Just five years ago Helsinki's sleek Hotel Katajanokka was still very much a functioning prison.
Outmoded, outdated and definitely far too close for comfort to the centre of the city, it had for many decades been scheduled to be closed down. But it was only in 2002 that, finally, the inmates of this early 19th-century redbrick building were transferred to more modern facilities further afield. When the current owners acquired the former lock-up and grim interview centre about two years ago, it was still complete with barred windows and thick-set cells. After negotiations over conservation and planning, phenomenally it took just 12 months to transform the old-fashioned prison into a super-stylish hotel that opened in March this year. For marketing purposes it is heavily branded Best Western, but the global corporate logo very much belies the sleek, one-off design and the boutique nature (there are just 106 bedrooms) of this strikingly revamped property.
Track it down
From Helsinki's Vantaa airport it takes about 35 minutes to reach the hotel by taxi, for a cost of about €25. The Best Western Hotel Katajanokka (00 358 9 686 450; www.bwkatajanokka.fi) is very centrally situated on the eponymous Katajanokka island, about a seven-minute walk from Helsinki's focal point, the old market square. Tram no. 4, running via Mannerheimintie near the railway station, stops outside the street entrance at Linnankuja 5.
Reception is manned, 24-hours, by cheerful staff clad in black. As with most of Helsinki English is almost flawlessly spoken.
Room to manoeuvre?
Most of the rooms have been created from two or three cells, with at least two high windows and one lower down offering an outlook on to the hotel's leafy grounds. (The two-cell room I tried out was well proportioned for one person but might have been a tight squeeze for two.) Furnishings are orange, cream and black, and particular care has been taken to ensure the beds are especially comfortable. Chic bathrooms, comprising shower and toilet facilities, are neatly tucked to the side behind opaque sliding doors. Some of the larger rooms were formerly administrative offices and offer en-suite saunas.
Communications for the former inmates was certainly never this easy: there is free wi-fi in the lounge and at the comfy sitting out areas of the main corridor. Broadband access is available in the bedrooms.
If you need exercise, for the moment you'll have to content yourself with breaking out for the seven-minute walk to Helsinki's old fish market or striding out further across the city. However, the Hotel Katajanokka will be opening a small gym in the near future. Other facilities include a summer outdoor terrace bar, which is currently receiving its finishing touches, and a sauna for private hire. Meanwhile the prison's spacious old chapel is available for weddings and meetings.
Raid the minibar
In each property we check out the minibar for what staples are available. The former cells here are well supplied with miniatures of vodka (€6), whisky (€6), beer (small can, €1.40), still mineral water (€3), crisps (€2.50), chocolate (€2.50) and more.
Make your way down to the softly lit Jailbird restaurant occupying the central corridor of the basement, and with meeting rooms fashioned from former offices for interrogation and interviews to the side. Not that the place looks unwelcoming today, and you'll certainly find a generous spread for breakfast. There's a buffet of Scandinavian meats and pates as well as crisp breads, rye bread, wheat bread, cereals, berries and yoghurt, teas and fresh coffee. Bacon and eggs are also served on request.
A double room costs from €240 including breakfast.
Comfort and good value are combined at Hotel Anna, a few minutes walk west of the market square at Annankatu 1 (00 358 9 616 621; www.hotelanna.com), where doubles cost from €160 (or from €105 during the low summer season), including breakfast.Reuse content