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How to be a Finn

In 2017, the land of wood, water and vowels celebrates a centenary of independence – a perfect excuse to head to Helsinki and Finland’s wild lakeland region to try your hand at nine quintessentially Finnish experiences
A Sex in the Forest cocktail, made of gin, blueberries, thyme and cranberry black tea, devised at Helsinki’s A21 bar.

WATCH OPERA IN A CASTLE

SAVONLINNA, THE LAKELAND

Filing beneath the mighty towers that girdle Olavinlinna castle, a 2,000-strong crowd has gathered for the Savonlinna Opera Festival. The setting makes it seem less likely they’ve come to savour high-end Puccini than bear solemn witness to a medieval execution. For more than 100 years, the castle’s granite-flanked courtyard has hosted the festival, an unimprovably Gothic backdrop for tragedy and intrigue, set at the edge of a cobbled old town beside the mighty lake that dominates southeastern Finland. Larger than Cornwall, Lake Saimaa appears on maps as a mess of spindly inlets and speckled islands.

Bathing in Lake Saimaa after a sauna

Noise and drama are rare visitors to small-town Finland, and an hour of full-blown arias cannoning off ancient walls has almost overwhelmed the audience. Gathered on the castle ramparts during the interval, people gaze quietly out at what seems a twilit eternity of the lake’s calm, cold water. As they gird themselves for the second half, the loudest sound echoing through the arched corridors is that of fleece-lined waterproofs rustling over evening wear.

The 2017 Savonlinna Opera Festival runs 7 July–4 August (from £22; operafestival.fi). A short walk from the castle, Original Sokos Hotel Seurahuone has waterside rooms from £100 (sokoshotels.fi).

A lakeside cabin near Sahanlahti. OPPOSITE A basket of freshly picked lingonberries
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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - December 2016
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