We left Sweden at the end of April for Åland, an autonomous region of Finland in the southern Gulf of Bothnia. Highlights included the Maritime Safety Center in Mariehamn, the ruins of the massive Russian Fortress Bomarsund, and the beautiful island estate on Kokar. From Åland we continued west to Helsinki, where we spent a couple of weeks exploring that world-class city and also made ferry trips to visit historic Tallin, Estonia and spectacular St. Petersburg, Russia.
The real highlight of the summer, however, was our visit to Finland’s spectacular Great Saimaa Lakes system, a massive inland series of over 14,000 islands and 120 lakes interconnected by canals and locks that allow travel over 200 nautical miles north, with a coastline of 8,000 nautical miles. The lakes are accessible through the Saimaa Canal, a system of eight locks reaching up 250ft (76m) above sea level from the Baltic Sea. And if that’s not exciting enough, getting there involves navigating through Russia. As far as we know, Dirona is the first Nordhavn to make to trip through the Saimaa Canal to the lakes.
Besides beautiful scenery and complex coastlines to explore, within the Great Saimaa Lakes are several of the 27 “National Landscapes of Finland”, selected for their great symbolic value and cultural or historical significance. These include the famed Heinavesi route, a historic system of canals and locks built in the early 1900s; Punkaharju Ridge, a centuries-old travel route formed about 10,000 years ago when the continental glacier receded in eastern Finland; the Imatrankoski rapids, a tourist attraction since the late 1700s; and Olavinlinna castle, built starting in 1475 by the Swedish and now the site of the Savonlinna Opera Festival that annually draws about 60,000 visitors.
Dirona is spending July in Stockholm, enjoying another world-class city, then we’ll continue west across Sweden through the Gota Canal to explore the Swedish west coast before returning south for the winter.
Catch up on all of the Hamiltons’ adventures by visiting mvdirona.com