Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

Z_CNHI News Service

August 28, 2013

Travel: Tour the wonders of the Finnish Lake District

Using Savonlinna, a small town in Southwestern Finland in the heart of the lake district, as my base, I joined guide, Tanja Honkonen, for an auto tour of several major attractions in the area. Fortunately, Tanja drove, which freed me up to soak in the beauty of the forested area into which Lake Saimaa makes numerous indentations.

Our morning started in Savonlinna with a quick look at some of the region’s cultural history and life on the lake through the centuries at the Provincial Museum, housed in a restored granary on the island of Riihisarri, a stone’s throw away from Olavinlinna Castle. In the summer, a tar steamship, passenger boat, a tug and a schooner are moored just off shore and open to visitors for tour.

For lunch, we sampled the most popular delicacy from the lake, a mild white fish called vendace (miukku in Finnish), served on a wooden platter on the sixth floor, roof-top terrace restaurant of the Sokos Hotel. Besides giving us a unique taste treat, the dining experience overlooks the town from one of its loftiest vantage points.

A quick drive to the hamlet of Kerimaki took us one of the Finnish superlatives, namely "the biggest wooden church in the world." Rumor has it that the architect designed the massive structure in centimeters, but the builder misunderstood and erected the church using inches, which are 2.54 times larger than centimeters. At any rate, the structure is 148 feet long, 138 feet wide and 121 feet tall, big enough to seat 3,000 worshipers and another 2,000 standees.

I particularly enjoyed the view from the choir loft, which gave me a better appreciation of the expansiveness and spatial grandeur of this truly remarkable structure.

On our way to Lusto, the Finnish Forest Museum, we stopped at a vista overlook high on a rocky crest with a view of the seemingly ever present lake. The gorgeous expanse was a mix of gray stone boulders, water of the azure blue lake, purple clumps of primrose, white birch, and green spruce and pine. Here and there, farmer-planted plots of grain added even more interest. On the way back to the car, Tanja pointed out wild lingonberries, red in their ripeness, growing close to the ground. A smaller and juicier cousin of the cranberry, lingonberries are to Finns as blackberries are to Americans -- summertime staples free for the picking.

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