Hometown Secrets: Lappeenranta
The team here at the Embassy hail from all corners of Finland. We thought it was only right they share some of the best-known secrets from the places they call home. In the latest edition of this series, our intern Leeni Varis shares insight about her charming hometown on the shore of Lake Saimaa, Lappeenranta.
Lappeenranta, or Villmanstrand in Swedish, is a small but charming town located right on the border between Finland and Russia, on the shore of Finland’s largest lake, Saimaa. Lappeenranta is where I grew up and what I’ll forever call my “hometown”. Home to just over 73,500 inhabitants, Lappeenranta is the 13th largest city in Finland. It’s a university town as well, although, you barely notice that in the city – the university is located 6km away from the centre and is like a town in of itself.
The lake is the city’s most prominent feature and that is where most of its attractions lie: cruises around Saimaa and to Russia, swimming, kayaking and ice sports during winter. Lappeenranta is known among Finns as a town of friendly and cheerful people and if you’re lucky enough to know a local and visit their home – they surely won’t let you leave their house hungry. Trust me, my grandma believes there should always be at least “7 sorts of offerings” on the table for any guest.
Due to its proximity to the Russian border (it takes less than 30 minutes to drive up to the border), you will also encounter a lot of Russian influence in this town. You will sight tourist buses with Russian plates and shops advertising in Russian. When you walk around in the city centre, you will forget that the second native language in Finland is Swedish, its complete absence is replaced by the lively melody of Russian.
Despite all of that, Lappeenranta is a truly Finnish town with a lot of history and influences from both Russian and Swedish sides. To experience the history first hand, make sure to visit the hilly fortress overlooking the beautiful harbour. The fortress served originally as a border fortress between the East and the West as Sweden/Finland and Russia fought against each other for centuries. Nowadays, it is a valuable part of the cultural heritage for Finns, Swedes and Russians alike. Its beautiful historical houses show both Swedish and Russian architecture and while some of the houses are private homes, most of the buildings are open for public. The fortress area hosts museums, art and handicraft boutiques, cafes and restaurants as well as the oldest Orthodox Church in Finland.
And speaking of cafes and restaurants, there is no shortage of those in this town! A Lappeenranta classic, Majurska, is located in the heart of the fortress and offers traditional sweet and savoury treats in a charming, old-fashioned setup. A newer hot spot for locals is Satamatie 6, located in the beautiful harbour area in a red-brick barrack from the early 20th century. The café was voted Finland’s best in 2018. Here you can not only enjoy a cup of coffee from Finland’s best roaster, but also purchase locally roasted coffee and other local items, while enjoying the lake views, of course.
Have you really visited Lappeenranta if you haven’t had our famous Vety? These meat pies (yes, I know many Australians disagree with me on this term but what else could it be called?) filled with ham and/or boiled egg is a local delicacy and sold in little stalls in the harbour and city market square. There are even vegetarian and gluten-free versions available!
In Lappeenranta, there’s something for everyone. You can experience the Finnish summer cottage experience by renting a cottage by the lake, enjoy the ample nature through many hiking trails and explore the history by visiting a part of a 1200km long WW2 bunker line, Salpa Line. Whatever you choose, you know you’ll want to come back again.
Author: Leeni Varis is an intern at the Embassy of Finland in Canberra.