Sleepover: Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel
A bed for the night in Helsinki
Sunday 13 June 2004
A short drag of the suitcase from Helsinki's main railway station and bus terminals. Sounds noisy? Not so. It's off the main square in a quiet street leading to Kaisaniemi Park, one of the Finnish capital's many pleasant green spaces. Radisson SAS - it sounds a bit corporate, compounded by the fact that there are three sister hotels within an eight-mile radius. Yet, conversely, it's the link to this empire that gives the Plaza its distinct character. For it is set in the group's former headquarters, its foundation stone laid in 1917 and various parts now protected by the city museum. The original façade, flanked by pretty arcades, centres on a proud square tower, the top of which houses the best suite, with panoramic views. Reception is to the rear, in the modern extension. And the rooms bridge both the old and new buildings.
Free saunas - you can even book one en-suite.
The comfort factor
There's a definite business-hotel ambience, but the effort is made to add a touch of style with quality fabrics and furnishings and elegant ornaments. Radisson SAS hotels follow a formula: in the Nordic region this means three set room styles - Italian (multi-coloured and modern), Nordic (light wood and blue and green tones) and Classic (business bland). All 301 rooms - divided into standard, business and suites - have air-con, mini-bar and the usual array of hair dryers and trouser presses (though, oddly, you'll have to upgrade to business class if you want a kettle). Few Finnish hotels have embraced the notion of supplying home-cinema systems with CD and DVD libraries, so you'll have to put up with ghastly pay TV.
Clean, basic, supplied with unguents in eye-challenging colours. But remember, you can take a sauna, too.
The food and drink
The Paakonttori Restaurant is a grand eating hall in the original building, its ceiling stretching up to the roof. (On the balcony above, artists sometimes exhibit work.) At one side is the Juho salon, a more cosy space, with stained-glass windows designed by the late Finnish artist Juho Rissanen. Behind the restaurant is the beautiful Klubi bar. Criminally, it isn't open to the public - what a missed opportunity. The restaurant menu features traditional dishes for modern palates. As an example, try salmon carpaccio with lemon sauce, rocket and fig-flavoured dressing, followed by stone-grilled reindeer fillet with a red wine sauce, and lemon cremino with strawberry salad for dessert. Expect to pay €40 (£27) per head without wine.
A united nations of business people and tourists.
The hotel has a free gym as well as the saunas. This being the season of the White Nights, you can enjoy day-round sunshine which is celebrated with various events. (Contact the tourist office at Pohjoisesplanadi 19 or visit www.hel.fi/tourism.) Take a stroll in the adjacent park (which has a good playground), passing a statue of the famous Finnish children's author Tove Jansson, sculpted by her father. On the adjacent square you'll find the National Theatre and Parliament as well as the beautiful façade of the railway station, its entrance flanked by stone figures holding aloft orbs of light. Take a walk down the grassy promenade between the north and south Esplanadi to the harbour, where there's a market selling a mix of fresh fish and vegetables and original handicrafts. And don't miss Alvar Aalto's Finlandia Hall by Toolonlahti lake, or the Temppeliaukio church, a vast space carved out of the bedrock, at Lutherinkatu 3.
There is easy access and specially modified rooms for people with disabilities. Children are welcome.
Doubles from €85 (£56) per night if booked on the website, including breakfast and taxes. A special summer package is being offered at €95 (£63) per night, with two children under 17 years staying free, including breakfast and taxes. The hotel can also be booked within a package through The Travel Experience (00 358 9 622 9810; www.travel-experience.net).
Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel, Mikonkatu 23, Helsinki 0100 (00 358 9 77590; www.radisson.com).
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