Savonlinna is one of the most relaxed towns in Finland, renowned for its opera festival (www.operafestival.fi) in July. It’s packed throughout summer, so book well ahead if you’re visiting at this time. Out of peak season, its streets and beaches are uncluttered, and the town’s easy-going mood and lovely setting – amid a confluence of forests and lakes – make it a pleasant place to linger.
The best locations for soaking up the atmosphere are the harbour and market square at the end of Olavinkatu, where you can cast an eye over the grand Seurahuone hotel, with its Art Nouveau fripperies. At the square, try the Savonlinna specialty known as “lörtsy”, a delicious meat-and-rice-filled pastry packed with condiments. Follow the harbour around picturesque Linnankatu, or better still around the sandy edge of Pihlajavesi, which brings you to atmospheric and surprisingly well-preserved Olavinlinna Castle, perched on a small island. Founded in 1475, the castle witnessed a series of bloody conflicts until the Russians claimed possession of it in 1743 and relegated it to the status of town jail.
Nearby is the Savonlinna Provincial Museum in Riihisaari, which occupies an old granary and displays an intriguing account of the evolution of local life, with rock paintings and ancient amber carved with human figures.