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Exploring Kalevala, A Finnish Oasis in the Polish Mountains: Interview with Founder Michał Makowski

Kalevala, the only Finnish village outside Finland, is located in Borowice, in the Polish Karkonosze Mountains. The destination was nominated as one of Europe's Leading Tourist Attractions at the World Travel Awards in both 2022 and 2023. Julia Morta from Spondeo interviewed Michał Makowski, who co-founded Kalevala with his wife Magda.

Source: Kalevala

How did the idea to create Kalevala come about?

It was the result of many factors. We visited Finland for the first time in March 2010, even before Magda's high school graduation. Since that time, Finland has stayed somewhere in our heads. While doing my PhD, I delved into the study of “Kalevala”. As we became aware of Finland's approaching centennial, it inspired us to do something more than just open a sauna, as we initially planned. I liked the notion of establishing a place resembling Finland, where I could enjoy time with friends.

What are some of the favorite attractions among Kalevala guests?

Our guests love walking the huskies, which is also a popular activity in Lapland. The reindeer also generate a lot of enthusiasm. Another interesting experience includes spending long evenings in a traditional Finnish barbecue hut (grillkota) connected to a sauna. Of course, our visitors also enjoy spending time outside in nature, for example going on long walks in the mountains.

Do you also organize any Finnish events?

Yes, our goal is to organize four events annually. The first is the Kalevala Spirit Festival. Last year, it was the concert of Apocalyptica, who flew in straight from Wembley, London. The second event is a meeting with the real Santa Claus from Rovaniemi. This year, our guests will be able to meet Joulupukki from 26 to 29 December. We also plan an event related to the Moomins, which will be held periodically in August, the birth month of Tove Jansson. The fourth event is not yet specified, but it could be connected with Angry Birds.

Where do most visitors come from?

Most of our visitors come from western Poland, while around 20% are from the Czech Republic. We typically host around ten guests from Finland every month, and we sometimes welcome Norwegians and Swedes. Regardless of nationality, our typical guest is a conscious tourist who is looking for deeper experiences than a luxurious resort with a pool.

What are the similarities and differences between Finnish and Polish cultures?

In terms of common traits, both nations are courageous, hard-working, and individualistic. In Finland, individualism in collaborative projects is very valuable, because it means that everyone contributes something to the project. Meanwhile, in Poland, individuals are often more focused on persuading others to join their own side. The Finns also impress me with their honesty and sincerity; there are no gimmicks or excessive negotiations. Socially, the most significant difference lies in the issue of trust. I love the trust culture in Finland, where everyone is given an opportunity, regardless of their appearance or history. In Poland, people trust each other and the state much less.

What could surprise Finns about Polish culture?

I would say our inability to learn from certain historical events. On a more positive note, Finns could be surprised by our openness to helping each other. In Finland, the state and various associations have organized life so perfectly that the Finns have practically stopped seeking support from each other. For them, it feels a bit embarrassing. In Poland, it's very common to turn to friends or family for help.

What is your favorite place in Finland?

Lapland and its vast spaces never cease to fascinate me. I fell in love there with a small Lappish town called Kuhmo, which is similar to Kalevala. However, I would say I feel best in Helsinki. Despite being the capital, it is such an intimate city, very green and peaceful.

If you were able to bring only one thing from Finland to Poland, what would it be?

Fazer candy, preferably with licorice.

Are there any special projects in store for Kalevala?

We have a project we call Kalevala 2.0, which will serve as a hub bringing together the most interesting companies from Finland. After experiencing a sauna and meeting dogs and reindeer, tourists often conclude that Finland is quite wild and primarily nature-oriented. We aim to challenge this perception by inviting them to a hall where they will suddenly encounter Angry Birds, Moomins, Fiskars, Nokia and other hyper-modern Finnish solutions. We have already started plans to build such a facility and we are in talks with numerous major companies from Finland to invite them here and show our guests the innovative things they do.

Lapońska 1, 58-564 Borowice


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