The northernmost castle in Europe and other secrets of the Finnish lakes

Usually, when talking about travel and Finland, topics are usually Helsinki, Lapland and snow-covered landscapes. But this country has many other things to offer. For example, the lakes of the southeast, one of the areas preferred by the Finns themselves to spend the summer due to its combination of nature, history and scenic beauty.

In particular, the vicinity of the city of Savonlinna and, in general, the intricate shores of Lake Saimaa -one of the largest in Europe, with 4,400 kilometers of extension full of islands, bends and arms that cover a large part of the former Savonia region– have long been the most popular areas to spend the summer months. Because of this, this area has a wide variety of hotels and resorts, something that contributes to its charm, because it is possible to find a place to suit any type of traveler and that is well suited to the most diverse activities.

Punkaharju hotel is the oldest in Finland

For example, if you are looking for history and classic charm, there is probably no better place in Finland than the Hotel Punkaharjuthe oldest in the country, as it has been receiving guests since the mid-19th century. In 2016 it was bought by the model and television presenter Saimi Hoyer -a celebrity in these lands-, who restored it to its former splendor. Today, it has eleven rooms in the main building (a beautiful wooden construction reminiscent of other great nineteenth-century hotels), another nine in the nearby ‘villa de la empress’ (from the same period and whose rooms bear the names of writers and artists who spent time in the hotel) and thirteen in a series of cabins by the lake, much more rustic but with all the charm of the authentic. All this decorated with a mixture of memories of the glorious past of the establishment and exhibitions of contemporary art that change every few months.

In addition, the restaurant of the Hotel Punkaharju has recently been included among the top 50 in Finland (the only one from this region on the list) and combines in its menus the fish brought directly from the clear waters of the lake with mushrooms and aromatic herbs from the surrounding forests, declared a nature reserve by Tsar Alexander I when these lands belonged to his empire. The hotel organizes mycological days every year and offers its guests excursions to pick mushrooms and plants or to do a wine tasting in front of the lake, among pines, firs and birches.

That atmosphere of history and art makes Hotel Punkaharju an ideal base for exploring nearby Savonlinna and especially the Olavinlinna, the northernmost castle in all of Europe. Built in the 15th century as the last bastion of the line of defense against the Russians, its silhouette on the edge of Lake Saimaa is today the emblem of the city. In addition, every summer the central courtyard of the castle is covered and converted into a theater with a capacity for more than 2,250 spectators, a stage of more than 30 meters and surprisingly good acoustics that hosts a prestigious opera festival every month of July. This year productions of ‘Aída’, ‘Carmen’ (directed by the Spaniard Ramón Tebar) and ‘Tosca’ will be premiered and the Croatian National Theater of Rijeka (which will perform ‘Julio César en Egypt’ and ‘Gianni Schicchi’) will be the invited company. Although the venue is usually full, you can usually find tickets – from 100 euros – even on the day of the performance.

The jetty and some of the cabins at SaimaaHoliday Oravi

Another way of spending the summer by Lake Saimaa -the most typical for the Finns themselves, in fact- is rent one of the modern cabins (with capacity for up to sixteen people) Saimaa Holiday Oravi. These have a sauna (and some with a second outdoor sauna facing the lake and dock with a rowboat), full kitchens, and en-suite bedrooms, and are a perfect spot from which to explore the Linnansaari National Park. It is especially recommended to take a boat trip on the lake to have the opportunity to see a specimen of the Saimaa ringed seal, one of the few species of seal that lives in fresh water. Although it is threatened (there are just over four hundred specimens left), fortunately it seems that the population is increasing little by little and at the end of spring and in the summer evenings they can be seen sunbathing on the rocks of some of the islands that dot the lake. In addition to the excursions to see the seals, SaimaaHoliday Oravi also offers other activities to enjoy nature, such as kayaking, canoeing (with instructor or solo), fishing, hiking through the islands of the park and, in winter, motorcycle rides. snow.

Also next to the Linnansaari National Park, in Rantasalmi, is the Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän (roughly translatable as ‘heart of the lake’), which offers a curious combination of tradition and innovation. On the one hand, its owners, the Heiskanen family, have been dedicated to the hospitality industry in this region for twelve generations, since in the 17th century one of their ancestors was put in charge of one of the inns that were created next to the inland roads. from Finland. And the hotel’s main building (opened as such in the 1980s) reflects that history, as it resembles a fort built of wood, with an old steamboat from the 18th century serving as a skeleton around which the restaurants are structured, served by waitresses dressed as inn maids.

That almost theme park air is offset by the most varied accommodation: houseboats on the lake, glass and ‘green’ cabins, rooms on the top of the hill, avant-garde ‘nest cabins’ with the look of an igloo… Diverse and original solutions for travelers of all kinds and with a program of activities to match them. But what has given Järvisydän the most fame is its spa, built of wood and slate taking advantage of a rock wall next to the lake and which boasts of being the ‘greenest’ in all of Finland. There are saunas, indoor and outdoor pools (in the waters of the lake) and all kinds of amenities that make it the most frequented spa by Finnish ‘celebrities’.

Savonlinna, not Finland

But, if we talk about luxury, the reference is Kuru, a ‘resort’ opened just half a year ago very close to Rantasalmi and focused on relaxation (not even children or teenagers are allowed, to create as calm an environment as possible). Yoga and meditation classes, trendy decoration but with rustic touches in wood and rock, a wonderful restaurant run by the Franco-Finnish chef Remi Trémouille and focused on local products… And, above all, avant-garde cabins with a large glass wall overlooking the lake and the woods, a private sauna and a terrace where the hotel brings breakfast every morning, so you don’t have to go up to the main building. Maximum care in all the details to enjoy the Finnish lakes in the most comfortable way possible.

Diverse ways of experiencing the summer in Finland and Lake Saimaa, a little-known destination but with much to discover. Good trip and happy sauna.

Leave a Comment