Savonlinna Opera Festival – Lake District, Finland

An Island Castle Offers Opera Under the Stars – and the Midnight Sun

Finland is a land of lakes (with close to 188,000 of them), coastal inlets, and rivers, from the Saimaa Lake District near the Russian border to the gulf of Bothnia in the west. It is also one of the most heavily wooded regions on earth – the interlocking network of lakes, surrounded by dense forests of pine and birch trees, creating a vision of pristine nature rarely seen anywhere.

Set amid gorgeous scenery, the town of Savonlinna occupies three islands in Lake Saimaa, on the eastern edge of the Lake District. Long a spa destination for the Russian czars and their retinues, since 1912 the town has been more famous for its opera festival, the most important in northern Europe, held annually in the courtyard of the 15th-century Olavinlinna Castle.

A well-preserved island fortress built to repel attacks from the east, and now connected by a bridge to the mainland, the castle provides one of the most evocative settings of any outdoor music festival, enhanced by the long hours of shim­mering late-day light.

For atmosphere and setting today, there is just one choice of lodging for those seeking to prolong the magic of an evening’s opera per­formance: the Hotel Rauhalinna. Built in 1897 by a general in the czar’s army, it was a lacy Moorish/Victorian fantasy gift for his wife.

Set on the lake and reachable by road or boat from Savonlinna harbor, it is a deservedly popular treat. Try its well-known “Buffet of the Czars” lunch or, at the very least, find respite at its café with lovely lake views.

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