The region of Saimaa, located in eastern Finland, is considered a paradise for nature lovers due to its remarkable culture and majestic scenery. My friends and I decided to go on a road trip and explore the beauty around Lake Saimaa with a car.
Planning a road trip in Saimaa is not as difficult as it looks like. Roads in Finland are in perfect condition and while the size and form of the lake can make several regions difficult to access, there is nothing more beautiful than driving along the coast and getting a long view of Lake Saimaa.
Our trip started in the city of Lappeeranta. This is not only the most accessible city in the Saimaa region but a good spot to rent a vehicle and start a road trip around the lake. Several rental companies are located right at the Lappeeranta airport and with competitive prices all year long, it’s just matter of simple booking skills until you find a good bargain to start your adventure.
Discovering Saimaa’s hiking routes
Although Saimaa is mostly known for its stunning lake and water activities, there are several hiking routes that can´t be underestimated. Finland is a land of enchanting forests and fairies and while there is not a big chance you will encounter a fairy or find a pot of gold along the way, mushrooms and berry picking are some of the most common activities you will see locals do.
Trees filled with hundreds of little and delicious blue, black and lingonberries are located all over Finland and with the law allowing pickers to go foraging anywhere in the country (including summer houses, surrounding forests, city parks, and national parks), fruit picking is one of the most entertaining ways to wander through the forest.
Mushroom picking is also a fun outdoor activity locals love. This is one of the most cultural traditions in the Nordic communities and every weekend you will see dozens of families gathering in parks and forests with their mushroom baskets. There is an interesting appeal for the Finnish to get back to nature and live a simple and healthy life.
While fruit and mushroom picking are some of the most Finnish activities you can do while visiting Saimaa, take into consideration that some of these fruits are poisonous and eating them can be very dangerous.
Several tour operators along the Saimaa region offer mushroom and berry picking tours. These guided tours are ideal for travelers, who don´t know much about the local flora, want to learn more about this part of Finnish culture and at the same time are afraid of getting lost in the wilderness or accidentally picking poisonous fruits.
With the flexibility of having a vehicle, we were able to completely skip the city life and get in direct contact with nature. We did not only select the best places for berry picking but also stayed in the cottages and lakeside hotels along Lake Saimaa. These types of accommodation not only offered a first-class view of the lake, but they also organized most of the activities we did.
Cottages and lakeside hotels in Saimaa
A full Saimaa experience can´t be complete without staying in one of the very charming and cozy cottages along the lake. This is one of Finland’s most popular traditions during Summer and the best way to disconnect from the city life.
These cottages can be as luxurious or simple as you like and with most of them being located right next to the lake, these are a must place to stay if you are visiting Saimaa.
Finns love them and anytime they can, they will spend some days at their own cottage or simply rent one. This is one of the things you can only do while having a vehicle to drive around and although in private cottages you will have to bring your own food, many hotels along Saimaa offer their own cottages including their restaurant services at the hotel facilities.
Some hotels would even offer food tours, where you will be able to catch your own fresh salmon and pick up the berries for the drinks.
Since we were going on a road trip, we stayed in several types of cabins along the road. Some of them were located in the middle of charming forests and were perfect for applying our new knowledge in berry and mushroom picking, while others offered scenic views of little islands located at Lake Saimaa. There are many options and no matter how many people you travel with or how large your budget is, there is a cottage for you.
The highlight of Saimaa is the calmness of the lake
There are more than 3500 islands in Saimaa and with approximately 4,400 km2, Lake Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland and the fourth largest natural freshwater lake in Europe. It is the perfect place to get a kayak or a wooden boat and relax while navigating to one of the many little inhabited islands (many of these are not larger than an Olympic swimming pool) or simply row around the lake while enjoying the sun.
Most cabins and cottages have kayaks for you to simply use during your stay and while watching the sunrise from Saimaa’s coastline sounds wonderful, there is an incomparable charm when you do it from the middle of the lake.
With the sunrise happening very early in the morning and never experiencing a complete dark sky at night, we had the daily ritual of waking up early and kayaking at the lake to watch the sunrise. Every day we glimpsed numerous tones of pinks, purples and blues being reflected at the calm waters of the lake. The sunlight at the early mornings turned the lake into a giant multicolored surrealist painting, in which we were just characters in the middle of a different world.
Being at the lake should be your highlight in Saimaa, and while there are lots of small cruise ships offering several tours exploring the beauty of the lake, visiting the lake and its hiking routes on your own is a very personal and extraordinary activity that is worth way more. I felt closer to nature and after some days at Lake Saimaa kayaking, stargazing or picking up fresh berries in the morning, I felt end up being my biggest concerns during the day. Saimaa brought me back to nature like any other destination has done it before.
What should I take into consideration before planning a road trip in Saimaa?
Saimaa is a very large region and due to the particular form of the lake, going from one city to another can take a lot of time. Plan your itinerary ahead and check out on google maps how long does it take to get from one place to another. We underestimated several times the distances and end up driving until late hours of the night just to reach our accommodation.
Accommodation along the lake should not be an issue. However, booking in advance is recommended. There are several Airbnb options along the lake that will make your experience more unique. At the same time, most hotels have also private cabins for you to rent.
When should I plan my road trip in Saimaa?
There is no doubt that Summer is the best time to visit the region. You will experience almost 24 hours of sunlight and the weather is warm enough that you can swim in the lake almost every day. However, Summer is high season in Finland and prices all over the country tend to be more expensive than during the rest of the year.
If berry-picking season is your priority, take into consideration that it begins in mid-July and ends around October when autumn sets in. Mushroom season starts around mid-May when the first mushrooms begin to emerge, but it´s only until mid-Summer when you start seeing hundreds of mushrooms everywhere around Finland’s forests.
I visited Saimaa end of August. Rental prices were lower and finding accommodation was not as difficult as it can be in mid-Summer. At the same time, the sun was setting down quite late and although it was not the hot Summer weather you have in Spain or Italy, I found very refreshing getting into the lake early in the morning or right after sunrise – especially after doing Finland’s national activity: sauna.
Want more of Finland? Check out our gallery with 10 photographs of Finland’s beauty