Sat. Dec 10th, 2022

Ask a local in Finland where they take summer vacation, and chances are good they’ll mention Lake Saimaa. The forests surrounding the country’s largest lake are dotted with cozy holiday cottages handed down through generations, giving families the chance to forage for mushrooms and soak up the stunning scenery summer after summer.

But more than a beloved spot for locals, Lake Saimaa is also a worthwhile destination for wellness travelers worldwide who want their relaxing getaways to come with a big dose of culture. This is a place where you can learn the calming culinary art of making hand-pies in a local’s home, get pampered in one of the country’s most eco-friendly spas, sip wine with a wilderness sommelier in the middle of the woods, and wind down with sauna sessions followed by refreshing dips in the lake every night of your trip. Plus, the dreamy nature will nourish every part of your being.

With wellness in mind, here are some of the top things to do in Lake Saimaa.

Warm Up in Lakefront Saunas

No matter where you are in Lake Saimaa, you will likely have access to a sauna. These hot wooden rooms have been a quintessential part of Finnish culture for thousands of years—and once you experience the soothing atmosphere and full-body relaxation saunas offer, you’ll understand exactly why this tradition has stood the test of time.

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Many places to stay around Lake Saimaa, including Taipaleenniemi B&B, an idyllic family-run inn lovingly converted from a century-old dairy in the town of Savonlinna, have situated their saunas in tiny cabins right by the water—for good reason. Not only does this give travelers a beautiful view to enjoy during their sauna session, they can also immediately cool down with a splash in the chilly water. It’s a revitalizing experience made even more magical by the ultra-late sunsets Finland enjoys throughout the summer, and the perfect end to a day of sightseeing.

Sip Wine with a Wilderness Sommelier

Spending time in the evergreen forests filled with impossibly straight, towering trees that abound in Saimaa might just be the most enchanting way to get nature therapy. And fortunately, Finland’s “everyman’s right,” or freedom to roam law, gives everyone permission to immerse themselves in public or privately-owned patches of nature for recreation or exercise—so feel free to explore the woods whenever they call to you.

But while the forests alone feel surreal, immersing yourself among the trees with a glass of wine in hand makes for a downright sublime experience. Enter the Wine in the Woods program at Hotel Punkaharju, a charming historic hotel in Punkaharju that’s owned by former model and mushroom enthusiast Saimi Hoyer. Led by a wilderness sommelier, the two-hour tour starts off with a short walk (shoes optional!) through the forest alongside the shores of Lake Saimaa and a brief mindfulness meditation to attune your senses with nature.

Then, you’ll enjoy a selection of hand-picked wines curated to complement the smell of the moss, loftiness of the trees, and gentle dapple of the late afternoon sunlight reflecting off the lake, complete with tasty pairings. The multisensory experience will deepen your appreciation for the awe-inspiring environment of Saimaa.

Search for the Saimaa Seal

Lake Saimaa is home to one of the world’s rarest seals, the Saimaa Ringed Seal. Seeing one of the few hundred remaining members of this adorable species isn’t easy, but can be a deeply humbling experience, so try your luck on a local seal watching cruise, like this eco-friendly tour from LakelandGTE. The expert guide has insight into the best places to spot the pudgy seals, who are known for their cloud-like pattern that varies from one individual to the next, similar to fingerprints in humans. You can also see other critters on the tour, such as diving ospreys, as well as beaver dams.

Learn the Local Art of Karelian Piemaking

From the moment you step into Okkola’s Karelian Pie Workshop on Niinisaari, a rustic island where just a couple dozen people live year-round, owner Paula Okkola will welcome you like a long lost relative in her charming country home.

With warmth and enthusiasm, she’ll teach you the historic art of making Karelian pies, a savory Finnish rye crust pastry filled with rice porridge and egg butter. Learning the delicate technique of pinching the crust so the filling doesn’t spill out is tricky, but like a loving auntie, Paula will encourage you to keep trying, no doubt boosting your confidence as you giggle your way through the course.

After you’ve folded up half a dozen (or more!) hand pies, Paula will bake them in her home oven, then serve you a lovely lunch that will give you the fuel you’ll need to take on other adventures around Lake Saimaa.

Get Pampered in a Lakefront Spa

The Nature Spa at Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän, a nature-focused resort in Rantasalmi that’s been in the same family since 1658, is the stuff wellness travel dreams are made of. The eco-friendly spa is carved out of natural rocks and boulders right next to Lake Saimaa and offers incredible waterfront views from its illuminated indoor thermal pools, as well as its lake-fed outdoor pools.

It features not just one, but a whopping six types of saunas, including a hammam, steam room, and an infrared sauna. You can also make use of a salt room and a storm shower, complete with flashing lights to mimic lightning and sounds of thunder.

Getting to Lake Saimaa, Finland

Lake Saimaa feels like a remote destination, but it’s actually relatively easy to reach from the U.S. Finnair offers direct flights to Helsinki from Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle, and has recently revamped its business and premium economy cabins to make the journey more comfortable.

Once you land, consider renting a car for a self-driving tour through Lake Saimaa’s wellness attractions. The roads are safe and easily navigated, even if you’re not used to driving abroad. But if driving isn’t your thing, you can also reach Mikkeli and Savonlinna by train or bus from Helsinki.

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