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At the end of August, I had the chance to visit Finland’s Saimaa region. Saimaa is the biggest lake in Finland and also the fourth biggest natural freshwater lake in Europe. Surrounded by cities as Lappeenranta, Savonlinna and Mikkeli it’s not only a great place for some urban adventures but mostly it’s a perfect spot for various outdoor activities. Today I’m sharing my favorite things to do in Saimaa with you.
1. Go paddling
You haven’t been to Finland if you haven’t been canoeing or kayaking. The Finns love their waters and can be found there for a large portion of their free time. After spending an hour canoeing on Haukivesi Lake I knew that this is something I should do more often… with the only sound being paddles gliding through the water, it’s a perfect way to relax and to become one with nature. Canoeing is there for one of the top things to do in Saimaa, even if (like me) you are afraid of water…
2. Go hiking
No trip is complete without hiking! At least, not for us! As a local told me, there are no long distance hiking trails but there are plenty of places where you can head out on shorter (day) hikes. The Elsa Heporauta trail (24 km) starts from Sahanlahti and is one of the many options around Saimaa region. Many of the hiking trails are easy to follow since they are used for cross-country skiing in the winter.
If you want to make the exercise even better, then consider Nordic walking. I know, it’s something for old people and all, but after getting a lesson from Finnish Nordic walking guru Marko Kantaneva, I changed my point of view. Did you know that by bringing a set of poles you can burn up to 20%-40% calories more, if you use them the right way…
3. Go fishing
When you are our entering the waters of Lake Saimaa, you may as well try your best at fishing. The lake is filled with perch, pike and even salmon. Not only is it a great way to spend the day but also it’s a great way to relax. Because really, once your rod is in the water, all you have to do is pull it up when something bites. Or at least, that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the one time I felt my rod being pulled I was too late and the fish didn’t bite the hook. I’m confident now that I’m more lucky next time because I learned to fish from the best fisherman in all of Finland: Mika Kärkkainen. If you want to learn from him too, check out his website.
4. Visiting Linnansaari National Park
Linnansaari National Park is one of the four national parks in the Finnish Savonia region. You can go there for hiking, paddling, camping and many other outdoor activities. The Järvisydän Holiday Resort makes a great start for your adventure and offers a wide variety of possible activities, such as kayaking and rock climbing. Do make sure to stop by the lodge for a tasty meal, their fish is among the tastiest I had while in Finland!
5. See Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna
One of the most enchanting places to visit in Saimaa is Olavinlinna, the medieval castle of Savonlinna. Located beautifully on an island in the Kyrönsalmi Strait, this is one of the only 3 castles left in Finland. Unfortunately, we just got a partial entrance as there was a rehearal for an opera. Did you know that this castle is the venue for the famous Savonlinna Opera Festival, which is visited by about 70.000 people each year? Back in the day, when the castle wasn’t yet connected to the mainland by a bridge, visitors were rowed across the channel by the keepers of the gates. Imagine having to do that for all those people today…
6. Climb a hill and enjoy the view
You can usually get the best view of an area from the air. So what’s better than trying to do just so when you get the chance? Finland isn’t very mountainous, however you will already get stunning panoramas if you are just a little bit higher up than the water level. The pictures below show views of Saimaa Lake from Sahanlahti as well as from Linnansaari Island in the same name National Park. Just sit down, relax and enjoy the million dollar view.
7. Go and see Punkaharju Ridge
Punkaharju is located in the northeast of the Saimaa region and is well known for it’s extremely tall trees. The ridge is just a couple of meters wide in the narrowest spot. It’s a very peaceful environment and great for some relaxation. While there, I stayed at Kruinupuisto, a rehabilitation center. In the wintertime, it’s a perfect place for ice skating. In certain weekends, you can even go night skating.
8. Berry picking
Finns love their nature and try to use it as much as they can. So why not go berry picking when the season is right? I was visiting Finland in late August, a perfect time for blackberries and lingonberries. You don’t need much else than a basket and some free time. As it’s every man’s right in Finland, you can basically go berry picking anywhere you’d like to. Berries can be found all over the Saimaa region and are perfect for making pies, eating with your yoghurt or with your pancakes, just to name a few options… A comforting thought is that there is more than enough for everyone, only 5% of Finland’s berries are being picked each year.
9. Spot the Saimaa ringed seal
The Saimaa ringed seal is an endangered species, unfortunately there are only about 300 left in the world. They made the freshwater lakes of Saimaa their home and even though they are rare, the can be spotted if you are there during the right time of the year. In Linnansaari National Park you can join a safari for spotting the seals. Unfortunately, we didn’t see one as we were there in the wrong time of the year so we just hung out with this fluffy one instead…
10. Take lakeview pictures… And even more lakeview pictures
Saimaa is best known for its lakes. So it goes without saying that you will take plenty of lakeview pictures while there. Dozens, maybe even hundreds. No lake is the same and one photogenic spot after another will arise when driving or sailing through this area. If you don’t like lakes, then Finland might not be the right place for you …
Finland is a true natural paradise. And you know what? Most people speak English, it’s pretty affordable (especially compared to other Nordic countries) and the food is great. The Saimaa region is awesome and there are plenty of things to do. So what are you waiting for? Pack you bags, fly to Finland and enjoy!
Now be a true adventurer and share this with your friends!