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Saimaa, an extensive lake district in eastern Finland, has thousands of islands and straits and lots of blue water. It's a land of small villages, vacation centers, and welcoming people, wrapped in the peace and quiet of the wilderness.

From Lappeenranta, one of the centers of the Finnish lake region, you can book cruises lasting anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days in the southern part of Lake Saimaa, or take a cruise to the Saimaa Canal and see the Russian border. In this region, you can do everything from fish with a seine and cook your catch over a campfire to windsurf.

Savonlinna is in the center of the Saimaa lake district in southeastern Finland, between Haapavesi to the north and Pihlajavesi to the south. From here you can take a boat trip to other towns on Lake Saimaa.

Tampere, Finland's second-largest city, is also set in a geographic area of numerous lakes. A center of culture, tourism, and commerce, Tampere and its surrounding Pirkanmaa region are known for its vast waterways and forests.

Each of the major centers in the lake district can be reached from Helsinki on a driving tour. Allow a minimum of 4 days up to a complete week (if you plan to take day excursions on the lakes). You can explore all these cities by making a wide arch from Helsinki, heading first to the east near the Russian border and then circling across the country with a final stopover in Tampere. From Tampere, it's an easy drive south back to Helsinki.