Laavu: Hunters’ haunt turned post-hike bivouac

11 Apr 2018, 21:23

  DF Report by Tuwilica J Kahuika

People are enjoying food at a Laavu in Rovaniemi. DF Photo

Laavu, a Sami word meaning ‘lean-to’, is a popular setting for the Finns to spend time outdoors, especially after the long winter of the North.

A laavu is a temporary shelter for hikers, open on one side with a frame made of slender trees and a roof stacked of spruce twigs. These traditional bivouac shelters that dot the areas surrounding Rovaniemi usually have a fire place and some free wood available to light a campfire.

You can simply show up at a laavu alone or with family or friends, bringing with you some warm drinks and sausages for barbecuing while enjoying the sunny nature outside, as laavus do not need any reservation.

Traditionally, a laavu, also known as havulaavu in Finnish, was used as a temporary shelter or even as a residence, especially by hunters. However, nowadays laavus are used more for leisure and recreation activities by the locals for a barbecue or camping after a refreshing walk in the forest.

There are 70 laavus in the Rovaniemi area, said Kari Lukkarinen, a forestry engineer at the City of Rovaniemi, some of them are owned by the city and the rest belonging to Metsahallitus. Unlike the traditional laavus, Lukkarinen said, these days they are built with wood using modern building methods.

He said laavus are most popular in Rovaniemi during autumn, but are equally frequented in spring and summer. The nicest thing to enjoy in a laavu, in his words, is “to make fire, relish the smell of smoke and simply stare at the plays of the flames”.

A laavu “is a great way of ending a hike in the forest,” said Ville, who has come to live in Rovaniemi from Helsinki. After shifting to Rovaniemi, Ville spent his very first weekend with friends at a laavu and remembers sipping on some warm glogi and eating blueberries he had just picked during his hike.

Lisa Hokkanen, a pensioner who lives in Rovaniemi, said, laavus have a great traditional value for her. When she happens to relax in a laavu with her family, she gets a chance to teach her grandchildren the intrinsic value of spending time in the nature. For Hokkanen it also “brings back childhood memories” of spending time in laavus with her late parents, making these one-time hunters’ haunts even dearer to her.

In order to encourage their use, the laavus around Rovaniemi are all made easy to access, with the special needs of children and the people with disabilities taken care of. They are located mostly along the ski tracks and snowmobile trails and in hiking areas, and are, therefore, used as resting places after leisure activities in the wild.

While the City of Rovaniemi offers laavus as outdoor recreational facilities, it equally emphasizes responsible use of the shelters in an environment-friendly way.