Marina Vallongo's Italian ice cream enchants Lappeenranta
Artisan ice cream is being made in the centre of Lappeenranta with love and from pure ingredients. Italian Marina Vallongo serves locals tasty treats from her homeland while enjoying the historical qualities of Lappeenranta and the flexible family services that enable entrepreneurship
Marina Vallongo opened her own business, the Gelateria Vallongo ice cream parlour serving Italian artisan ice cream, on Kauppakatu in September 2022.
“In my small parlour, I sell Italian artisan ice cream that I’ve made by hand. I use high-quality ingredients and as many local products, such as berries, as possible. I don’t use any colourings or artificial additives, which means that the ice cream gets its colour directly from the ingredients,” Marina says, describing the process of making ice cream.
The opening of Gelateria Vallongo was celebrated on a day that was significant to Marina.
“I opened my small ice cream parlour exactly 15 years after flying to Finland for the first time. That’s why the 2nd of September is an important day for me,” Marina explains.
Life between two countries brought the couple to Lappeenranta
Marina comes from the city of Rimini in Italy, which she describes as a lively seaside holiday destination.
Marina first came to Finland in 2007 as an exchange student in Jyväskylä. She also met her husband at that point. The couple ended up travelling between Italy and Finland for many years, finally ending up in Lappeenranta.
Today, Marina Vallongo lives in Lappeenranta with her husband and her son. The couple moved to the city when the husband began his studies at LUT University.
When Marina’s husband was accepted into the university, Marina had just completed her master’s programme in anthropology and ethnology in Bologna.
“I intended to become a teacher, and I have actually taught Italian at an adult education centre in Lappeenranta.
Passion leads to another profession - swept away by artisan ice cream
Marina has already been living in Lappeenranta for more than 10 years and has had time to do many things before opening her ice cream parlour. Before COVID-19, she organised trips for Italians coming to Finland.
“The coronavirus pandemic closed the borders and international travel ground to a halt. At that point, I decided to follow my passion and switch professions entirely,” Marina says.
Confectionery – cakes and chocolates – have always been Marina’s passion, and she originally made cakes to order.
“Then I discovered making ice cream. I was hooked immediately and felt that this was my thing. I wanted to study and learn more about ice cream making. I took related courses in Italy and sought additional knowledge in books.
A warm welcome from the pistachio-loving locals
Gelato artigianale, Italian artisan ice cream, is softer and more flavourful than regular ice cream.
“Artisan ice cream is also a dessert that can be made from any edible food. In other words, the possibilities are endless,” Marina says, describing the delicacy she makes.
Marina makes sorbets as well as milk-based and cream-based ice creams. The selection also includes vegan options.
“Pistachio is absolutely one of the favourite flavours of locals in Lappeenranta. It’s fun to see people’s reactions when they try real Italian ice cream for the first time,” Marina laughs.
Marina has always felt welcome in Lappeenranta and is very pleased to be able to provide locals with a piece of her homeland.
“Finnish people like Italy, and the Italian product I make has been very well received,” Marina says.
Wirma business services help find the right permises
According to Marina, she received assistance for setting up her business from the City of Lappeenranta.
“Wirma business services helped me by advising me in matters related to establishing a business and finding commercial premises for me. Finding the right premises was a challenge, because I wanted a space with a historical air in the centre of the city,” Marina says.
Eventually, the perfect spot was found, and now the ice cream parlour on Kauppakatu commands an atmospheric view of the old ‘Tasihinin talo’ building. The Wolkoff House Museum and a restaurant are situated in the same building as Marina’s ice cream parlour.
Marina says that she likes places with history and describes the building where she now operates as having “just the right atmosphere.”
Lappeenranta’s attractions are its tranquillity, services and vistas
Marina has enjoyed her time in Lappeenranta and finds that the city provides all of its residents with the opportunity for peaceful and enjoyable living.
“Forests and nature are close by, as is usually the case in Finland. Italian cities can sometimes be chaotic and there are lots of people,” Marina says, considering the differences between the two countries.
For Marina, the key benefits of Lappeenranta include the flexible child care services, which enable combining the work of an entrepreneur and family life.
“I don’t have any of my Italian family or relatives in Lappeenranta, but child care has been so well organised that I can work very easily. Child care is available even for a couple hours a day, if needed,” Marina says, praising the city’s services.
Marina likes historical buildings and old places. Her favourites ones in Lappeenranta are the old city and the fortress area.
“The view from the fortress right by the lake is very beautiful. The area also features Café Majurska and many wonderful boutiques.”
Nearby airport enables direct flights to Italy
Marina misses her Italian family most of all. Fortunately, Lappeenranta Airport has direct flights to Italy when necessary.
“I dream about direct flights between Rimini and Lappeenranta so that my family and friends could also come to visit and try my ice cream,” Marina says with a smile.
For Marina, making gelato is both a dream job and a hobby. She also studies ice cream making in her spare time. Alongside her work, Marina spends time with her family.
“When I’m not making ice cream, I play with my son and spend time around town. I like going to market fairs and events, which there are plenty of in Lappeenranta, especially in summer. Of course, there could be even more activities throughout the year – for example, lots of people visited the Muikku ja Pottu fish market fair in the autumn.”
Overall, Marina feels that residents of Lappeenranta have welcomed her and her small ice cream parlour.
“The reception from the locals has been extremely warm. Many have visited my parlour to say that they are happy that I came to their city. It’s wonderful to hear that people enjoy my parlour and appreciate the Italian flavours I bring to Lappeenranta,” Marina says, thankful of the great response.