Of the four geographical areas of Finland, Lakeland is the largest, stretching from Imatra and Tampere in the south to Kuhmo and Kajaani in the north. Formed by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age, it is also the largest lake district in Europe, and in the Saimaa system has the fourth largest lake in Europe. It’s pristine waters make it a natural paradise for anglers, boaters, canoeists, and lovers of water sports. Lakeland also boasts the largest number of Finnish National Parks, making it an ideal destination for hikers, cyclists and outdoors enthusiasts in general.
The numerous towns of the Lakeland region have developed next to the lakes and rivers, adapting to the natural contours of the land, making them as diverse and full of character as the landscapes which surround them. Traveling between them either takes you by meandering roads through forests, open lands and hills, or by the natural waterways used by Finns since time immemorial.
Summer in Lakeland is an eventful one, with every town having their own particular festivals and celebrations to make the best of the long days before the cold and dark of winter descends again. The following is a brief introduction to some of the annual highlights of the summer season, beginning with the main towns of the south.
The most southerly town in Lakeland is Lappeenranta, located approximately halfway between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. Rich in cultural history, as can be seen by the number of choirs and orchestras, museums and galleries, Lappeenranta begins the summer festivities at the end of May when the Summer Market is held. From June 12th until the end of August the famous Lappeenranta Sandcastle takes pride of place, being the largest sandcastle in the Nordic Countries. On June 15th the town hosts a night of big band music, MILJazz, and on the weekend of the 6th and 7th of August it hosts the Cavalry Festival, with performances by the Cavalry Band as well as battle and horse riding shows. Later in August, on the 24th and 25th, is the Lappeenranta Ballet Gala.
Closer to Russia lies the picturesque town of Imatra, which boasts the architectural gems of the Jugendstil Imatran Valtionhotelli and Alvar Aalto’s Church of the Three Crosses, as well as Finland’s oldest nature park, Kruununpuisto. The first event of the summer is the Hyväri Rock festival held on the 8th and 9th of June, a modest festival with some of Finland’s top bands. The most famous summer event has to be the Imatra Big Band Festival, which will begin on Thursday, June 28 with a 30th anniversary gala event which will be a genuine show of South Karelian musical culture, and culminates on the 7th of July. Bike lovers can enjoy the Saimaa Picnic weekend from the 20th to the 22nd of July, a drive-in custom bike and rock show. Keeping the biking theme, Imatra also hosts the exciting Imatranajot Motorcycle Races on the 4th and 5th of August.
At the southwestern edge of Lakeland lies the city of Tampere, Finland’s theatrical capital where an industrial past has paved the way for a city with a dense hub of restaurants and cafés, shops, theatres and cinemas, galleries, museums, and sport and fitness centres. The first of the main summer events is the Tampere Guitar Festival held between the 2nd and 10th of June, when guitarists from Brazil, Spain, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Portugal and Finland will play in a number of styles, including classical, fado and choro. The dust will barely have settled before the Tampere Tanssipidot, or Dance Feast, begins on the 13th and ends on the 17th of June. From the 11th to 14th of July Tammerfest spreads the message of summer, joy, music and festival atmosphere to the whole town. Everything happens in the heart of the city whether it’s in a park, a cruise, a club or on the street. Music flows out from every corner and there is always something going on somewhere. From the 23rd to the 28th of July the Tampere Flamenco Festival is held, the biggest and oldest Nordic flamenco festival and has featured numerous big flamenco stars from Spain over the last 16 years. There is also the Workers’ Music Festival held between the 26th and 29th of July, as well as the Tampere International Salsa Festival from the 27th to the 29th.
Situated in the very heart of Lakeland, Mikkeli has much to offer the many tourists who flock here to relax or to immerse themselves in local culture, and is a particularly popular destination for families. It’s busy event calendar in the summer begins with the Mikkeli Soikoon Music Festival on the 15th and 16th of June, where some of the top Finnish rock and pop acts perform. That is followed by the Gergiev Festival Mikkeli from the 1st to the 8th of July, the Savcor Ballet festival from the 12th to the 14th, Hummeripoika Rock on the 13th and 14th, and the acclaimed Kangasniemi Music Weeks that runs from the 13th until the 22nd of July. In August there’s the Jurassic Rock festival on the 10th and 11th.