An 18th-century town, 220 mi/355 km northeast of Helsinki on beautiful Lake Kallavesi, Kuopio is an ideal starting point for a visit to Finland's lake region. It's well worth a two-night visit to see the Russian Orthodox church (icons, religious artifacts), spectacular scenery, the Kuopio Museum (excellent history and wildlife displays), the local market and, if you're there in mid-June, the music and dance festival. For terrific views of the area, head to the observation tower on Puijo Hill—you'll be able to appreciate the scale of the lake-filled landscape. Kuopio is also the place to try the regional kalakukko, a breaded pie with fish and pork baked inside.

Kuopio offers easy access to such extreme sports as bungee jumping, mountain biking and rock climbing. Head for Rauhalahti on the edge of the city to watch demonstrations of the almost-dead art of lumberjack log rolling and to sample the world's biggest smoke sauna, a social event for locals as well as intrepid tourists. Finns and tourists alike also enjoy the local cruises on Lake Kallavesi to see the nearby Valamo Monastery and Lintula Convent or to attend the Savonlinna opera festival (July). We recommend a stop halfway between Kuopio and Savonlinna at a small inn on the lake called Wirran Wietava (Caught in the Rapids) that has cabins with saunas and boats.

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