Loviisa: The Town

In the center of the city of Loviisa, Uusimaa Region, Finland

Finland Odds and Ends: Southeasternmost Finland; Moronvuori at Valkmusa
Ruotsinpyhtää: The Ironworks
Ruotsinpyhtää: Kukuljärvi Trail
Loviisa: The Town
Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress
Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

Loviisa (Swedish spelling: Lovisa) is a Finnish town in the east of the capital region, 90 km east of Helsinki, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, about halfway between Helsinki and Russian border; a rather small one, with the population of about 15,000.  Of the four cities along the National Road 7, commonly passed by Russian tourists (including myself) on their way to Helsinki, Loviisa is the smallest, and likely the least often visited.  For me it was the closest Finnish town where I had never been before, so that’s why I decided to choose this destination in first place.

Loviisa was founded in 1748, soon after the Russo-Swedish War of Hats (1741-1743).  In the period between the Great Northern War (1700-1721) and the War of Hats Sweden, for some reason, mostly ignored the question of defense of its Finnish territory, despite having just lost a good chunk of it (including Vyborg) to Russia.  The War of Hats was revanchist in nature, and apparently Sweden assumed it would generally be on the offensive side in that war.  Well, they were mistaken, and another chunk of Finnish land, including fortresses of Lappeenranta, Hamina, and Savonlinna fell to Russian hands.

Thus Sweden was in a great hurry to build some new fortresses: Sveaborg and Svartholm.  Sveaborg, near the (then very minor) town of Helsinki, was to be the great impregnable fleet base; it is currently also known as Suomenlinna, and is the best known attraction of Helsinki.  The much smaller Svartholm was to be the new frontier fortress, replacing Hamina (Fredriskhamn) in that role.  The construction of both fortresses started in 1748, under the command of Field Marshal Augustin Ehrensvärd.

Ehrensvärd actually intended to construct both sea and coastal frontier fortresses.  The coastal one, intended to protect the King’s Road (main Turku — Vyborg highway of the time) and named Degerby, however was never fully completed.  Sweden lacked the funds to finish all their fortresses.  For that matter, the modest-sized sea fortress was also never finished, although at least it looked formidable enough.

A town naturally sprung up at Degerby together with the fortress.  In 1752, the town and the fortress of Degerby were renamed to Lovisa, after Queen Louise Ulrika, wife of King Adolf Frederick.  The king (actually installed at the Russian insistence in 1751, as the previous king died childless), was a nice but fairly harmless guy, and Louise Ulrika overshadowed him a lot; a powerful woman relentlessly trying to increase the royal power, as Sweden at the moment was a constitutional monarchy and the King’s powers were rather limited (a really novel idea for the time).  So unlike the king she was utterly hated by pretty much anyone, but in the end her son Gustav III managed to restore absolute monarchy for some decades.

Lovisa (spelled Loviisa in Finnish) coastal fortress never saw any military action, while Svartholm served as Swedish base in Gustav III’s War of 1788-1790 which ended in a draw.  In the Finnish War of 1808-1809 the unfinished and ill-equipped fortress was besieged by the Russians and quickly surrendered.  The coastal fortress fell into disrepair, while Svartholm was used as a prison for a while, and then was destroyed in the Crimean War of 1854-1856 by the British fleet.  Luckily enough was left that both fortresses were eventually partially restored and currently are the primary attractions of Loviisa.

Loviisa the town burned down in the great fire of 1855, as so many of the old wooden Nordic towns did.  Some quarters did survive the fire though.  The new town was built slightly to the southwest of the fortress.

Modern Loviisa is a nice cozy coastal town.  It is very much bilingual, with 54% Finnish and 43% Swedish speakers.  Not much happens here but it’s a pleasure to look at and to walk around.  Probably its two biggest enterprises are the cargo port of Valko (specializing mostly in wood exports), and the nuclear power station.  The fortresses are its main sights, and I visited both of them, but first let’s have a look at the town itself.

Loviisa is located in the easternmost part of Uusimaa, the capital region of Finland.  Loviisa along with the city of Porvoo used to belong to Eastern Uusimaa (Itä-Uusimaa) region, which existed from 1998 to 2011, and the signs on some government buildings etc. still refer to Eastern Uusimaa.  This to date has been the only major change in the Finnish region (maakunta) system since it was first formalized in 1994.  (A county (lääni) system existed before, coexisting with region system for some years, and was abolished altogether since 2010.)

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Ruotsinpyhtää: Kukuljärvi Trail

Water lily pads in Kukuljärvi Lake in the woods of Loviisa Municipality, Uusimaa Region, Finland

Finland Odds and Ends: Southeasternmost Finland; Moronvuori at Valkmusa
Ruotsinpyhtää: The Ironworks
Ruotsinpyhtää: Kukuljärvi Trail
Loviisa: The Town
Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress
Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

Kukuljärvi (also known as Skukulträsket in Swedish, which is also commonly used in Loviisa area) is a small forest lake to the southwest of Ruosinpyhtää.  Its shores are a minor natural protected area.  A 8 km circular hiking trail goes from Ruotsinpyhtää to Kukuljärvi and back, and is one of the most popular hiking trails of Loviisa Municipality.  Loviisa is not a very big municipality, in territory as well as population, and does not have any national parks or other major hiking areas, but Kukuljärvi is actually pretty nice.  It’s been a while since I’ve last been in the Finnish forests, so after I explored the heritage ironworks in Ruotsinpyhtää I walked back to the car, put on my hiking shoes, and set out.

The trail is documented on the Loviisa Municipality website, in Finnish only, but there’s really only a map anyway.  The trail is well-visible throughout its entire length and well-marked, which is a good thing as the map isn’t really detailed enough to find your way in the woods.  It has a few relatively steep spots but overall should be easily walkable by nearly anyone.  Very few muddy parts as well, at least in reasonably dry weather.

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Ruotsinpyhtää: The Ironworks

Forging demonstration at Strömfors Ironworks, Ruotsinpyhtää Village, Loviisa Municipality, Uusimaa Region, Finland

Finland Odds and Ends: Southeasternmost Finland; Moronvuori at Valkmusa
Ruotsinpyhtää: The Ironworks
Ruotsinpyhtää: Kukuljärvi Trail
Loviisa: The Town
Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress
Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

Ruotsinpyhtää or Strömfors is a village in Loviisa Municipality in Uusimaa (capital region), Finland.  Located about 20 km away from the town of Loviisa, it is notable as the site of old ironworks, which now operates as a museum.

The ironworks was originally founded in 1698 by some baron Johan Creutz.  In 1743 Sweden lost the War of Hats to Russia, and a new border was drawn along Ahvenkoski (Finn. Perch Rapids), the western lower arm of Kymi River.  The old parish of Pyhtää was split in two, and its western part eventually became known as Ruotsinpyhtää: Swedish Pyhtää.  Soon after the war, the ironworks was bought by Anders Nohrström and Jakob Forsell, local merchants.  They greatly expanded operations, and named the ironworks Strömfors (Swed. something like Current Rapids, but actually a made-up word from their surnames).  Forsell eventually became knighted (and got an “af” in his surname), and his dynasty owned Strömfors up until 1886.  The golden age of Strömfors was under Virginia af Forselles, who owned and managed the ironworks itself from 1790 up until her death in 1847.  Most of the surviving Strömfors buildings date to Virginia’s era.  She was intimately familiar with the ironworks operations, paid generous salaries, and was greatly respected by the workers who called her “Her Grace”.

Strömfors was bought in 1886 by Antti Ahlström, the founder of one of the biggest Scandinavian manufacturing companies.  In 1947, a new electric and plastic accessories factory was founded nearby by Ahlström; it was later sold to Schneider Electric, and was shut down in 2014.  Meanwhile the old ironworks was shut down in 1950, and later was converted into a museum where you can get familiar with how it all used to work.  There are restaurants, small craft shops, and galleries.  The whole thing reminds me of Verla cardboard factory, which, conincidentally, was also an old factory powered by the Kymi River, significantly upstream of Ruotsinpyhtää.  Although Verla might be a bit larger.

As far as I understood Strömfors didn’t actually smelt its own iron, working on imported Swedish metal instead.  Thus it does not have any blast furnaces, which I didn’t know beforehand and which made me slightly disappointed.  It was purely a metalworking operation.

Ruotsinpyhtää ironworks is one of the main sights of Loviisa municipality (it used to be the center of its own municipality, but was consolidated to Loviisa since 2010).  It is signposted from the main Road 7 (Ruotsinpyhtää Ruukki/Strömfors Bruk) and easily accessible by car.  The place is worth visiting mainly on summer weekends, when it gets full of life (you can see the detailed opening days at their website, only in Finnish though).  Loviisa tourist website claimed that on the day when I got there Kymi River Festival was held in Ruotsinpyhtää.  I didn’t see anything to do with Kymi River in particular but the place was certainly crowded by Finnish standards.

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Finland Odds and Ends: Southeasternmost Finland; Moronvuori at Valkmusa

Kananiemensuo Mire as seen from Moronvuori Rock, Valkmusa National Park, Pyhtää Municipality, Kymenlaakso Region, Finland

Finland Odds and Ends: Southeasternmost Finland; Moronvuori at Valkmusa
Ruotsinpyhtää: The Ironworks
Ruotsinpyhtää: Kukuljärvi Trail
Loviisa: The Town
Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress
Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

I took a weekend trip to Finland in early August.  I was abroad for the first time since my 5.5 week long vacation in Northern Sweden and Norway in May-June which, of course, I still have to write about someday; I’m not even finished with sorting the pictures from that trip yet.  I have a pretty huge backlog of trip reports, actually, but hopefully things will become easier with my reworked blog.

I chose Loviisa, a town on the southern coast of Finland, as my primary destination, but I also intended to see Svartholm fortress and Ruotsinpyhtää iron works and hiking trail.  But first of all I wanted to do something which I’d been thinking about for some weeks: going to the southeasternmost accessible point of Finland.

By this, I mean the point where the Finnish-Russian border starts at the Gulf of Finland.  There is of course a restricted zone near the border, which is mostly a few hundred meters to a few kilometers thick on the Finnish side.  It cannot be visited without a special permit, and is monitored by the border guards service.  This zone is clearly marked and there is no danger in wandering there by accident if you pay some attention.

So according to the topographic map, the southeasternmost point without restrictions (the restricted area is marked with violet shading here) is a sandbar appropriately named Hiekkasaari (Finn. Sandy Island), about 450 m from the actual border, and there is some sort of road going there:

To save you the suspense, no, I couldn’t visit Hiekkasaari.  Drove all the way to the last fork in the road, but the final part was marked as private area (Yksityisalue — a useful Finnish word to know) and I couldn’t go there.  Well, at least now I know.

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Savonlinna

Olavinlinna Castle in the town of Savonlinna, Southern Savo Region, Finland

Savonlinna (Finn. Savonian Fortress, after Savo province of Finland), population 35,000 is, in my opinion, one of the nicest of the smaller Finnish towns.  Located on islands in Saimaa Lake, and basically surrounded by water from all sides, it is incredibly cozy and beautiful.  Furthermore, it has a fairly big attraction, the medieval castle of Olavinlinna, one of the very few medieval castles preserved in Finland in mostly original shape.

Savonlinna is located in Southern Savo (Etelä-Savo) region of Finland, somewhat in the middle of Imatra-Joensuu-Varkaus triangle.  This part of Finland is basically a maze of lakes, and most of Savonlinna is located on a few islands in a strait between two expanses of Saimaa lake system.  It can be reached via National Road 14 from Juva (branching from Road 5, from the general direction of Helsinki), or from Parikkala (branching from Road 6, from the general direction of Russia).  Savonlinna is fairly close to Russian border (120 km from Svetogorsk-Imatra border crossing checkpoint) and thus is a common destination for Russians on weekend trips.

Savonlinna should not be confused with Suomenlinna, a sea fortress in Helsinki, and probably Helsinki’s best known sight.  I know I used to confuse them some years ago 🙂

So far I’ve been to Savonlinna twice, and these pictures are from a weekend trip with friends in November 2015.

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Joensuu

Ilosaari Island on Pielisjoki River in central Joensuu, Northern Karelia Region, Finland

Joensuu (Finn. River Mouth) is a Finnish city of about 75,000, and the capital of Finnish Northern Karelia (Pohjois-Karjala) region.  The eponymous river is Pielisjoki, which flows from Pielinen Lake into Saimaa lake system.  Joensuu was founded in 1848 as a center for commerce, and throughout its history, well, nothing really particularly important ever happened here.  So this isn’t the most exciting city ever, even by Finnish standards.  Still, it’s quite nice as all Finnish cities are, and probably worth a look if you happen to be nearby and got some time to spare.  Probably not actually worth a trip by itself (although the region of Northern Karelia is quite interesting, probably the coolest Finnish region after Lapland of course).

I mostly know Joensuu as the first city on the way north (into Lapland and the like) when driving from Russian border, a 200 km drive on Finnish Road 6 after the border towns of Lappeenranta and Imatra.  The first time I actually visited Joensuu was in late October 2015.  Yeah, I’m starting to post some pretty old stuff here.  Well actually I’m finishing a draft I began back in April 2016 mostly just to get a feel for my new blog workflow with WordPress.  So far it feels fairly nice!

When going from St. Petersburg to Joensuu or father to the north of Finland, it is possible to pick an alternate route, not via the traditional Scandinavia Route and Lappeenranta/Imatra, but via Sortavala Route through Russian towns of Priozersk, Lahdenpohja, and Sortavala, and Vyartsilya/Niirala border crossing checkpoint.  This option is slightly shorter than the usual one, but the fraction of the route going on Russian roads is much greater.  The roads themselves are of questionable quality, with a short gravel section after Priozersk, and generally really winding between Lahdenpohja and Sortavala.  Nonetheless, the traffic is much lighter and safer than on the Scandinavia Route (excluding the section closest to St. Petersburg, but nearly all of it has already been rebuilt with near-motorway quality).  I wrote about Sortavala Route in more detail in this post (available only in Russian).  The road continues to be improved and some details from that post are already obsolete.

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