Sunning itself on the banks of Finland’s largest lake, Lappeenranta is the veteran soldier who has endured and enjoyed the wild swings of fortune familiar to all Karelians. Much of the town was destroyed during the Winter and Continuation Wars, but its massive fortress lends it historical weight. Today it’s a popular (shopping) destination for Russians, particularly those with Karelian heritage, and is famous for its summer sandcastle, the largest in Scandinavia.
Once famous for its scarlet-clad garrison, the 17th-century ‘Cavalry City’ was a humming trade port at the edge of the Swedish empire. In 1743, it fell under Russian control where it remained for the next 68 years, becoming a spa town and playground for Russia’s wealthy.
Russian still owns half of the 43km Saimaa Canal, Finland’s most important waterway, which links Lappeenranta to the Gulf of Finland. It’s currently ‘on loan’ to Finland until 2063 – popular day trips run through its eight locks and on to Lappeenranta’s lost sister town, Vyborg.