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Travel review: A relaxing week in Finland, featuring fresh food, lakes, and a sauna with a view

Some holidays require a second one to get over. You come back more exhausted than you were before, writes Lauren Hill.

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A canoe-view of the resorts beautiful spa, restaurant and pier

This trip was not one of those. It could never be. What do you expect from a country with more saunas than cars?

The sauna I experienced was in the middle of the Finnish forest. Imagine breathing in the deep, woody aroma as you overlook a still, calm lake.

If you heat up enough, you might have the courage to run down the steps and leap into the cold, wild water, then clamber out and submerge yourself in the hot-tub. Sauna, lake, hot-tub, repeat.

There was nothing quite like this feeling

Philas Resort is the place dreams are made of. It hosts up to 30 guests at a time, so you really feel like you have the whole resort to yourself.

Surrounded by vast, serene forests, Philas is a luxury eco-resort sat on the bank of Lake Philas, where guests will only find friendly faces, superb food and drinks, and utter tranquillity. You can walk through the forest and pick wild strawberries, listen to the wind rustle through the trees, and, if you like, partake in a guided meditation or lakeside yoga session.

I stayed in one of six individual lodges that overlook the resort; those were the Forest Suites. Mine was called Tammi which, in Finnish, means a small dam usually made of logs. It was a modern lodge with enough room for two people, where you can admire the gardens through a glass wall from the comfort of your bed, or from the sofa on the balcony.

The Forest Suites

Each forest suite has its own private sauna, as well as a rainfall shower, a kitchenette, and a fridge stocked with Finish delicacies.

My only criticism is that the room was so comfortable, it was very difficult to leave. But alas, there was a whole new world to explore just outside the door.

My first adventure was to Tertti Manor in Mikkeli, just a 40 minute drive from the resort. Tertti Manor is steeped in history; an 1800s stately home and farm that has seen two wars, hosted a Finnish president and is home to the 39th best restaurant in the entire country.

Espresso on the balcony

But this is just a fraction of Tertti’s long, long heritage. Now, there is a farm shop, a boutique, overnight rooms, and two restaurants whose fresh produce is plucked from the thriving vegetable and herb garden out the back. Staff are donned in their traditional uniforms; beautiful white blouses and floral skirts which, I was told by one of the waitresses, were once featured at Paris fashion week. The manor is now run by Matti Pylkkanen, his wife Pepita, and their son Arttu, having been passed down through the family over the centuries.

The buffet at Tertti
The buffet at Tertti

Next on the agenda was a special tea tasting session at the Tea House in Wehmais, founded in 2010. It was special because it was held by one of Finland’s only tea sommeliers, Anna Grotenfelt-Paunonen, and also because it involved homemade chocolates. The Tea House was founded with a passion for tea in all its uses and varieties, and with it, an ode to Finland’s tea culture.

Anna had prepared three types of tea which were each paired with a certain chocolate. This wasn’t your average Yorkshire tea and Dairy Milk duo. She also served the tea in a wine glass, which I very much took a liking to.

Tea and chocolate pairing

The first tea Anna brewed was a chai masala, which was paired with a smooth milk chocolate. Next was a light, floral jasmine tea, with which Anna recommended a white chocolate and matcha treat. Lastly, and my most favoured pairing of all, was a deep Earl Grey paired with a soft, dark chocolate truffle. A walk around the cafe, tea shop, and farm - which was home to the biggest cows I had ever seen (and the cutest sheep) - was a wholesome end to the afternoon.

Back at the resort, I had some time to enjoy the sauna and swim in the lake. Staff were always on hand to offer drinks and snacks from the bar during spa sessions, but I decided to save room for dinner.

A view from the sauna

After a quick change from swimming costume to evening wear, I whizzed my way down to the lakeside restaurant on my personal golf cart - each lodge had one to get around the grounds pronto. Just watch out for the baby deer!

Philas’ restaurant, Siimes, is an intimate experience. Like animals taking rest from the sun, Siimes, or “shade” in English, offers guests an oasis to rest and relax as they are treated to course after course of fresh, beautifully presented food in a homely environment.

Restaurant Siimes was a paradise

The next morning the sun was beaming, and the staff at Siimes had set the breakfast table on the roof of the restaurant. There was me thinking the view couldn’t get any better. After four delectable courses - raw smoked fish, eggs benedict, pearl barley porridge, and pancakes with rhubarb cream - I was fueled up for water activities.

In a hut by the lake is rowing equipment, paddleboards and kayaks; everything you need to spend hours out on the water and see the resort from a different view.

Smoked fish with onion and bread
Eggs Benedict
Pancakes with rhubarb cream

As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t paddle around in the sunshine all day - there was much more to explore.

Next up was a visit to Pistohiekka, one of the finest beach resorts on Lake Saimaa. The site is part of the UNESCO Global Geopark, and is famous for its magnificent architecture, nature, and seal sightings. We were shown around by the wonderful owner, Tommy, who glowed with pride during the tour - and so he should. It was an incredible place, where one could sit by the sea for hours on a warm summer’s day, or cosy up by the fire on a dark autumn night. Pistohiekka makes their very own beer, which was truly the best I’ve ever had.

A canoe-view of the resorts beautiful spa, restaurant and pier

From there, we made our way to Puumala harbour, where we were all aboard M/S Aino, an 1893 steamship which transports passengers across Lake Saimaa, Yövesi and to the 6000-year-old Astuvansalmi rock paintings.

Lunch at Pistohiekka

Captain Otto and his team took us on a journey from the town of Puumala harbour to Sahanlahti Resort. At the dock were about ten more steam boats which also dated back a good couple of centuries, and had very friendly crews on board.

All aboard S/S Aino
Boats docked at Sahanlati had friendly faces on board

Sahanlahti is a small, family run resort with hotel and cottage accommodation, and three restaurants serving the best of local, seasonal food. All of the restaurants offer the most amazing lakeside views and the small guest harbour hosts visitors from near and far in the summertime. Built around an old sawmill, Sahanlahti has a story or two to tell about its history.

It was a beautiful evening so, after dinner, I spent it admiring the steamboats on the dock as the night drew in.

One of the lodges at Sahanlati resort

The next morning, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. It was opera night!

Savonlinna Opera Festival is world-renowned for its opera, and it’s a big deal in Finland. I could see why. Every year, the month-long festival attracts around 70,000 people, of which about 7,000 are from abroad, to the medieval Olavinlinna Castle.

An hour drive brought us to the drawbridge of this incredible 15th century castle sat on its own island on the Kyrönsalmi strait that connects the lakes Haukivesi and Pihlajavesi. It is the northernmost medieval stone fortress still standing, has three towers, and makes a most surreal stage for the Savonlinna Opera Festival.

We started with a guided tour around the castle, seeing what went down backstage and front-of-house in preparation for the show. Skilled stage constructors were making the finishing touches on set, which was already a spectacle.

Romeo and Juliet at the Savolinna Opera Festival

Chambers dotted around the castle were transformed into hair, make-up and costume rooms. Performers would get ready and then run across the castle through narrow walkways, going up and down stone steps, to get to the stage in time for their line.

An hour before the show started, we boarded a small private yacht to enjoy some canapes, champagne, and a view of the lake, before being ferried around the castle to a very special entrance. We hopped off the boat and made our way to our seats.

The performance was Romeo and Juliet and, as you can expect, it was beautiful. To say the performers were talented was an understatement, it was the most spectacular show I have ever seen. During the interval, my group and I were invited to the VIP bar, don’t you know, and were served champagne and canapes on clever little trays.

One tray to hold them all

The next day, I got to Helsinki airport at around mid afternoon and it was time to go home - in style.

Forget duty free, I was on my way to Finnair’s premium business lounge, where an art-deco style bar and stunning buffet spread awaited me. I was greeted by the barman, who surprised me with a grapefruit gin and tonic made with ingredients from local Finnish farms and vendors. Just behind him was a cosy but luxury restaurant where there was the option to order a dish from the menu, one of which was a reindeer burger. I had to try it, and though I may be on Santa’s naughty list now, it was worth it.

Finnair's Platinum Lounge bar at Helsinki Airport

A special thanks to Visit Finland, Visit Saimaa, and Philas Resort for hosting me and creating an itinerary that showed what Finland, and its beautiful culture, is about. I returned home from Saimaa having seen a new world, and a new way of living. It was a life-changing experience which I would recommend to anyone, without a shadow of a doubt.

This wonderful trip was hosted by Visit Finland, Visit Saimaa, and Pihlas Resort where rates start from 595€ per night. For more information and to book, visit More information on Visit Saimaa can be found at

For more information on the world-renowned Savonlinna Opera Festival, visit Tickets start at 69€ each.

Return fares with Finnair from London to Helsinki start at £166 in Economy Class and £546 in Business Class, including all taxes and charges.

Finnair flies from London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh to Helsinki all year round – with their Heathrow service operating up to five times per day.

For more details and to book, visit or call 0330 8081188. More information on visiting Finland can be found at