The Republic of Karelia stretches from not far north of St Petersburg to the Arctic Circle - more than half of it is forest, and fully a quarter is water, including nearly all of Lake Onega and half of Lake Ladoga, the two largest lakes in Europe. Apart from the lovely capital, Petrozavodsk, it's the rivers, lakes and islands that provide Karelia's main appeal - and Kizhi island in Lake Onega, with its fairy-tale wooden architecture, is not to be missed.
The region known historically as Karelia, which also includes parts of southeastern Finland, has long been contested by Russia, Finland and Sweden. Between WWI and WWII the southwest of the Republic of Karelia was in Finland, and during WWII Nazi-supported Finland occupied much of the Republic including Petrozavodsk. Many ethnic Karelians (a Finno-Ugric people related to the Finns, Estonians and others) fled to Finland when the Soviet Union recaptured this territory in 1944, and Karelians form only about 10% of the Republic of Karelia's population of 720, 000 today.