FODOR'S GO LIST 2015
The top 25 places we think should be on every traveler's radar this year.More
Finland is perhaps best known for its lakes, numbering about 188,000, and you don't need to travel far in this region to appreciate their beauty, whether in winter or summer. Almost every lake, big or small, is fringed with tiny cabins. The lake cabin is a Finnish institution, and until the advent of cheap package tours abroad, nearly every Finnish family vacationed in the same way—in its cabin
on a lake.
Savonlinna is the best-placed town in the Lakelands and can make a convenient base from which to begin exploring the region. Savonlinna also stands out among the towns, for both its stunning, water-bound views—it is hugged by gigantic Lake Saimaa—and its cultural life. The monthlong Savonlinna Opera Festival in July is one of Finland's—and Europe's—greatest. Most events, including opera, ballet, drama, and instrumental performance, are staged at the 14th-century Olavinlinna Castle, splendidly positioned just offshore.
To the west, the smaller Hämeenlinna has its own lakeside castle. North of Hämeenlinna, high-tech Tampere has the cultural variety of a city and is nestled between two large lakes. There are small medieval churches scattered through the Lakelands, the most famous of which is the stone church in Hattula, its interior a gallery of medieval painted scenes.
For centuries the lakeland region was a much-contested buffer zone between the warring empires of Sweden and Russia. After visiting the people of the Lakelands, you should have a basic understanding of the Finnish word sisu (guts), a quality that has kept Finns independent. Savonlinna, Tampere, and Hämeenlinna are only short train rides from Helsinki; all three make good daylong excursions from the capital city.