situation Saariselkä became the next place of interest. Here one could find wilderness, untouched nature and bright summer nights. Here land and sky met on high fells.

The inn had been destroyed in the war. So on 1949 the Finnish Tourism Union built the first inn after the war to serve tourists named Lower Kaunispää Cabin. That building was actually moved from Rovaniemi where it used to be a canteen for German soldiers. It was re-built in the valley between the fells Kaunispää and Urupää. Later, in 1954, another fell cabin was built by the Lappish Tourist Association on top of the Kaunispää fell. It was called the Upper Kaunispää Cabin.

“45 children camping at Kaunispää cabin”, was the news headline in Lapin Kansa newspaper on 7th August, 1953. The Friends of Lapland’s Children Association from Rovaniemi wanted to build their own cabin for the children’s’ summer camps in the early 50’s. After all, the children had suffered the most during the difficult years at war and afterwards. Laanila Fell Cabin was finally ready to welcome its first guests on 15th March, 1953. The spring season was successful and the cabin was full of skiers enjoying the healthy fell climate. All children using the cabin came from low income families and were weak, suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis.

Laanila fell cabin expands

At the end of 1953 Laanila Fell Cabin consisted of one house with kitchen, dining room and staff accommodation. There were beds for 36 guests. In addition the janitor’s house, one building with sauna and beds for 8 guests plus a service building were part of the fell cabin. When the final construction work was finished in 1954 the area of Laanila Fell Cabin had four buildings. The main building with accommodation for 50 guests, kitchen, dining room, living room, office and staff rooms. The other three buildings were the janitor’s house, a sauna and a service building. Own power plant produced the power to the buildings and to the pumping station. Main building and sauna had also water pipes.

Laanila Fell Cabin was in heavy use by skiing tourists during 1953-1957 in spring seasons. During the mid-winter the cabin was closed.

At that time Saariselkä was not very well known holiday resort and the maps of the area were pretty sketchy. Therefore the Friends of Lapland’s Children Association got aerial photos from the army and had drawn new maps for hiking and skiing. Copies were at tourists’ disposal. Also negotiations started with other associations focusing on skiing and hiking for developing the area further.

Fire destroyes the cabin

In the beginning of January, 1958, fire fully destroyed the main building. The fire brigade came from Ivalo, 30 kilometres away, and the only thing left for them to do was to protect the other buildings from the fire. The main building was gone. The other three buildings remained unharmed. Sauna building is still standing today by the Lutto river.

New life of an old logger's cabin

Rovaniemi district of Finland Officials’ Union had earlier removed an old logger’s cabin from Lake Tsarmi next to the Laanila Fell Cabin for union’s members to overnight in. After Laanila Fell Cabin was destroyed in the fire, this logger’s cabin was soon becoming too small. Therefore Rovaniemi district donated this old cabin to its parent company Finland Officials’ Union which also bought the rest of the Laanila Fell Cabin’s buildings not destroyed by the fire. Finland Officials’ Union then started to develop its holiday operations and later became the mover of the Saariselkä area development.

“People are crazy about Lapland. Saariselkä Camping Resort had 5000 visitors this year”, was the news headline in Uusi Suomi newspaper in 1965.

Officials’ Union has changed the name from Laanila Fell Cabin into Saariselän Retkeilykeskus (Saariselkä Camping Resort) and they developed the resort cautiously during the 1960’s. Accommodation was modest, but guests enjoyed themselves and felt the warm Lappish atmosphere. Especially famous became restaurant Sininen Pirtti (Blue Hut) which located in that old logger’s cabin removed from Late Tsarmi.

In the beginning of 1965 two new buildings were ready; sauna and combined laundry & heating plant. All buildings were connected to Inari municipality’s electricity grid and this enabled 24/7 lighting which was not the case before. Earlier, when Saariselkä Camping Resort produced its own power, all lights were turned off at 10.30 pm.
Now there was enough room for 130 guests. In 1966 started also fuel distribution in Saariselkä Camping Resort.

Esteemed guests in the official openings

”Saariselkä has new upstanding venues Päämaja (Headquarter), Blue Hut and ‘Lutto’ Hall”, wrote Lapin Kansa newspaper reporting from the official opening ceremony on 16th February 1968.

At the same time Finland’s Bank’s new cabin in Saariselkä had its house warming party and therefore a big party of esteemed guests celebrated the new facilities in Saariselkä Camping Resort’s restaurant. Among others governors Mr Martti Miettunen and Mr Urho Kiukas, director of Finland’s Bank Mr Mauno Koivisto and former director Mr Klaus Waris were present.

The main building of Saariselkä Camping Resort was now called Headquarter, new restaurant ‘Lutto’ Hall and the old Blue Hut now served as a socializing venue. Planning to build more high standard accommodation and to organize guided wellness holidays started at the end of the decade.

“Ski lift on Kaunispää fell in active use”, headlined newspaper Pohjolan Sanomat in March 1971.

Saariselkä Camping Resort increased strongly its accommodation capacity in the 1970’s by buying existing buildings from its neighbors. In 1970 ski lift was opened on Kaunispää fell which enhanced the appeal of the holiday resort. Saariselkä Camping Resort was the biggest owner of the new ski lift.

Restaurant operations begin

Construction works of a new 2-story building to be called Ahma (Wolverine) began in August 1972. All of these new rooms had private toilets and showers plus in-room telephones. In order to start licensed restaurant operation Headquarter was going through a renovation at the same time. New cabinet was built and Blue Hut was styled into a bar. Each building was linked into water and drainage system. At the end of the year the total number of beds was 230.

“Nowadays fully licensed restaurant Blue Hut is atmospheric bar with dancing in the evenings. New director is Mr Timo Lankinen”, told Lapin Kansa newspaper in its headline in June 1973.

After getting the license to serve alcohol Saariselkä Camping Resort established new job descriptions. A director, head waiter and bartender were hired. Up until now from the 1964 matron Saimi Luoma with her staff had been in charge of all the operations.

“Flight packages brighten up tourism in Lapland”, was the news headline in Ilta-Sanomat newspaper on 6th of March in 1974, the year of the oil crisis.

“Tourism in Lapland is now slowly increasing between the seasons due to the new flight packages. One week in Saariselkä on full board, return flight from Helsinki to Ivalo and airport transfers cost 400-500 Finnish Marks. Travelling by own car, only petrol costs 200 MK. Snowdrifts in Saariselkä are 130 cm high. Many companies in tourism industry in Lapland are currently struggling; many hotels are or have been for sale.”

Growth continues throughout the 70’s

The lack of staff accommodation had hindered operating, but situation got better on 1976 when a house called ‘Tarvas’ was bought for staff accommodation. At the end of the year 1977 Saariselkä Camping Resort consisted of 12 separate buildings.

Because the accommodation capacity had grown also restaurant needed to enlarge. At spring 1980 restaurant seating capacity reached 400. At the same time new building plans started and in 1982 two new accommodation buildings – Sopuli and Näätä (Lemming and Marten) – were opened. In 1981 hotel employed 32 persons full time and up to 90 persons during high season.

More capacity - again

New 120 beds in Sopuli and Näätä created the need to build yet more restaurant capacity. After the renovation restaurant could seat 700 guests. In addition a lecture hall, a meeting room and an 80-seat lobby café were built in the beginning of 1980’s.

In 1985 hotel changed its name to Saariselän Tunturihotellit Ltd – Saariselkä Tunturi Hotel – which described the changed operations and provided services better.

At the end of the decade Kontio (Bear) apartment building was opened. At the same time new service building was completed. Paraspaikka (Best place) apartment building opened in 1992 and also kitchens in main restaurant were renovated.

The big investments and general uncertainty in economy led the company into a bankruptcy. All operations however continued without any interruptions.

New era

New owners Mr Seppo Aho, Mr Timo Hietala and Mr Harri Hellqvist took over in 1993. They employed a new director Mr Antti Haataja, who immediately launched big redevelopments in hotel and restaurant.

New restaurants and meeting rooms

With the new owners the 1990’s was the decade for reformation in restaurants. After all the work was finished, the restaurants looked pretty much as they are now - Siula and Lutto upstairs, Pirtti and Lobby Café downstairs. Also kitchens in both floors were renovated. Kota, the Lappish Hut, opened in 1997 on hotel yard.
200-seat auditorium was built in the old garage in Paraspaikka building and main building got three new meeting rooms – Urupää, Iisakkipää and Kivipää.

Hotel expands

In the beginning of the new millennium Ahma and Ilves were renovated by combining them into one building, Ahma. In 2006 started the building works for the new high quality accommodation and meeting center Gielas, which was ceremonially opened in November 2008.

After all the mentioned expansions hotel became the largest in Lapland. Nowadays it consists of 260 rooms and apartments with 1000 beds and five restaurants with capacity for 2500 people.

Ownership changed again in 1997 when Mr Seppo Aho bought all the shares from Mr Timo Hietala and Mr Harri Hellqvist. The hotel is now owned 100% by Sava Group, which is the hotel’s parent company fully owned by Aho family.

From the beginning of 2011 hotel has been known as Santa’s Hotel Tunturi and it is part of Santa’s Hotels chain.

Written by Matti Laukkanen, translation by Jonna Pietilä

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