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9 days - Journey into Finland’s Heart and Soul
Taking this tour to the eastern parts of Finland is like taking a trip into the heart of Finnish identity. The Finns love their deep green forests, the rolling hills and the glittering lakes that cover most of this area. The importance of this national landscape was highlighted in Finnish art during the era of national romanticism. Painters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Eero Järnefelt traveled, with great effort, throughout the country and brought these landscapes into the national consciousness. Finnish writers like Runeberg and Topelius enthused about the beauty of the region in their works.
This is also where the mythological history, in the form of songs, sung and re-sung through generations, was collected into the National Epic, the Kalevala, by Elias Lönnrot. It has been said that these mythical stories also inspired JRR Tolkien for his creation of Middle Earth. This tour also explores the Russian influences and Finland’s war history.
- Day 1
- Helsinki - Lappeenranta: Old towns, intriguing architecture & beautiful gardens
- Day 2
- Lappeenranta: Fortress town by Lake Saimaa
- Day 3
- Lappeenranta - Imatra : Stay at Art Nouveau castle
- Day 4
- Imatra - Joensuu forests, ridges & lakes
- Day 5
- Joensuu: Visit Koli National Park
- Day 6
- Joensuu - Valamo - Anttolanhovi: Monks, wine & food
- Day 7
- Anttolanhovi: Relax by the lake
- Day 8
- Anttolanhovi: Visit Mikkeli and Savonlinna
- Day 9
- Anttolanhovi - Lahti - Helsinki: Lakes & ski jumps
- Start/End Place
- Helsinki, Finland tours
- Country Visited
- Finland tours
- 9 Days
- Easy independent self-drive holiday suitable for singles & couples
Self-drive itinerary with hire car. Pick up and drop off is in Helsinki, either at the airport or city centre.
- All accommodation in hotels including daily breakfast
- Car hire Group G, VW Tiguan or similar, manual, including free mileage & CDW
- Museum card
- Hotel car parking in Lappeenranta
- 3 hour evening cruise in Lappeenranta
- 2.5 hr private walking tour including Fortress in Lappeenranta
- 2 hour guided tour in Imatra
- 3 hour guided tour in Punkaharju
- 3 hour private guided tour at Koli National Park
- Guided tour at New Valamo Monastery
- 24-hour emergency service
- Taxes and service fees
International flights to/from Helsinki, arrival and departure airport transfers in Helsinki, meals other than specified, items of personal nature, beverages.
If you wish to hire an automatic car, these are 'on request' and can be difficult to obtain. Please seek further advice with us .
Day 1 - Helsinki - Lappeenranta: Old towns, intriguing architecture & beautiful gardens
Pick-up your hire car early morning and head east towards the town of Porvoo.
Founded nearly 800 years ago, Porvoo is the second oldest town in Finland. For centuries, it has served as both a home and a source of inspiration for many Finnish artists. Among them was Finland's national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg, whose home you can visit to experience how the everyday life was in the 1900’s.
Even though Porvoo is not exactly a coastal town, it is connected to the Gulf of Finland via the Porvoo River. The river flows through the town and this is where you can see the best-known landmark of Porvoo, the red wooden warehouses. Originally, these houses were painted red in honor of the arrival of Gustav III, the king of Sweden. Historically, Porvoo has been an important centre of trade and the warehouses were once used to store goods and produce, such as exotic delicacies from distant lands.
Explore the old wooden town by foot, visit small charming shops and enjoy morning tea in one of the cosy cafes. Then continue your drive towards east and the town of Kotka. On the way to Kotka, you might want to visit the Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge.
Continue your drive to Kotka, a picturesque town with a rich maritime tradition. Kotka is nowadays also known for it beautiful award-winning parks and gardens. Or, if you are interested in finding more about the aquatic species in Finland, visit Maretarium that pays tribute to the Finnish aquatic life. There are more than 50 indigenous fish species on display here. There are 22 theme aquariums at Maretarium, the most interesting one being the 500,000-litres cylindrical tank, which displays fish from the Baltic Sea region. Its water depth is seven meters, which is also the average depth of Finnish lakes.
There are a few options for visits on the way to your next destination, the town of Lappeenranta.
Hamina is Finland's oldest garrison town, established in 1653. Due to its location, it has also been of great military importance. The city’s 360-year history can be appreciated by exploring the city’s circular town plan and fortifications.
If you are interested in learning more about the military history of Finland, you could visit the Bunker Museum in Virolahti and/or the Salpa Line Museum in Miehikkälä – located about 13 kms apart.
Arrive in Lappeenranta early evening and check-in at your hotel.
Day 2 - Lappeenranta: Fortress town by Lake Saimaa
Lappeenranta is one of the most beautiful summer towns in Finland, known for friendly Karelian people and the beautiful surrounds of Lake Saimaa. It has a colourful history, lying as it does on the border between two different cultures.
One of the main attractions in Lappeenranta is its Fortress. The Swedes began the fortification of Lappeenranta in 1721. Inhabited and full of life even today, the Fortress of Lappeenranta once formed a part of a defense system that also included the fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki and the fortress of Hamina. During these times Sweden-Finland and Russia fought against each other regularly and the Swedes and the Russians took turns in owning the Fortress. The present Fortress structures are mainly based on the fortifications built at the end of the 18th century.
Another important feature of this border city is the Saimaa Canal that opened for traffic in 1856. The canal was built between the towns of Lappeenranta and Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia), both of them at the time in the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire. In the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940, the Karelian Isthmus and the city of Vyborg were ceded to the Soviet Union, thus effectively splitting the canal in half and ending all traffic.
In 1963 Russia leased the Russian section of the canal area to Finland for 50 years with another extension of 50 years in 2013. The length of the canal itself is 43 km. There is a height difference of 76 m between the levels of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Saimaa and there are eight locks in the canal to level this difference.
After breakfast your guide will pick-you up from your hotel for a walking tour that includes the main sights of Lappeenranta including the Fortress.
In the evening enjoy the magical light of the White Nights on a 3-hour dinner cruise that takes you along parts of the Saimaa Canal to Lake Saimaa.
If you are interested in exploring the Saimaa Canal and visit Vyborg in Russia, enquire about a full day visa-free cruise. If you want to include this cruise, we will add an extra night in Lappeenranta in the itinerary for you.
Day 3 - Lappeenranta - Imatra : Stay at Art Nouveau castle
After breakfast move onto your next destination, the town of Imatra, located only 6 km away from the Russian border.
Imatra has been a popular tourism destination for over 300 years and this is mostly attributed to the spectacular rapids of the river Vuoksi. An Art Nouveau style castle, currently known as Imatran Valtionhotelli, was built near the rapids in 1903 as a hotel for visitors from the Russian Imperial capital Saint Petersburg. You will spend the night in this beautiful property.
Your guide will be waiting for you at the hotel lobby. After a short tour of this lovely Art Nouveau castle, you will continue to the Crown Park, Finland’s oldest nature reserve dating back to 1842. Learn about the Grand Duchy of Finland and the golden age of tourism in the 1800’s. Please note: there are lots of stairs on this tour.
After the tour explore Imatra and the surrounding region on your own. Pay visit to the Church of the Three Crosses designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and completed in 1957. The International DOCOMOMO organization has named it as one of the most significant examples of modern architecture in Finland. Explore the idyllic hundred-year-old residential area of Niskalampi and pop into a local museum to see how the factory workers lived in the olden days.
The village of Ruokolahti is located about a 20-minute-drive from Imatra. The Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt sketched his famous painting "Ruokolahti Women on the Church Hill" here in 1887. The church hill is a lovely spot to visit with its wooden church and a shingle-roofed belfry. You can also drop in at the local historical museum and the Ruokolahti House, a replica of a traditional Karelian country house. If you would like to visit another Art Nouveau castle, visit the Rantalinna Hotel for lunch. This castle was built by Lake Saimaa in 1913 and was the summer residence of Prince and Princess Oldenburg, part of the ruling Romanov family in Russia.
Day 4 - Imatra - Joensuu forests, ridges & lakes
After breakfast head towards Punkaharju. With its beautiful lake scenery, the Punkaharju Ridge has been a renowned travel destination for more than two centuries. The view of glistening lakes between the grand pine trees is one of the well-known landscapes in Finland. Finnish authors Ludwig Runeberg and Zachris Topelius both described its beauty in their works.
Your first visit will be to the Finnish Forest Museum Lusto at Punkaharju. Lusto is a museum and a science centre focusing on Finnish forestry and showcasing the interaction between man and the forest from the past to the future.
Around 65 per cent of Finland’s total land area is covered in forest. Not only are they source of income, but hiking in summer, cross-country skiing in winter and gathering berries and mushrooms in late summer and autumn are popular leisure activities in Finland. The Finnish concept of ‘Everyman’s Right’ means that you can walk freely in the forests regardless to whom they belong
To get a better idea of the importance of the forests to the Finnish way of life, we have arranged you a private guided tour. Your tour covers the main aspects of the exhibition followed by a 2-hour walking tour to Punkaharju Ridge and the near-by research forest, Punkaharju Arboretum with a total of 134 different species and varieties of trees.
After the tour, enjoy lunch at Lusto or Hotel Punkaharju, a beautiful building representing the oldest architecture in the area. The wooden main building of the hotel is high on the peak of the ridge. It was designed as living quarters for the foresters and lodging for travellers and it opened its doors in 1845.
From here your journey continues north towards the town of Joensuu, the regional capital of North Karelia founded by Czar Nicholas I of Russia in 1848.
The River Pielisjoki has always been the lively heart of Joensuu. Throughout the centuries Karelian traders have travelled along the river and the canals leading to it. Thousands of steamboats, barges and logging boats sailed along the river during this golden age of river traffic. The Pielisjoki has also been an important route for log floating and has provided wood to the sawmills and the entire timber industry in the area.
Carelicum is a culture, museum, and tourist centre situated by the edge of the market place in the middle of Joensuu. A visit there is an excellent way of getting to know Joensuu and the region of North Karelia.
The Karelian cooking tradition is known for its abundance and the Karelians for their hospitality. The cuisine is typified by its slow-cooked foods, the bounty of the forest, such as the use of mushrooms and game, as well as different types of pies and pasties for everyday and festive occasions. Many restaurants in Joensuu serve a Karelia à la Carte menu with regional delicacies that have, of course, been prepared from local ingredients.
Day 5 - Joensuu: Visit Koli National Park
Today you will visit the Koli National Park, one of the most scenic areas of Northern Karelia.
There are 39 national parks in Finland and in 2017 the 40th national park will be inaugurated to celebrate the country’s 100 years of independency. The national parks are extensive nature conservation areas with the crucial task of ensuring biodiversity. But Finnish national parks have not been established only to protect nature; the goal is also to give people the opportunity to relax and enjoy nature.
If you say the words “national park” to a Finn, he immediately thinks about the view over Lake Pielinen from the top of Ukko-Koli hill. That view is Finland’s most loved national landscape, and has inspired many Finnish artists. The quest for Finnish roots and the national identity under Russian rule took people to these areas rich in Karelian poetic and singing traditions.
Painter Eero Järnefelt visited Koli several times, accompanied sometimes by composer Jean Sibelius. Järnefelt portrayed the view with his paintbrush and it is thought that Sibelius' fourth symphony was partly inspired by his trips to Koli. In addition to Järnefelt, perhaps the most famous Koli paintings have come from the brush of another Finnish painter, Pekka Halonen,
You will meet your guide at the Ukko Nature Centre for a 3-hour exploration of the Koli National park. There will be some uphill walking as the park is located
347 metres above the sea level. Your guide will make sure the experience is enjoyable for you as you slowly tackle the hills of Koli (on man-made pathways). You will enjoy a snack on the way. Return to the Nature Centre where you can wander through exhibitions and watch a short film about the Koli National Park.
Drive back to Joensuu.
Day 6 - Joensuu - Valamo - Anttolanhovi: Monks, wine & food
After breakfast take some time to visit the Market Place and the Artisan’s Quarter (Taitokortteli) before leaving Joensuu to continue your exploration of the lake district.
In summer the Market Place in Joensuu is buzzing with people and is the place to buy the world's best Karelian pies, a local traditional pie made of rye with a rice filling (you can learn how to make these later on the tour). The Artisan's Quarter, located in the city center, is a lively quarter of wooden houses with a variety of handicrafts shops and artisan studios. There is also a beautiful café here called Café Kauppaneuvos. Definitely worth a visit for homemade pastries and traditional Karelian delights.
Your drive continues west and to the New Valamo Monastery in Heinävesi.
About 73% of the Finns belong to the Lutheran church. Lutheranism is an official state religion as is the Orthodox Christianity with about 1% of the population belonging to the Finnish Orthodox Church. In Finland, if you belong to one of these churches, part of your taxes is turned over to them.
Most of the Orthodox Christians were located here in Karelia, in the eastern part of Finland. During the World War II, and after, many of these residents fled deeper into Finland as Karelia became a battleground. After the war most of this area was conceded to the Soviet Union. The original Valamo Monastery, once with over 1,000 monks in its brotherhood, was abandoned and an estate near Heinävesi was established as “New Valamo”.
We have booked you a guided tour during which you will learn about the Orthodox traditions and the life at the monastery and will even be able to taste some of the wines the brotherhood produces on-site. After the tour enjoy lunch at the monastery’s restaurant, take a stroll around the beautiful grounds or just relax and enjoy the peaceful surrounds.
After Valamo your journey continues to Mikkeli and to the Wellness Village of Anttolanhovi located on the shores of Lake Saimaa. Here you will have a choice of staying at the hotel or in one of the beautiful villas with their own saunas and with direct access to the lake.
Anttolanhovi is famous for its local food: meat comes from a private small butchery, fish from local fishermen, vegetables from nearby farms and the berries and mushrooms are picked from the forests near-by. There is a spa facility on-site for relaxing treatments and walking tracks in the surrounding forests for the more active ones. You can also hire bicycles or a boat to explore the lake.
After check-in enjoy dinner at the hotel.
Day 7 - Anttolanhovi: Relax by the lake
Today you can just enjoy the day at your own pace - book wellness treatments or go for a walk or a bike ride. Alternatively book one of these activities in advance with us.
Nature Trip to Neitvuori
Your guide will pick you up from the hotel. You will hike to Neitvuori, one of the most popular lookouts in this area offering sweeping views of Lake Saimaa with its many islands. It is an easy hike and on the way –depending on season & availability – your can pick some wild berries and mushrooms while your guide tells you about the local flora and fauna. Enjoy the sounds of the forest & the wind while enjoying a snack by a campfire. Return back to hotel. Duration about 4 hours.
Paddling Tour on Lake Saimaa
Lake Saimaa´s western most part is called Luonteri and this is, where you can find the cleanest waters of the area. Luonteri is 15 km wide and 20 km long and the deepest spot is near the Matkutsaari island which is about 70 meters deep! The water here is super clear and, if you are lucky, you might encounter a Saimaa Ringed Seal. Saimaa Ringed Seals can only be found here in Lake Saimaa and they are extremely endangered with only about 360 of them left. There will be several breaks on the way and snacks by a campfire. You can also have a swim in the refreshing waters, if you are brave enough. Duration about 5 hours.
Karelian pies are a popular Finnish pastry originating in Karelia, the east part of Finland. Almost every visitor to a Finnish house will be served these tasty savoury pastries.
What makes a real Karelian piroque authentic is that the rye based pastry is rolled really thin. The filling is added, the pastry folded and pinched to make pleats and then cooked in a really hot oven. The pastry cooks hard, but upon removal from the oven, melted butter is brushed on top of each piroque. The melted butter soaks into the pastry, leaving it soft and tasty. Karelian piroques are best served warm and an ample dollop of egg butter on top. In this 2.5 hour workshop you’ll lern to make these Finnish delicacies and enjoy your ‘efforts’ with tea/coffee after. Duration about 2.5 hours.
Come and experience fishing on the beautiful Lake Saimaa. Your local fishing guide will steer the boat to the finest fishing grounds in the area and share his best fishing tips. The catch is usually freshwater trout, but you may well get pike, perch, pikeperch, salmon and trout. During the trip you may also encounter one of the world's most endangered mammals, the Saimaa Ringed Seal. It can only be found here in Lake Saimaa and there are only about 360 of them left.
The trip starts from the hotel pier and includes a packed lunch. Please note that you could do this trip also in the evening due to the White Nights we enjoy in Finland. Duration about. 4 hours.
Day 8 - Anttolanhovi: Visit Mikkeli and Savonlinna
Another day by the beautiful Lake Saimaa! Book one of the optional activities in advance with us or take a drive to the near-by towns of Mikkeli and/or Savonlinna.
It takes about 1.5 hours to Savonlinna from your hotel. Follow the road 62 as this is one of the most scenic routes in the area. Surrounded by the Europe’s fourth biggest lake, Lake Saimaa, Savonlinna is famous for its world-class opera festival. Make sure you visit the bustling market place and the Olavinlinna Castle. The building of Olavinlinna, castle of St. Olaf, began in 1475. The castle was built to repel Russian attacks from the east and to guarantee the control of the region for the Swedish Crown. You can also take a lake cruise on an old steamboat from Savonlinna.
Drive from Savonlinna to Mikkeli takes about 1.5 hours. Mikkeli, the Finnish Army headquarters during three different wars, is well-known especially for its military history. If you are interested in finding out more, visit the Headquarters Museum. During the World War II the headquarters were located at the Mikkeli Central Elementary School and overseen by Marshal Mannerheim and other high-ranking commanders.
On the way back to Antttolanhovi visit Kenkävero, the largest and most beautiful vicarage in all Finland. In its setting it has fine restored buildings, interesting exhibitions, exquisite handicrafts and souvenirs, delicious local food and a lovely garden with many heritage plants.
Day 9 - Anttolanhovi - Lahti - Helsinki: Lakes & ski jumps
Your drive today will take you through the Finnish countryside to Pulkkilanharju Ridge - a set of islands linked with three bridges and offering beautiful views of the surrounding lakes. The 8-kilometre long line of islands was formed during the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.
On the way stop at the small village of Kalkkinen and visit Pihamaa Berry Farm that also produces award-winning wines made of berries. Buy some fresh produce and enjoy refreshments at the farm café.
After crossing the bridges of Pulkkilanharju, head towards the City of Lahti. If you are interested in modern architecture, visit the Sibelius Hall. This impressive wooden concert and congress centre rose on the Vesijärvi waterfront in spring 2000. According to the architects behind the building, Hannu Tikka and Kimmo Lintula, the main source of inspiration for their design was the Finnish forests. You can just drop in and enjoy lunch at the café on-site or we can arrange a private guided tour, if you are interested in learning more about this amazing building.
Lahti is also famous for its winter sports centre. It has hosted many national and international competitions. In the summer, you can enjoy wonderful views from the observation deck at the top of the Ski Jump tower. Take the chairlift to the jump towers or, if a ride on the chairlift is not your cup of tea, you can also reach the jump towers by car. If you want to learn more about winter sports, visit the Ski Museum on-site.
Continue to Helsinki and return your hire car.
TransportationExtend your stay or start your journey towards Helsinki.
Adult prices are twin share per person unless otherwise specified. Please note that 2023 prices are indicative only.
9 Sep 2023
Please ask us for hotel upgrades and optional add-ons.
If you want to continue your journey of discovery around Finland, you can combine this tour with our second self-drive itinerary From the Sea to the Lakes – a Journey into Finland’s Cultural Heritage.
Interactive Tour Map
Travel insurance is compulsory for all tours with 50 Degrees North. Please ensure that you have this organised as we will need to see proof of this upon issuing your tour documentation. Please contact us for a quote or visit http://www.suresave.net.au/