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Lake Saimaa, in Finland's Lakeland Region, is a lake you could spend a lifetime exploring! Nearly 1700 square miles of water and over 13,500 islands make the Saimaa Lake District one of Finland's most striking water bodies. Created by the last receding glacier, the inter-connected lake basins cover much of the southeastern Finland landscape, nearly to the border with Russia. Some of the named lakes considered a part of Saimaa are Lakes Suur-Saimaa, Pihlajavesi, Haukivesi, Puruvesi, Orivesi and Pyhaselka. The entire Saimaa Lake basin contains many other lake systems, most of them connected by artificial canal to Saimaa. The most important canal on Lake Saimaa, the Saimaa Canal, carries boats south into Russia to the Bay of Vyborg on the Baltic Sea.
Finland is a land of water, with the Baltic Sea encompassing nearly the entire western side of the country. A full 10% of Finland's actual land mass is water. The country's 188,000 inland lakes are an integral part of Finland's culture. Many Finnish families own a summer cottage somewhere among the islands of Saimaa, a joy that is becoming more popular with tourists from around the world. All types of water sports are engaged in at Saimaa, from swimming off sun-warmed beaches to water skiing, wakeboarding, power boating, tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Sailing is a favorite way to enjoy the endless reaches of Lake Saimaa; the harbor at Lappeenranta bustles with activity throughout the summer season. A system of cruise ships plying the waters is a popular way for non-sailors to enjoy the wonders of Lake Saimaa: both small day-cruise ships and nearly 100-year-old steamers offer trips ranging from hours to several days. Cruises can be arranged from Nurmes at the northern end of Lake Pielinen, Savonlinna, Kuopio, Lahti, Heinola, Tampere and, of course, Lappeenranta. One cruise route, called the Czar's Route, travels down the Saimaa Canal and into the Baltic Sea and along the coast to Helsinki.
Summer cottages are available on Lake Saimaa's many islands and most of the 120 lakes in the district. Many are available to the fishermen who come to pursue some of the many sport fish in the waterway. Anglers here seek pike, perch, zander, landlocked salmon, brown trout, whitefish, bream, roach, ide, burbot, grayling and arctic char. Finland is famous especially for huge pike, the largest caught in the country exceeded 44 pounds. The landlocked Saimaa salmon still lives in the lake, a relic of the Ice Age, and is maintained by a management and restocking program.
Many cycling and hiking trails exist around the Saimaa district with holiday-makers enjoying treks from a rental house or farm holiday in remote regions. The narrow passages between multiple islands are ideally suited for exploring by canoe or kayak. The area is rich in wildlife, with the perfect photographic scene nearly always within focus. Two national parks provide the perfect spots to view birds and wildlife. Linnansaari National Park offers the opportunity to view the extremely rare Saimaa Ringed Seal, elk and osprey. Kolovesi National Park features prehistoric rock paintings on the cliffs rising from the lake. Both are located in the eastern part of Lake Saimaa.
Winter doesn't end activities at Lake Saimaa. Ice fishing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling all find a home on the huge lake. Many holiday houses include the traditional sauna, where the brave traditionalist may roll in the snow after a time in the hot steam. The larger towns on Lake Saimaa also plan winter festivals and activities to delight the visitor and relieve the boredom of the long winter nights.
The city of Mikkeli features year-round sporting events such as the Marski Cup Ice Hockey Tournament, Finnish Rally Events, the Swamp Volley World Championships and the St. Michel Trotting Races. Mikkeli also offers opera, jazz and rock concerts, theater and dance, including the Savcor Ballet. Children especially love the Hulivili Carnival and Urpola Nature Centre. Olavinlinna castle is Savonlinna's most significant tourist sight. In summer, the castle provides the main stage for the operas of the Savonlinna Opera festival.
Lappeenranta, with about 60,000 inhabitants, is both a commercial and educational center and a spa town/hub of lakeside tourism. Founded in 1649 by Queen Christina of Sweden, the town is situated on the southernmost edge of Lake Saimaa and covers a large area stretching from Lake Saimaa to the Russian border. Considered the gateway to Lake Saimaa, Lappeenranta combines tradition with the new in delightful ways. Cavalrymen ride through the streets dressed in red trousers and elaborately embroidered jackets. The Fortress mixes history and museums with cafes and craftsmen's shops. The city offers a spa, swimming beach, many fine restaurants and specialty shops. To the east of the town is Lappeenranta Harbor, Finland's largest inland port. From here, commercial ships and pleasure boats take passage through the locks on their way south to the Bay of Vyborg. First opened in 1856, the canal contains a series of eight locks on the 37-mile route that lower the water level 248 ft to sea level. The locks are controlled at either the Saimaa Canal Remote-Control Centre at the Malkia Lock or the operating center of the Brusnitchnoe Lock - an international effort between Finland and Russia. Sailboats using the canal must have auxiliary motor power. Complete rules can be obtained at Lappeenranta Harbor.
The long winter nights pale beside the equally long sunny days, the green of the fields, woods and pasture and the blues of the Saimaa Lake District. Vacation rentals are plentiful and varied. Hotel and resort accommodations are matched by guest houses, holiday apartments, summer cottages and chalets. The varied holiday rentals accommodate the wide variety of water-focused activities and destinations featuring nature in all its glory. Real estate may still be found on the lakefront and islands of Lake Saimaa - a bit of this water wonderland to call your own. Plan your first visit today; it will be the first of many more to come.
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