Midsummer Parties And Rare Seals: How To Experience The Magic Of Finnish Lakeland By E-bike

Saimaa is the largest of Finland’s 188,000 lakes. Here's how to enjoy its best parts in a day by e-bike.

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When I was first invited to cycle Finland’s Puumala Archipelago Ring Road, I eagerly accepted. Despite being a little rusty, I convinced myself that 60 kilometres on an e-bike would be a breeze. 

And it was - until 55 kilometres in. Despite rigorously conserving the battery for the final hills, the bike began to slow and jolt. Then, the horror: my battery suddenly died completely. Left by the roadside, I pushed the bike uphill, accompanied only by a few curious cows watching my slow progress. 

Although thoroughly enjoyable, my first cycling adventure in Saimaa Lakeland left a nagging feeling. I wanted to complete the whole 60-kilometre tour, not sit in a van with the bike in the boot for the last few kilometres. 

Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm back in the Saimaa region with my mum, aunt, dad and uncle - two e-bike pros and two complete novices.

Armed with a bag full of snacks and a thermos of coffee, I’m determined that this time we’ll conquer the Puumala Archipelago Ring Road in full.

How to plan an e-bike trip in Finland’s Saimaa Lakeland

Of Finland’s 188,000 lakes, Saimaa is the largest - and one of the most beautiful. Winding across islands, bridges and eskers, the circular Puumala Archipelago Route offers the best way to see it.

We hired our eLite bikes from Saimaa Bikes, which provides rentals in the area from €70 per day for adults, complete with helmets, first-aid kits and safety vests. 

They are delivered to our start point at Sahanlahti Resort - known for its stunning location on Saimaa’s shores and its award-winning local cuisine - right on time at 9am. After picking up a route map from the resort, we set off on our cycling adventure.

Along the cycle paths, you'll also find route markers and service stops to repair broken bikes.

Knowing the best pit stops from my previous trip, I choose a scenic spot for a late breakfast. Norppalaavu, a free lakeside lean-to shelter located 12 kilometres from Sahanlahti, has designated fire spots and toilet facilities (a wooden hut in the parking lot). 

I had imagined us leisurely sipping coffee and soaking in the views over Saimaa's glittering waters. But we get distracted by picturesque Puumala en route, with its wooden church and harbour marketplace.

Pressed for time to catch the midday bike ferry, our breakfast break at Norppalaavu is cut from thirty minutes to five.

How to access the Puumala Archipelago Ring Road

The Puumala Archipelago Route includes two ferry trips. Luckily, only one of them pits you against the clock.

If you cycle the ring road clockwise, the first ferry is the year-round Hätinvirta car ferry, which takes passengers to the island of Niinisaari every 20 minutes. From here, a 16-kilometre road passes farmlands and crosses bridges to another island, Lintusalo. 

Here, the route's second ferry departs from Nestorinranta Resort and is exclusively for bike and motorbike passengers. This ferry operates once per day from June to August, so it’s important to check the timetable so you don’t miss the connection.

Tickets can be bought online or on the ferry. Since it can only accommodate 20 passengers, pre-booking is recommended, especially on sunny days. A ticket, including your bike, costs €18, and the ferry crossing takes 40 minutes. 

Scenic ferry rides and seal-spotting

Sitting on the ferry and enjoying the serene views of the Puumala Archipelago showcases some of Finland’s best parts.

The Saimaa area has been the Finns’ favourite location for summer cottages for decades, but in recent years international tourists have started to find the calm and relatively cool summer spot, too. In 2024, Saimaa Lakeland was awarded the title of European Region of Gastronomy, which is expected to boost visitor numbers further. 

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“Most foreign visitors come from Switzerland,” says Pirjo Kapanen, who operates the bike ferry with her husband. “But really, there are cyclists from all over Europe coming here during summer.” 

On my previous trip around the ring road, I spotted my first Saimaa ringed seal on this ferry. This time, there are no seals or their pups on the rocks. But, Kapanen, who was born by the shores of Lake Saimaa, points out a smooth rock poking out of the lake as the ferry passes it. Locals call it ‘Härkähylkeenpää’ - the head of a male seal - because it could be mistaken for a giant one.

In fact, the endangered seals - named for the small circle patterns that dapple their fur - are a big part of Saimaa’s identity. Once near extinction, the seal population has grown since the 1990s due to vigorous conservation campaigns. Today, there are some 400 ringed seals swimming in Saimaa’s lakes. 

My cycling trip ended with Midsummer memories

After the ferry docks at the tiny Hurissalo harbour, it's a 15-kilometre ride, first on gravel and then on asphalt, to the route's final highlight: Lietvesi Scenic Road, which winds from one little islet to another. 

Just after this comes the newly opened Pistohiekka Resort. With a lakeside sauna and restaurant, the property’s sandy beach was once a popular spot for legendary Midsummer parties.

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“But that was in the 70s, before punk music ruined it all,” my father reminisces as we finally have all the time in the world to enjoy a cup of coffee in a scenic lay-by. The same spot where we used to stop on our family road trips around Saimaa with a van.

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