Saimaa is the largest lake of Finland, the Eastern part of Finland that it stretches towards is also one of the most popular holiday destinations of the country. The city of Savonlinna has rich history around its famous castle and surrounded by fascinating sights. We met the most lovely people in the Saimaa region, had some incredible food and really fell in love with the area. Here are my top tips for a summer trip!
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The area of the lake Saimaa is huge, and embraces many cities and towns, countless islands and beautiful countryside. Due to its vast size, it’s best explored with the flexibility of a car.
Alternatively, to minimise driving time if you don’t have your own car, an easy option is to travel to the city of Savonlinna by train and take a rental car from there. Trains take just under 5 hours.
The longest-running hotel in Finland is a grand old wooden house was such a highlight of the trip, overlooking the forest down towards the lake, the hotel and restaurant make a destination for itself. The restaurant is a hotspot for foodies, the menu is focused around natural ingredients and local produce. For the ultimate treat, the dinner in the top of the tower of the building is just magnificent. Truly, it’s a private dining area all to yourself, with the most delightfully curated menu and the best view, that is as close to heaven as it could be.
For years, I have wanted to visit the St. Olaf’s castle, which was founded in 1475 by a Danish knight called Erik Axelsson Tott. It stands proud on an island just in front of the city, and is just a breathtaking sight with its three towers with the lake Saimaa backdrop.
I highly recommend a guided tour of the castle, where you can learn all about its history and quirks, as well as a bit of background to the Savonlinna opera festival, which is hosted here every summer – since 1912. It’s amazing that a grand castle like this is still actively used with something like the opera festival – and I can’t wait to attend a performance next year, as the acoustics are better than in many great opera houses around the world.
This charming café and restaurant in the hart of the city of Savonlinna is a must-stop for everyone in the city – no matter if you prefer it sweet or savoury, you’ll find a piece of happiness here! The local traditional dish is the “muikku”, friend vendace that’s usually served with a yoghurt sauce alongside mashed potatoes. I felt so much like fries that day, don’t do that for the real experience. Otherwise, the cake offer is mouth-watering and there’s plenty to choose from. The house has six hotel rooms, one even with the view of the castle!
This gorgeous health resort lies in the most beautiful location in the forest, with both a hotel and the stunningly beautiful Villa Urhola from 1903, it offers several accommodation offers. You can really take care of your well-being here with all kinds of treatments, head out into nature with the equipment you can rent from Kruunupuisto, and enjoy a refreshing swim in the lake or in the steamy Inkeritalo sauna if you are travelling in a group.
It’s location allows for great sightseeing from the lakeside! A one-hour introductory tour around the city gives you a great bit of insight about the place and some good ideas of which places to visit next. Most importantly, boats are the best and you can also enjoy a drink aboard.
The teahouse and bistro in the Juva area is a lovely destination for a special experience: with the intention to bring a different approach of tea to the area, owner and tea sommelier Anna reinvented the concept of the traditional teahouse. We sampled the “Makujen kimara” dish: a tasting menu with each dish accompanied by a different tea to match. Something so different and intriguing, everything was delicious – the locally sourced menu curated carefully to accompany the flavour strengths of each tea. Additionally, the high tea offer looked fantastic as well! Take home some tea and a tasty souvenir from the shop as well.
Grab some fresh local berries, baked treats, have a coffee and watch the market life pass by – Finnish town markets have to be one of my favourite things. We found the Savonlinna market especially lively and delightfully busy, simply because it’s great place to browse and have a little morning or afternoon break before you continue your adventures.
No visit to the Saimaa region is complete without some activity out on the water. As you might know, kayaks are my happy place, no news here, but there is just something special about a paddling trip on the biggest lake of Finland. The clear water over a bright sky makes it a really peaceful experience, and I love observing lakeside life from the water. Additionally, you can rent other equipment, such as fatbikes, to explore the area.
This grand resort comprised of a hotels, many villas of different sizes, cabins and the glass igloo scenery suites. Järvisydän is great for those new to Finland who want to experience things like a traditional meal in the “Kota” teepee, explore the lakeside at a low-threshold. The decor is full of little details and far from the Finnish minimalist style you might expect, but rather Northern and rustic. Yet, my personal highlight was the spa, which I can’t wait to return to. Certainly, also great destination in the winter, as ice-skating trails on the frozen lake Saimaa often start from around here!
The Saimaa ringed seal is unique to the Saimaa region and it has been my dream for years to see them. And one day, I will. As long as I haven’t, I’ll take any opportunity to try to spot them whenever I can! So, a boat ride (guided or self-guided) is an absolute must for any visit. Linnansaari National Park is a great point to start. However, if you’re unlucky, you still experienced the beautiful nature and National Park. Lately, I hear they are quite curious for humans, and have even said hello to visitors at Olavinlinna castle in the last years!
I fell in love with the Saimaa region even more, and Savonlinna is a city I really want to return to – not just for the opera festival. In short – maybe my favourite place. What’s on your list now?