Savonlinna was the nearest big town to us so we really had to visit it while we were in Finland. It is referred to as the pearl of Lake Saimaa and is most famous for its castle, Olavinlinna.
Olavinlinna was built in the 15th century and unsurprisingly for Finland, is surrounded by water. During the Middle Ages, most of Finland was actually owned by Sweden and so the castle was built to help defend the Eastern border. Following a war between Sweden and Russia (1741-1743), the castle fell into Russian hands. By 1850, the castle was no longer needed as a defence and it became a prison. Its role as a prison was shortlived however, as it was abandoned in 1860 following two fires.
The castle took on a much more romantic role from 1912 when it became an arena for opera festivals. Its role as a venue for opera performances still stands and the Savonlinna Opera Festival is now one of the most well-known opera festivals in the world.
A slightly less romantic but equally interesting image – the stone jutting out of the side of the tower is actually the toilet deposits, it was thought that walls covered in human waste would deter enemies from trying to climb the walls.
It was really nice to learn a bit about the history of the castle and the area, plus I got to play dress up in the gift shop.
And who can resist a face-in-hole board?
Once we had explored the castle, we had a walk around the old town. It is very quaint with cobbled streets, painted wooden buildings as well as little boutiques and restaurants.
I continued my dressing up in one of the shops and tried on a winter hat fit for a queen.
We drove into the newer part of town and went to Ravintola Majakka overlooking the harbour for lunch. If you are ever in the area, I would definitely recommend it. Our waiter was so lovely and informative, and the restaurant is very cosy and welcoming.
Most importantly, the food was amazing! We had a platter to share which included smoked reindeer and elk sausage. The fish is all local and fresh (caught in the lake in front of the restaurant) so for the main course, I had pike perch served with carrot and tarrogon rissoto and asparagus, and Anthony had the rainbow trout with potatoes and mushrooms. My pike perch was one of the tastiest fish dishes I have ever eaten!
We walked around for the rest of the afternoon and stopped at a cafe for tea and cake.
A lot of our week was spent exploring the countryside and so it was really nice to explore a town and learn more about the history of the country.