Take a (slow) boat into the heart of Finland
Before the age of the car, the waterways were the highways of the Lakeland. Still today, the best way to enjoy and explore these parts of Finland is from a boat.
There is no boating destination quite like Lake Saimaa. Did you think a lake meant a round “pond”? Then think again.
The Lake Saimaa is an intricate system of 4380 km2 of interconnected basins and narrow channels, dotted with thousands of islands. Via 60 canals it is further connected to other lakes that stretch from the city of Lappeenranta in the south to the cities or Nurmes and Iisalmi almost 300 km further north.
Where to start? And where to go?
The city of Savonlinna is a great place to rent a boat and start your trip. The lakes are sheltered and the winds are light and fickle. Here a powerboat is the norm.
From Savonlinna, set out to follow the almost 4000 km of marked waterways or explore beyond the marked channels. Spend a night in your own, private cove or use the services of 100 marinas and guest harbors.
BE YOUR OWN POWER
Paddling together with camping is a great way to visit the lakes. The Linnasaari National Park is a great option if you are planning a canoe trip. The park also rents canoes.
However, you’ll get the most authentic impression of traveling the lakes by rowing. And there is no better place to row than the Sulkava Rowing Race, the biggest rowing event in the world with around 10000 participants annually. You don’t even need your own boat, you can rent one from the organizers. But watch those blisters on your hands!
BRING YOUR OWN BOAT (BYOB)
Exploring Lake Saimaa in your own boat is also possible. The Saimaa canal, which starts in Russia, near the city of Vyborg, takes you up the 76 meters from sea level to the lakes. Sailboats can also pass the canal as long as the mast is less than 25 meters.
While out on the water, keep an eye open for the Saimaa Ringed seal. It is an endangered fresh water seal left behind by the ice age and the cutest thing you will see. If you are lucky.
For a bit more open waters, choose Lake Päijänne, the second largest inland boating area. It says something about the size of Lake Päijänne that it supplies the drinking water for the Helsinki capital region.
Lake Päijänne should be on your list of boating destinations if you want to try your hands on some sail racing. The Päijännepurjehdus (Päijänne Sail Race) is the biggest inland race in Finland.
YOUR DESTINATION IS PART OF THE EXPERIENCE
Taking a trip on the Finnish lakes is so much more than just boating. Most of Finland’s major cities are located on the shores and many of them on lake shores. They offer everything from shopping to history to unforgettable cultural experiences.
On lake Saimaa you should not miss the 15th century Olavinlinna Castle, located on an island in Lake Saimaa and home of the Savonlinna opera festival.
Those interested in more recent history should steer their boats to the city of Mikkeli (also on Lake Saimaa). This is where the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Mannerheim and the headquarter of the Finnish defense were stationed during those fateful years of WWII.
Or moor your boat just below Koli, the mountain on the shore of Lake Peilinen (connected to Lake Saimaa) that has become synonymous with “Finnish national landscape” thanks to the works of painters such as Eero Järnefelt.
The bottom line is this: whatever you want to do around the Saimaa region, you can reach it by boat!