Exploring the natural wonders and culinary delights of the Saimaa region
By Ndéla Faye
The Saimaa region in southeast Finland has been awarded the status of European Region of Gastronomy 2024. With its rich culture, locally sourced food, beautiful landscape, and unique accommodation options, it is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and food connoisseurs alike.
Lake Saimaa is Finland’s largest lake, and with its 15,000 islands, its archipelago offers a host of activities for visitors. Moreover, the region has a unique culture and vibrant gastronomy scene – and thanks to the Saimaa Designation of Origin (D.O) accreditation you are assured that products or ingredients have been produced in the Saimaa region following high-quality criteria.
A foodie’s paradise
In Saimaa, the locals are known for their friendliness, cheerfulness and exceptional hospitality. “There’s always room for guests at the table and food is a matter of pride for eastern Finnish hosts,” says Paula Okkola from Okkola Holiday Cottages where you can join a Karelian Pie workshop in her home. Karjalanpiirakka, or Karelian pastry, is a local delicacy, made from rye flour and filled with rice or potatoes, and best enjoyed warm alongside some egg butter.
The Saimaa region attracts visitors from all over the world, and guests can indulge in Saimaa’s culinary offerings in many ways. One of them is the Uhkua wild food excursion, where visitors travel to an island by boat to enjoy a three-course meal, crafted from local ingredients by local Patron of D.O. Saimaa, chef Ilkka Arvola.
In Mikkeli, Tertti Manor is a unique destination that serves food made from organically farmed produce on their own fields based on a ‘farm to plate’ principle. Inside, guests get to enjoy some of the finest culinary delights in the manor’s atmospheric and historic milieu.
A nature-lover’s dream
For nature enthusiasts, there are plenty of summer adventures too. Some of the most popular include kayaking in Linnansaari National Park, cycling in the Saimaa archipelago, and seal safaris to catch a glimpse of the endangered Saimaa ringed seal, found exclusively in Lake Saimaa. Excursion company Lakeland GTE’s noiseless and electricity-run ecoboat or travel company Oravi provide seal-safe ways to spot the ringed seals – although if lucky, some kayakers might be able to catch a glimpse of the unique animals too.
In Joroinen, the newly-opened eco-luxury resort PihlasResort is one of the many providers offering guests sustainable accommodation and activities in the midst of nature. Elsanranta Villas in Puumala also recently opened under Sahanlahti Resort. Here, guests can sit on the terrace and take in the quintessential archipelago views over Lake Saimaa.
Meanwhile, the city of Savonlinna is known for the world-renowned annual Savonlinna Opera Festival in July, which brings music lovers from across the globe to the stunning setting of the medieval Olavinlinna castle. Savonlinna is also the European steamship capital and one of the few places left in the world where visitors can still go on a cruise on more than 100-year-old steamships.
Sat on Savonlinna’s shores of Lake Saimaa is B&B Taipaleenniemi, a charming bed and breakfast nestled on the site of a former dairy processing plant. The family-operated B&B provides an idyllic backdrop for, for instance, yoga weekend retreats.
Adding to the region’s cultural offerings is the Mikkeli Music Festival, organised annually in August, which attracts musicians and audiences from around the world. The festival has also formed a unique collaboration for the next three years with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, headed by Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali.
Adventures for all
In the southern reaches of Saimaa, the Lappeenranta and Imatra region offer a blend of ancient traditions and modern adventures.
The Finnish Dragoon Regiment is an essential part of Lappeenranta’s history. In July each year, the dragoons – dressed in traditional red trousers and skeleton jackets dating from 1922 – ride around Lappeenranta old town, the city’s historical fortress area and Lappeenranta harbour, which is colloquially called ‘the Monaco of Finland’.
Indeed, whether you’re an adventure seeker, nature lover, or looking for a tranquil escape, the Lake Saimaa region has something for you. A number of activities, including cycling adventures, such as the annual Saimaa Cycle Tour event in August present something for all kinds of visitors. Meanwhile, a floating sauna cruise in the Vuoksi River in Imatra and sauna rafts on Lake Saimaa provide tempting options for visitors more inclined towards relaxation.
Guests can choose from distinctive accommodations like the Pulsa Station, a 19th-century train station, or Tuhannen Tarinan Talo, an authentic farm stay. B&B Hiitolanjoki offers a serene retreat by the Hiitolanjoki river, where guests can experience traditional log and peat saunas, followed by a refreshing dip in the river. For a historic stay, Salpalinjan Hovi in Lappeenranta and Hotel Lähde in the heart of the city provide affordable yet memorable accommodation.
“Lake Saimaa region’s breathtaking scenery sets the stage for unforgettable experiences. With some of the cleanest air and water in the world, Lake Saimaa’s region offers visitors an unforgettable journey into the wonders of Finland’s nature and all it has to offer,” Natalja Zeleznjakova, content specialist from goSaimaa concludes.
In Mikkeli, the 6 000 – 8 000-year-old Astuvansalmi rock paintings
Olavinlinna, the world’s northernmost medieval castle in Savonlinna
In Varkaus, the Kinkamo Aalto, a function hall designed by Alvar Aalto
Imatrankoski Rapids show during the summer in Imatra
Lappeenranta historical fortress, graced with a fascinating history, magnificent scenery, and myriad attractions
Parikkala Sculpture park, the most famous Finnish ITE artist’s life’s work
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