Where “nothing” is everything
Desolate marshlands where the only sound is roaring rapids in the distance. A small cottage in the woods to sleep in, without electricity and running water. This is what attracts people from a densely populated Europe to the Malmström family in the border regions between Sweden and Finland.
The family company Rajamaa is located on an island in the Muonio River, the river that unites Sweden with Finland.
- Our area is always mentioned last in the Swedish weather report and is then called Tornedalen, says Lars Malmström who has been running the company together with his wife Kaisu for more than 30 years.
The nearest train station is Kiruna, several hours away. Muonio is, besides the name of the river, also the capital of the Finnish municipality with the same name. In the summer you can hear and see the river's grand rapids from the island. In winter, the river is frozen and then it is only possible to sense the rapids under the thick ice. It is a sparsely populated area. The village has seven permanent residents.
- A large part of the island is undeveloped, and in most directions from Rajamaa you have to go quite a while before you see any traces of civilization, says Lars. It is something unique in Western Europe. Therefore, eight out of ten guests visit Rajamaa from countries outside the Nordic region.
Lars and Kaisu Malmström, the operators of Rajamaa. Photo: Rajamaa
Rajamaa has experience of nature as it's core, regardless of whether the activity is hiking, bear watching from a hide, fly fishing or hiking trails. All of Rajamaa's experiences are quality labeled with Nature's Best. - For us, sustainability is a given. Through the label, we make it visible. Many guests are very environmentally aware. Also, there is an interest in the sustainability of our tour operators and partners.
To Rajamaa guests come from all over Europe, especially from France.
- Many people who come here have walked the Inca Trail in Peru, dived the Great Barrier Reef and seen Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But they have never lived in a secluded house where there is no electricity and water. They may not even have been in a real forest. Some think it is a bit scary.
The wilderness impresses greatly on Rajamaa's guests.
- When we arrive at the large fen by foot or skis, everyone usually photograph. In the beginning, I thought, "what the heck is it they are photographing?" We often photograph when there is something, they are photographing the absence of something.
The silence arouses wonder.
- In the Alps, the sky is striped like a zebra of airplanes passing by. In January and February at Rajamaa, when it is half a meter of snow on all trees and the river is frozen, you hear absolutely nothing. Well, in March we heard a lynx, and it was awesome!
Five quick questions:
What initiatives do you work with related to nature and culture?
- Right now, we are planning a beaver inventory. Beaver safari will become a bookable experience eventually.
What made you want to become an eco-tourism entrepreneur?
- We have always been involved in eco-tourism, always lived up to the criteria for Nature's Best. But no one knows if we do not speak up about it.
What benefits do you get from being a quality labeled Nature's Best company?
- It's so new, so I don't know yet! But I am convinced that it provides sales benefits, both in the short and long term.
Do you notice an increased demand for sustainable experiences?
- Yes. In the beginning, we had to teach the French how to sort waste, and we actually forced them to do so. But sustainability is so much more than sorting waste and recycling. There is a lot of rut in the tourist industry, just like in other industries and much in the daily job that can be remedied. Reduced transport, for example. We have made great investments in our forest lodge and can go there on foot or skis directly from the main facilities.
Nature's Best contains six codes of conduct. How do you communicate these as added values to your guests?
- We live in the reindeer herding area and cooperate with mutual respect. In several places there are conflicts between reindeer herding and tourism, but not with us. The only thing we have plenty of in sparsely populated areas is space to roam. For us, respect for other people's professional practice and ways of living is a matter of course. That, and much more, we tell our guests...