Charms of Saimaa: What to do on Finland’s Largest Lake in Winter

Have you ever walked on a frozen lake?

Did you hear the sound of snow crunching under your feet?

I had probably never seen a vast expanse of ice sheet till that moment I actually landed at the biggest lake in Finland named Saimaa. As I looked around, the unending white stretches, vaguely visible hills and the footprints on the ice appeared in front of me.  I was at a loss for words while standing on that frozen surface.

I was terrified to even walk, fearing to go inside an ice hole. It took a couple of moments to actually sink into the environment and appreciate the surreal landscapes. A sense of relief ran through my mind, when I was assured by a Finnish young man that the ice was at least 50 cm thick, so there was no danger of it breaking. I smiled back, after gaining the confidence to walk around the lake.

It is said that taking a trip to the Lakeland is like taking a trip to the heart of Finnish identity. They say that the Finnish flag gets its blue cross from its clear skies and lakes, and its white background of the snow that engulfs the country in winter.

With the calming effect of nature, the quiet rustle of leaves, silence in the air and sound of the wind, one can celebrate space in the expanse of natural harmony. If you are an admirer of pristine nature, love walking aimlessly on the trails, hiking in the rolling hills, collecting wild berries and herbs, and celebrate stillness, Lakeland is the place for you, which is a land of green gold and a thousand lakes.

Lakeland of Finland is the largest Lake District in the entire Europe. Ranked as the fourth biggest lake in Europe, Saimaa is considered as one of the best boating destinations. Being the largest in Finland, Saimaa is not just a lake, rather it is embodied of numerous connecting lakes, interconnected basins and narrow channels, dotted with thousands of islands. Located in southeastern Finland, Lake Saimaa is spread across 4,377 sq km with almost 15,000 kilometres of shoreline and over 13,000 islands. Thousands of islands, famous shore towns, rocky terrain, bountiful nature and forested archipelago make Saimaa one of the worth visiting places for tourists.

The shore towns like Mikkeli and Savonlinna are one of the top favorites among tourists. The best way to explore the Saimaa region is to take a boat ride along its shoreline. There’s a popular Finnish song that says, “sailing is the only thing in life worth doing”. One can’t deny the fact that sailing on a steamship is the most exotic way to enjoy the compelling scenic beauty of Lake Saimaa.

Winter Activities in Saimaa

Finland is considered as one of the coldest countries in the world. Known for its extreme weather condition, Finland celebrates complete contrasting landscapes in each season. The stunning landscapes, snow laden forests and the frozen lakes make Finland nothing less than a winter wonderland. The bright and sunny days become snowy, the blue sky turns grey, the calming breeze starts giving you cold shivers and the waterscapes get frozen into a sprawling snow-covered land. But the best part is that the Finns know how to enjoy the extreme winter also. If you are looking for winter activities, Lake Saimaa is where one should head for some of the most thrilling adventure activities.

Ice Skating

The Finns love indulging in adventure activities every season. Unlike people from other countries, instead of hibernating, they love spending their time outdoors.  Decades ago, skating from island to island was a way of getting around and visiting neighbors in the Finnish archipelago in the winter season. Nowadays, Ice skating is a nationwide phenomenon during the winter months. People of Finland enjoy ice skating over the frozen lakes and coastlines. Lake Saimaa is one of the best destination to indulge in winter adventure activities like ice skating.

From local Finnish people to the tourists, everyone seemed to enjoy skating over the frozen lake of Saimaa. The season generally opens from January to April, when the ice layered thick and temperature dipping till -30°c, making it an ideal time to skate. Although the tour skating is a fun and safe activity, but it can be risky for those, who are not familiar with the terrain. So it is advisable to take guidance from the instructor before you start skating on the icy surface. There is Finland Ice Marathon, which is the main tour skating event of the season, organised in Kuopio. Do participate in the grand marathon if you are in Finland during the event.

Ice Fishing

Have you ever done Ice Fishing? This is one of the most fun activities one can do in the winter. I never heard of this until I discovered it during my trip to Saimaa. Walking miles across the frozen lake, deciding on a probable spot, drilling a hole in the ice surface, putting the ice fishing rod and your endless wait starts.  In the middle of nowhere, the unending ice sheet dazzles with the beam of sun through the clouds, the cold wind travels through your face, fresh snow settles around you and you stand still admiring the nature’s wonder, which is nothing less than meditating. It can transport you to another world.

If you are lucky enough to catch a fish during your endless wait, it becomes a bonus for the day. It is advised that one should never go on an Ice fishing alone. You should be properly dressed to bear the extreme cold weather. Don’t forget to wear your snow boots for Ice fishing.

Cross-country skiing

Another popular winter activities in Finland is cross-country skiing. This sport is part of the Finnish culture and almost everyone learns it right after their first step. Cross country skiing is also considered as a national sport. Earlier, skiing was an important means of transportation, when people used it to travel through the forest, going from one place to another in winter. Even today, there are networks of skiing tracks all across Finland. This is the best way to soak into the white wilderness and experience the calm and quite winter desert.

The snow season last for 4 months in southern region, whereas in the northernmost part like Lapland, it lasts for seven to eight months long, making it a paradise for skiing enthusiasts. The skiing routes in Saimaa include two most popular shore towns like Mikkeli and Savonlinna, covering miles in all types of terrains include countryside, over hills, through forests and some parts of Lake Saimaa. Some routes have cafes, where one can take a break for coffee and warm up for the next leg of the journey. Do prepare with the necessary gears and cover yourself well to refrain from catching cold while skiing.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is another fun way to enjoy the winter landscape in Finland. It allows you to walk on those areas which are otherwise impossible to access due to heavy snowfall that creates mounts on the hills or hiking trails. Snowshoeing in Lake Saimaa is one fun winter activity that allows you to appreciate the scenic beauty in the white frozen surface.

Snowshoeing in Lake Saimaa is all about the walking the off-beat path and discovering new trails on the snowy territory. The mystic winter land can be best experienced by snowshoeing in Finland. This is one of the easy and thrilling activities, which can be done by anyone effortlessly.

Ice Swimming in Lake Saimaa

Have you ever done Ice swimming? How about jumping into an ice hole, cut out of the frozen surface of the lake for an exhilarating experience? Sounds crazy right? The Finns simply love pushing the boundaries when it comes to adventure activities. Taking a plunge in the ice cold water in shivering cold in a frozen lake is an experience unlike anything else. The Finnish people generally take a dip in the ice cold water just before they enter the Sauna to warm up the body and relax for hours.

Not just once, but they enjoy the thrill of ice bathing again after the Sauna. When the body is exposed to this sudden cold, it reacts immediately, creating a feeling of euphoria, which apparently has health benefits like lowered stress, increased circulation and an improved immune system. Though it is advisable not to indulge in for people, who are having health issues such as asthma or heart trouble. Though Ice Swimming  which is also called as “ Winter Swimming “ can be a thrilling experience , but it should be done with a lot of cautions.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of  accommodation options in the city of Lappeenrata. I stayed at Holiday Club Saimaa, which is one gorgeous resort by the lake Saimaa.

Spread across Area 25 000 square meter , Holiday Club Saimaa is one of the most luxurious holiday resorts in Finland, encircled by the breathtaking landscapes and stunning lakes.

Built in 2011, this resort is one of the biggest in the area with 229 hotel rooms, 137 club Saimaa family rooms, 63 castle rooms , 21 Grant luxurious rooms, and 8 Deluxe pavilion rooms .

Apart from that, they also have 249 Holiday Houses and Apartments, which are fully equipped with kitchen, balcony or terrace and private Sauna.

They have 7 restaurants and Bars with various themes and specialties.

Activities

  1. Angry Bird activities park

This is one of the most favorite areas for the kids in the resort. With 2400 square kilometers, this indoor park is located close to the hotel and is well equipped to entertain kids the whole day.

  1. Ice Arena

They also have NHL sized skate rink in the heart of the hotel for kids, who love doing indoor ice skating.

  1. Cirque de Saimaa aqua park

Multi–function pool, Jacuzzi, 2 water slides, separate Sauna for children, log Sauna and wooden bath tubs on the roof of the building, all of this you will find in the property itself.

Apart from that, the resort also has several types of Saunas, Spa, 18 holes Golf Course, Bowling, Tennis court, Gym, shopping center, etc. The resort also can organize safaris, Visa- Free cruises to Russia and Horseback riding for its guests.

With a total of  31 resorts that include 23 in Finland, including 7 Spa Hotel resorts, 2 in Sweden and 6 in Spain, Holiday Club Resorts is one of Europe’s largest vacation ownership enterprises. The Club Resorts Oy, Finland are owned by Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd, which is now the largest vacation ownership company in the world, outside of US. With Mahindra Holiday resorts in foreign soil, it will not only provide a luxurious vacation with the much needed homely environment & warm hospitality, entertainment, cultural experiences, but it makes your vacation budget friendly as well.

For More Information,  Visit  Finland with Club Mahindra 


Getting there

You can fly to Finland with Finnair, which has direct flights to Helsinki from Delhi thrice a week. It takes 7 and half hours to reach Helsinki. There are other airlines like Air France, Air India, Aeroflot Russian, and Lufthansa.

There are two ways to reach lake Saimaa from the capital city of Finland. The duration of the trip depends on the mode of transportation and the route.

Bus /Car : The easiest way to reach Saimaa is by taking a bus trip that takes more than four hours. This route covers 267.5 km via E18. One can also rent out private car to reach Saimaa.

Train: The quickest way to reach Saimaa is by taking a Train . It takes only 3 hours 11 minutes to reach your destination.


I was invited by Club Mahindra on a press trip to Finland .


Disclaimer :

  1. All the used Non Watermarked  photos have been provided by Visit Finland  & and have been used with permission. 
  2. The Watermarked photographs are owned by the writer and are copyright protected. Reproduction of any of the contents, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.

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32 Replies to “Charms of Saimaa: What to do on Finland’s Largest Lake in Winter”

  1. The winter activities are incredible. Each one of them instantly pumps up your adrenaline levels and I would love to try them all. The hotel is amazing and comfortable, but the snowy deserted wilderness is jaw dropping.

    1. I completely agree. The Holiday Club Resort Saimaa is great place to be in Saimaa. Do let me know if you plan to visit Finland in near future,

  2. I would love to see Finland’s snow covered trees and gaze up at the northern lights. It would fun to say I caught a fish ice fishing too. But there is no way I would get into that water!

    1. Swimming in the ice hole is insanely crazy . Only the Finns can dare to do that.

  3. An amazing detailed post. I had never earlier heard about winter swimming and snowshoeing. Snowshoeing seems like easy if done with proper gear whereas winter swimming is already giving me goosebumps. How can one jump in ice cold water? Hats off to Finns! Still i will love to experience all of these on my trip to Finland.

    1. I loved Snowshoeing . Its the easiest among the winter activities. Oh yes, Ice swimming is only Finns can do . Its a crazy winter activity there.

  4. Wooha! holy moly! this looks incredible. I would love to spend 1 winter of my life in Finland. and yes I would also love to do the Ice skating. it looks so much fun. glad to know that you had a great fun! cheers

    1. Thanks Sophie. I absolutely loved my experience in Finland.

  5. Finland was already on my bucket list & this post has only added to my travel goals. It’s such a well detailed and defined post, going to bookmark it for my reference. Can’t get over the snow-paradise look <3

    Parampara-Parichay
    http://awaradiaries.com

    1. Thanks a lot Parampara. I still can’t get over of Finland. Its addictive. A must visit country for sure.

  6. Wow..what a scene of frozen snow!! I have never even walked on a frozen river. This is something in my bucket list. I would love to experience the sound of snow cracking under my feet..would love to visit here

    1. I was terrified but after gaining confidence It was one of kinds experience.

  7. It looks so cold from the pictures and then I read about ice swimming. That sounds outright crazy but I have heard that many places with extreme temperatures do this. This is to build resistance. Would love to walk across the frozen Lake Saimaa.

    1. Ice swimming is a crazy activities and only the Finns are imunued to do that.

  8. I have never really understood my neighbours in the east when it comes to ice swiming. The idea of jumping into a hole in a frozen lake as a break from sitting in the sauna sure is crazy. Ok, some people are doing it also here in Sweden, but it is not as common 🙂

    1. It seems that ice swimming is not new to Nordic countries. It is insanely crazy activity , but the Finns seem to be enjoying it a lot.

  9. It looks like a really cold holiday but full of fun activities. There are lots of cold weather activities that would be great to do. I can’t remember the last time I went skating on a lake since it doesn’t freeze over that often in the Vancouver area.

    1. Do visit Finland to experience all of these. Thank me later.

  10. I can imagine the scare of walking over frozen lakes!!! Walking on crisp snow is more fun. Great place for a holiday. Unique and new experience.

    1. I was really scared of walking. But the experience I had was out of this world. A must visit country.

  11. I am not a winter person at all because I grew up in a place where winters came with a lot of snow and -20 degrees. I remember when I was little I used to go and play on the frozen lake, trying to pretend I’m ice skating. From all the activities you have listed, I would like to try the fishing inside a hole in the ice. I would probably never jump in the freezing water though.

    1. Even I am not a winter person. I never knew that I would enjoy snow and winter season in Finland so much. I simply loved my time in Finland and yes , I tried my hand in Ice fishing and its absolutely fun winter activity there.

  12. Tatum Skipper says: Reply

    Ugh during the winter I kept seeing posts about Finland and its winter wonderland look. I am super jealous!! Definitely on my list this year. As for activities…you are literally cross country ice skating haha not in some huge fake rink! This looks like the ultimate adventurous vacation (just my cup of tea) so I would love to do everything from the fishing to the swimming!

    1. Finland is worth a visit. Do let me know your experience once you are there.

  13. The entire landscape looks so surreal. I would love to Ice fishing, this would be a unique experience. Skiing being another sport that I have come to enjoy. Though I would never jump into that icy cold water, no matter what health benefits it has. The hotel seems to a great place to stay.

    1. You must visit Finland this year. Its one dream destination and certainly winter wonderland.

  14. Lovely frozen landscapes. It is like a dream destination for so many people!
    I must ask whether you tried the icy bath yourself? I don’t think I will have the moral strength to do it.

    1. No, I did not. Only the Finns has the courage and insane energy to jump into the ice hole.

  15. Wow! This looks amazing, I would love to try out Ice swimming on day!

    1. Wow..I love your spirit. Do let me know your experience once you jump into the ice hole.

  16. woah waoh waah all pictures are so so awesome..Saimaa seems like heaven on earth…i wish i could go there once in my life and enjoy ice fishing

    1. Thank you so much. Do visit Finland , Its worth a visit.

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