Savonlinna “The Castle of Savonia” Awaits You!

When you think about Finland, what is the first thing that comes to mind? You might immediately think of cold winters, hot saunas, and reindeer. But how about castles, towers, and the opera? There’s more than meets the eye in Finland’s extraordinary Savonlinna!

The entire region of Savonlinna,  a town and surrounding area of about 36,000 people, has a well earned reputation of being the place to go if you’re looking to live the good life. The quality of life here in Savonlinna is remarkable. Great infrastructure, enchanting historic sites, a focus on arts and culture, burgeoning businesses and affordable living make this safe, clean and fun Finnish town a great place to work, to live, to grow up in, and to visit on holiday.

Savonlinna and the Castle

Savonlinna and the Castle

The town’s history traces back to a time when Erik Axelsson Tott, Dano-Swedish statesman and regent of Sweden, founded the Savonlinna castle of Olavinlinna on the island of Kyrönsalmi in the year 1475. Olavinlinna Castle, which had been named after St Olaf, was also orginially referred to simple as the “new castle”, or “Nyslott” in Swedish. Nyslott was constructed as a means to fortify Sweden’s eastern border from nearby Russia.  Slowly but surely, the island of Vääräsaari next to Nyslott or Olavinlinna Castle began to become more and more settled, with a population that continued to grow steadily. By 1639 the community had been granted a town charter by Per Brahe, Swedish statesman, thereby founding the town of Savonlinna.

The development of a successful sawmill industry ushered in a phase of rapid progress for the town of Savonlinna. A newly constructed canal and railway laid the groundwork for further expansion and development. The Saimaa canal allowed Savonlinna to act as the hub of all the waterway traffic along the network of Lake Saimaa by the beginning of the twentieth century; by this time Savonlinna was well underway, and an industrial boom was happening in the Finnish town.

Industrialization wasn’t the only boom happening in Savonlinna – tourism began to take off when word of Savonlinna’s Olavin Kylpylaitos spa began to spread among spa enthusiasts, turning Savonlinna as one of popular holiday destinations. The railway link to St Petersburg in Russian was conveniently ready to begin transporting people to and from this new found vacation destination. During the early 1970s, Savonlinna managed to absorb much of the adjacent Sääminki municipality, and in 2009 the Savonranta municipality merged with Savonlinna as well, expanding the town’s borders. Kerimäki and Punkaharju municipalities followed suit, becoming a part of Savonlinna shortly after, in 2013.

Not surprisingly, Savonlinna’s number one tourist attraction is Olavinlinna Castle, Erik Axelsson Tott’s 1475 fortress. Situated along the little island in Lake Saimaa it was the structure that got the ball rolling on the whole settlement, and it was one of the most impressively modern fortresses of its time. Olavinlinna boasted a citadel, a bailey and a bevy of five big round cannon towers.

The land surrounding Olavinlinna went to Russia during the Great Nordic War between 1700 and 1721. In the Russo-Swedish War from 1741 to 1743, Sweden made an attempt to get the lost territories back, and the fortress was captured by the Russians in 1742. Once peace was established in the region, Olavinlinna became part of a line of Russian border fortresses, with changes made under the surveillance of the renowned Russian Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov and used as an army base. Once the Finnish War of 1808 and 1809 was over, the country of Finland became an autonomous part of Russia. The castle, being too remote to be of much strategic importance, fell out of use and eventually turned into a tourist attraction. Olavinlinna was the venue of the very first opera festival in Savonlinna, organized in the castle 1912. It’s a tradition that carries on annually each month of July at the scene of the first Savonlinna Opera Festival.

Whenever tourists hear about this interesting little piece of land and its historic fortress, one of the first questions is “can we go for a tour?” – the answer is a resounding yes! Visiting the castle and seeing the old halls and different rooms of the fortress and its towers is an experience everyone who comes to Savonlinna has to take part in. Guided tours of the castle and its grounds are provided throughout the year, and you can expect the guided tours to take approximately one hour. The castle is set up into two small museums showcasing the daily function and life here in Savonlinna, as well as the three courtyards which you are able to check out without being a part of any guided tour when the castle is open. Keep in mind that, there are some restrictions from April till September so make sure you contact them ahead of time so you can plan the best date and time for a tour. They can be reached at +358 295 33 6942 Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 am to 4:15 pm, or by email at olavinlinna@kansallismuseo.fi. If you or anyone in your group will be using a wheelchair, note that visitors in a wheelchair are able to come to the castle museums as well as the courtyards with assistance.

During the summer months beginning June the 1st through to August the 14th, you will be able to take the castle guided tours in both English and in Finnish each business hour, and in Swedish on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:00 pm. The Finnish language guided tours in July commence on the hour and each half hour. From June the 20th through until August the 14th you can also take part in guided tours spoken in Russian every day on the hour starting at noon and going until 3:00 pm. On the celebration of Saint Olaf’s Day on July 29th, you’re able to take guided tours in Finnish and English only. In winter there are mainly guided tours in Finnish and they start on the hour. Tours in other languages are possible but they need to be booked beforehand from the office at Olavinlinna Castle. Guided tours are also available outside the opening hours on agreement. Group tours are great for meeting new people and perhaps even making a new friend, and they’re cheaper than booking a private tour. Nevertheless, if the one-on-one experience of your very own private tour of a famous castle appeals to you, you can book your own guide. Just make sure that you reserve your private tour at least a week prior to the date you plan on visiting Savonlinna, and bear in mind that the fee for hiring your own private guide will run you about 70 euros per guide.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival

The Savonlinna Opera Festival

Savonlinna rings in the new year of 2016 with a new theme for their annual Savonlinna Opera Festival. The main theme of 2016 will be Italian Opera. Look out for operas based on the works of William Shakespeare right around the corner, as 2016 also marks the four hundred year anniversary of the death of the famous playwright and poet. You’ll be able to catch three operas composed by Giuseppe Verdi inspired by the plays by William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff. The 2016 Savonlinna Opera Fetival season will also feature Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème and Vincenzo Bellini’s full-blooded bel canto opera Norma, both taking to the Olavinlinna stage for the first time ever.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival will also feature productions of its own, and feature the Teatro Regio Torino and the Ravenna Festival. Accompanying the latter will be one of the most world renowned conductors, maestro Riccardo Muti. Paired with the wonderful collection of Italian operas will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The Savonlinna Opera Festival’s own productions will also feature the last great piece From the House of the Dead (Z mrtvého domu) by Czech composer Leoš Janáček.

The summer of 2016’s venue for Franz Schubert’s Mass in A-flat Major will be taking place in Kerimäki Church, while soloists will be Kateryna Kasper, the 2014 winner of the Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, as well as Niina Keitel, Tuomas Katajala and Tuomas Pursio. The Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir will be conducted by John Storgårds, who will also be conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland. Savlonlinna Hall will be hosting a Lieder recital to round out the season’s concert programme, by the Savonlinna Opera Festival’s former Artistic Directors Jorma Hynninen and Ralf Gothóni as well as a concert by the winners of the Timo Mustakallio Competition to top things off.

Savonlinna may be relatively small, but it’s not without its share of accommodations and dining establishments to keep all visitors to this Finnish town satisfied. If you’re planning on staying in Savonlinna,  you’ll find the waterfront Perhehotelli Hospitz an easy 5 minute walk from the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Located at Linnankatu 20, 57130 Savonlinna, Perhehotello Hospitz is tastefully designed and decorated, with the Savonlinna Opera Festival taken into account. Dinners are served early in order to ensure guests have time to enjoy a fine meal before heading out to enjoy the festival. Still haven’t decided? A less pricey option would be the Best Western Spa Hotel Casino, located at Kylpylaitoksentie 7, Savonlinna 57130, with views that over look the water and the city centre. 

There are also a wide variety of vacation rentals, hotels and other types of accommodations to be found all around Finland in the areas close to Savonlinna, although the majority of them are a bit of a drive from the town. If you are staying with a larger group and would require multiple hotel rooms, the cost of booking a vacation rental home in any of the neighbouring areas might still be less than booking hotel rooms, even when you factor in the cost of transportation to and from your room on a daily basis.

Huvila
Address: Puistokatu 4 Savonlinna
Tel: +358 15 15 555 0555
Web Site: www.panimoravintolahuvila.fi
Dining out in Savonlinna can be an exciting experience, and Huvila is no exception. The interesting wooden building was once a hospital, then an asylum, and now a busy microbrewery and restaurant in Savonlinna. Excellent cuts of meat and fresh local ingredients dominate the menu, and depending on the time of day you might be able to catch live music performances.

The pancake cafe - also known as Kalliolinna

The pancake cafe – also known as Kalliolinna

Linnakrouvi
Address: Linnankatu 7 Savonlinna
Tel: +358 15 576 9124
Web Site: www.linnakrouvi.fi
The prestige of being the dining establishment closest to Olavinlinna Castle obviously garners this restaurant a lot of well-deserved attention. It’s the perfect place for anyone coming or going from the Savonlinna Opera Festival boasting outdoor seating in a tiered style, and a menu running the gamut of gourmet dishes down to burgers.

Kalliolinna
Address: Sulosaari, Savonlinna
Web Site: kalliolinna.blogspot.com
A little more out of the way but totally worth it if you’ve been yearning for a quiet café to relax in, Kalliolinna is just a quick walk over a few bridges. Once you get there, try to the choose-your-own-filling pancakes, they come highly recommended.

No matter whether it’s the food, the scenery, the medieval castle and towers, or the fantastic opera festival that brings you to lovely Savonlinna in the south east of Finland, it’s a welcoming place that will impress you with its culture and beauty. You’ll be planning your second trip there once your holiday is up!

Visit the European destinations category to learn more about other places to visit in Europe!