THE SHORT HISTORY OF INARI TOURIST HOTEL AND TOURISM IN INARI
Our traditionally multicultural village has been a destination for travellers since the 19th century. Our hotel hosts also a combination of traditions: local Sami culture, long tourism traditions, traditional Lappish livelihoods, gorgeous natural environment, nearby Lemmenjoki gold history and the traditional style of the reconstruction period.
We are ‘barefooted’ natives from Inari which means that this is our home. Our father’s side is a part of the wide Morottaja Inarisami family. Our particular family tree branch settled in the mouth of Juutua River before the modern village was born. Our forefathers traditionally fished for red trout on the river.
Here you can travel through the history of over hotel over the last eight decades.
The dream of Lapland as a tourist destination was created by the Finnish Tourist Association roughly about the same time as our nation gained its independence. A vision of tourism in the land of the mountains came from the association’s secretary general Carl Wolter Stenbäck. He had international connections, skill of many languages and understanding for foreign cultures as well as experience of international tourism. When Mr Stenbäck gave up his job in 1940, he moved to Inari and lived here until the end of the war.
Our original log hotel was built on this same spot by the Finnish Tourist Association in 1937, a year after Hotel Pohjanhovi in Rovaniemi. The location was excellent, only a fly’s throw away from the best trout river in the country. Foreign fly fishermen had already discovered Paatsjoki and Teno salmon rivers and now it was Juutua’s turn to attract fishermen to lure the famous big Inari trout. Usually these fishermen stayed for a couple of weeks. Local people learned the skills of sport fishing from the tourists while working as guides and rowers.
The original hotel had 13 guest rooms, general facilities designed in national romantic and functional styles. The building also had a river front sauna and an apex building called ‘Lappish Cottage’ with free accommodation for people who visited the village from the close-by Sami villages. There was also a separate garage building designed for the curvy shaped 30’s style cars.
People arrived in Inari in the summer time easily using the surrounding waters or on a horse pulled carriage. The hotel owned 6-7 sleigh reindeer that were used for transportation in the winter season. The sleigh ride would take guests to Kaamanen in the north or Ukonjärvi in the south, where from another sleigh would carry on. The hotel had also hired a reindeer herder, who organised reindeer rides in the hotel’s surroundings. There was a great demand for reindeer round-up visits in those days as well, but back then it was as difficult to know the day and time of the round-ups as it is today.
The hotel was quite self sufficient. There was a cowhouse with 6 milking cows and pigs and a potato field. In the village there was one family with a henhouse, from where the hotel purchased eggs. There was also one grocery store, where from all dry ingredients were acquired. It was common for local people to import goods from Norway, but the hotel couldn’t get an import licence needed for bigger purchases. The guests were served mainly fresh fish in the summer season, because the hotel didn’t have proper cold storages, where meat could have been kept. Air dried reindeer meat was the only meat served in the summer. In the grounds the hotel had a traditional turf cellar, where foodstuff was kept cool with the help of great chunks of ice sawn with a big ice saw. In the winter season different reindeer dishes were served along with fish dishes. The hotel had a full alcohol licence.
Our father Reino was born and raised on the southern shore of Lake Inari near the village. His fishing family had a net fishing spot near the village. Reino can still remember well a fish selling trip with his mother to the hotel when he was only a small boy:
“ Me and my mum rowed from the netting spot to the mouth of the river and up the river, we had had a good catch. We arrived at the hotel shore and carried the catch in through the kitchen entrance. While my mum went to the office to get the pay, I stayed in the kitchen with the cooks and kitchen maids. The girls gave me a glass of freshly milked still warm milk and a sweet bun straight from the oven. This delicious moment stayed in my memory so well that now in my 70’s I still remember it like yesterday.”
During the Second World War also the hotel suffered from the shortage of supplies. Pleading letters were sent to the main offices in Helsinki, asking for cotton and needles for patching the linen, salted herrings or seed potatoes. Linen table clothes, serviettes and towels were replaced with a paper variety and instead of sugar, a diluted sweetener was used in a drop bottle. In September 1944, after the village population had been evacuated, the hotel’s 4 remaining cows and 3,5 tons of potatoes were sold to the German army. During the evacuation almost 9000 meals were served for the people leaving their homes. The hotel was closed on 12.9.1944 and the buildings were burned down in November. The buildings along with all furnishings were completely destroyed down to the foundations. In summer 1945 the preserved cellar was restored and rented out to the rationing office and a local store.
During the Second World War the hard pioneering work done by the Finnish Tourist Association was demolished, when their grand network of tourist inns and hotels was destroyed completely by the retreating German army. Reconstruction began straight after the war, but the Inari Tourist Hotel was not rebuilt on top of the old cellar until 1956, even though there had already been great demand earlier on. The new hotel turned out to be too small from the beginning, so an extension was added already the following summer. Summer tourism was booming after a road reaching Norway was built during the war. The 1960’s and 1970’s are remembered for V.I.P. guests, when legendary President Kekkonen hosted royal visits to Inari.
Every year the hotel hired many ‘summer girls’, staff with good education and language skills to serve the international guests. A favourite pastime for local lads was to wait at the bus stop for the bus arriving from the south to see what the new girls looked like. More than a few of them met their destiny in Inari, married and stayed in Inari for good. This was the destiny of the new young hotel manageress Maija, who arrived in Inari in 1966 and married a local young man. She arrived in a Ford Taunus though, not on the Eskelinen bus….
In 1986 the Tourist Association decided to close down the hotel, because the owner of the property, the Construction Government, would not renovate the facilities. At the end of the autumn season, 30.9.1986 was the last evening of this legendary hotel. Helsingin Sanomat reporter Jorma Korhonen was there:
“The guests of the last night enjoyed the familiar hospitality with all senses. They ate and drank all the larders empty. They sang, yoiked, danced and bustled like reindeer in the corral, in order to create memories for themselves.”
The bearded gold diggers watched from the restaurant walls, winking an eye, when the younger generation held a party in their local. The remaining prospector veterans had bid their farewells the days before, just like the older generations of locals. Niiles Valle, knows as Singing-Niiles, started a slowly ascending yoik and lead the crowd to a sing-along of the song ‘Lake Inari’.
The last waltz, Finnish favourite ‘Golden Youth’ began to play. The guests twirled in a unison herd, singing their hearts out with the music, embracing each other. When the last bar faded away, last orders were called. The life of Inari Tourist Hotel went out. The crowd disappeared into the dark night. The liquor cabinets were empty.
The following morning Maija Nikula, who had managed the hotel for the past 20 years, followed with tears in her eyes as the staff took down the company flag from the pole.
Maija didn’t mourn for long the closing down of this traditional hotel. The following spring she reopened the hotel under the name ‘Kultahovi’. The facilities were thoroughly renovated and the hotel came back to life.
In 2002 Maija’s children Kaisu and Heikki, who had lived in southern Finland for several years, decided to return to Inari to work at the hotel. A generation change was put into progress. The lovely landscape and nature of their homeland, strong Sami culture, great fishing, hunting and trekking areas made the decision easy. Maija was given a well earned retirement in 2003 and different development projects began. The old facilities went through renovations and the new River Hotel was opened in December 2007. Development of winter programmes went into full gear and the result was an unique winter destination. The development of Inari village as the centre of Finnish Sami culture has brought along interesting events and festivals, such as the Congress of World’s Reindeerherding Peoples and the annual Skábmagovat film festival and Ijahis Idja music festival with guest peoples from all continents.
Fly fishing in Juutua’s lowest rapids was resumed in the 1990’s. We were now able to return to the hotel’s roots and welcome a new generation of fly fishermen and –women.
Tradition Hotel Kultahovi was created in 2010 and different developments have been ongoing to this day. Our restaurant has been fully refurbished and our exterior was renovated with inspiration from the 1930’s log hotel as well as the 1950’s reconstruction period architecture. Hotel rooms in our Traditional Hotel were also fully refurbished in a historical theme in 2015.
More stories from our history you can come and read on the spot. In the Traditional Hotel each room has a print on the wall with illustrated stories from our archives. If you have memories, stories or pictures of our colourful history, we would be extremely interested in hearing about them!