Finnish people value simplicity, sustainability, and the sauna. So it's hardly surprising that, sprawled along the waterfront in the heart of Helsinki, right next to bustling Market Square, there's an oasis called Allas Sea Pool which offers a range of sauna and swimming options. (Bear in mind that Allas Sea Pool is a bit of a misnomer, as there are actually three pools - heated freshwater, chilly seawater, and a pool for kids.)
There are also a range of places to eat and drink within the Allas Sea Pool complex. Because seriously, what appeal would physical exertion hold if there weren't opportunities for replenishment afterwards? I visited the wholesome and hearty Allas Cafe on a recent visit, expecting to find it full of casually dressed swimmers, mottled red sauna goers, or badly dressed tourists like myself.
Instead, it was packed with impossibly tall and good-looking Scandinavians in business suits - the reason being that Allas Cafe offers one of the healthiest and best value lunches in Helsinki. Because the city is so small (relatively speaking) it's within walking distance of many workers' offices. And Finnish people eat to nourish their bodies, their souls, and the planet, rather than to show off, or to see and be seen.
I must not have looked too terribly out of place, because at some point I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard someone speaking rapidly to me in suomen kieli. Noting my confused expression, she rapidly switched to English. 'You dropped your scarf,' she said, handing it to me, smiling, accepting my thanks.
I went back to my lunch - Allas Cafe's soup of the day plus a selection of green salad, carve-your-own bread, and a cup of coffee or tea - all for the price of 10,40€ (about $16 in Australian dollars at the time of writing). On the day I visited, it was earthy parsnip soup with sage and peanuts, but visit on a different day and you might get smoked pepper and cheese soup, sweet potato and chilli soup, pumpkin and goat's cheese soup, or creamy salmon soup.
Allas Cafe's other meal options, only slightly more expensive, include meatball pasta with tomato sauce, spinach ravioli with creamy garlic sauce, or salmon frittata with a side salad. If you'd like to go slightly more upmarket, there's also the Neighbour Bistro within Allas Sea Pool. Round things off with a visit to the SkyWheel Helsinki next door.
One of the outdoor pools overlooking Helsinki's South Harbour. Author image.