Exploring Savonlinna and Olavinlinna castle in Finland
Savonlinna is an historic town located in the heart of the Lakeland region of eastern Finland, not far from the border with Russia. I visited at the end of July when it was so warm (28-32C) that it was like visiting a Mediterranean country, with everyone was spending time outside enjoying the weather and each others’ company – a very laid back atmosphere!
On our first evening we sat outside for dinner and watched boats go by on Lake Saimaa. The following day we walked around the small markets and tasting local food, including Salmiakki – salty black liquorice – definitely an acquired taste! We also tried fried vendace, small fish that are fried and eaten whole; quite tasty served with garlic sauce.
That evening we took a dinner cruise to the Olavinlinna castle. It was built in 1475 (when the area was part of Sweden) by Erik Axelsson Tott, a knight who decided that a strong castle was needed to protect the region from Russian attacks. It wasn’t to last, and over the last five hundred or so years the castle has been part of Swedish, Russian, and Finnish territory. The castle lost its military importance when Finland became part of Russia in 1809, but there was a garrison stationed in the castle up till 1847. It was after this that the castle became a tourist attraction and in 1912 the first opera festival was held. An opera festival has been held there annually since then – and fortunately it was on while we were there.
Olavinlinna castle is stunning and well worth a visit even when the opera festival is not showing! It’s built on one of the many small islands that dot this area, and has the sort of strong walls and round towers that immediately say ‘castle’ – although in a different style to those that you find in the UK. Again, as I sat there in the glorious sunshine enjoying the beautiful views of the tiny islands and many lakeside cottages, it felt very much like we were in the Mediterranean.
The opera was amazing and you felt like you were part of something special while sitting within the castle walls. Opera is not usually my sort of thing but as there were English subtitles on a screen above the stage so I was able to understand the story, and the atmosphere was great. At the interval we had the chance to walk around the grounds of the castle which was an experience in itself.
I was very sad to leave Savonlinna and I’d recommend a visit there for anyone who is interested in history, opera – or simply wants to experience the slow pace of outdoor life in Finland in the summer.