The Saimaa region in Finland smacks of natural beauty.
Imagine a quiet, cold morning. There’s no wind and a solitude small bird infrequently chirping punctuates the blissful silence. The sun unhurriedly ambles up the horizon behind misty clouds. A duck passes by.
Taking a deep breath and you’ve realised you’ve been tainted with the cleanest, freshest air you’ve ever breathed. You can never breathe air the same way. Surrounding you are tightly packed trees as far as the eye can see, and an uninhabited shoreline wrapping around a bay. The only sign of man’s intrusion into this Garden of Eden is a wooden jetty and rowboat tied to a tree.
Gazing deeply, unblinking into the mirror-like waters, your mind begins to relax into state of incomparable calm. Time seems to slow down to a crawl and the rest of the world feels like a million miles away.
Now you know you’re in Finland’s wild, wild east.
Saimaa is an expansive lake in eastern Finland, close to the Russian boarder. Covering around 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 sq miles), it is the fourth largest freshwater lake in Europe and the largest in Finland. This region is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe, but it’s also home to a number of destinations and attractions that will bring out the nature lover in you… even if you didn’t know it existed. So what can you do when you visit Finland in summer? Let me show you.
Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes. This is a gross understatement. In fact there are 187,888 lakes which are larger than 500 sqm. But this means there’s plenty of opportunity to get on top of the water.
I went kayaking in the lake near Järvisydän. It was a breathtaking experience, and not just because I was a little unfit. Take a look at these photos.
Kayaks and canoes can be hired here for very reasonable prices but there are many, many equipment hire outlets scattered around the lake district. In fact, many hotels and resorts include the use of a kayak or canoe in the room price. So you’ll never be without a vessel.
The water was so amazingly clear and clean that I put it to the test and drank at least a litre of the stuff. Yep, I just dipped a cup into the lake and it went down the hatch. Surprisingly it tasted better than most bottled waters and didn’t cause any stomach problems later. So you can definitely save money on bottled water by just filling your drink canister in the lake. Gotta love Finland!
For something a little different, our guide took us past a lake cabin that belonged to her friend. They were sitting on the veranda enjoying the view when we paddled past and offered us wine. Who could say no to a wine break after all that thirsty work?
Virtually every single meal I enjoyed in Finland involved fish. Normally I’m not a big fish eater, but I have to admit, the local fish here was absolutely delicious. Early one morning I got up for a fishing expedition to go straight to the source with Finland’s #1 fishing tour company, Saimaa Fishing Travels. Leading us was the owner, Mika. He is the absolute authority on fishing in the region and knows where all the best spots are.
Even for a relatively inexperienced fisherman like me, it was really easy and enjoyable. Even if it’s only for a couple hours, you have to try fishing at least once in this beautiful location.
The easiest way to get close to nature is just to pull on the boots and walk outside. There are endless walking trails criss-crossing Finland which makes finding one very easy. Often these double-up as cross-country skiing routes in winter.
If you’re staying at a hotel or resort, just ask the staff where the nearest trails are and bring a map along just in case.
Walking through Linnansaari National Park was an amazing experience. The lush green vegetation was so brightly coloured it was almost fluorescent. I could have been easily mistaken for thinking I was in Middle Earth. Or perhaps some kind of magical creature was going to jump out from behind a fallen tree.
Unlike other parts of the world (such as Australia) there weren’t any animals trying to kill me as I hiked. So it’s relatively safe and very easy for anyone.
Ok, I’ll admit it. I never imagined myself doing this. In my mind this was the kind of thing that older folks did, a bit like lawn bowls. But it was pretty addictive and I can see why it’s gaining popularity so quickly all over the world.
While staying in Punkaharju our group took a walk with Marko Kantaneva who is considered to be the godfather of Nordic Walking. He’s a really down to earth, friendly guy and knows how to make this modern exercise fun. Nordic Walking involves using hand-held poles while walking normally to utilise additional upper-body muscles, resulting in a more vigorous and beneficial workout. The beauty of this exercise is that it’s easy to do anywhere and easy to learn. Using the special poles enables the body to burn at least 20% more calories than regular walking while only increasing the heart rate by as little as 5 beats per minute. Nordic Walking was developed in Finland in the late 1990’s so it made the whole experience feel even more Finnish.
As with other Scandinavian countries, Finland’s “everyman’s rights” protects refreshing common sense in this age of excessive political correctness and government interference. The concept is simple. Essentially all people have the right to enjoy nature balanced with the responsibilities of looking after it and respecting other people.
Amongst other things, this means that it’s perfectly fine to pick wild berries, mushrooms and flowers (as long as they’re not a protected species). Even if they are on another person’s property!
While staying at Sahanlahti Resort, Puumala, I went for a walk into the forest to hunt for blueberries and lingonberries. I’m not sure why but I had never done anything like this before, but I was missing out. The forest was absolutely beautiful at sunset and the freshly picked berries were delicious. I was supposed to be picking the berries for dessert later that night, but my progress was slow due to my methods: one for my basket, one in the mouth.
If you love the outdoors you’ll love Finland. And there is an abundance of accommodation available, weather you’re looking for a cabin, resort or just tenting under the stars. In fact, there are over 48,000 cabins in the Saimaa region alone, and over half a million across the country. But at the same time eastern Finland still feels so secluded and so abundant with natural beauty.
That’s the magic of the land of a thousand lakes.