Likeable LAPPEENRANTA (Villmanstrand in Swedish) provides an excellent first taste of the eastern Lake Region, conveniently sited on the main rail line between Helsinki and Joensuu and along all the eastern bus routes. It's a small, slow-paced town where summer evenings find most of the population strolling around the linden tree-lined harbour. Once holding a key position on the Russian border, Lappeenranta boasts historical features that its neighbouring towns don't share, and provides an eye-opening introduction to political conflicts that not only affected medieval Finland but also had an impact on recent generations.
It's a twenty-minute walk from the train station, and ten minutes from the bus station, through the town centre to the harbour, where the main activity is strolling and snacking from the numerous stands selling the local specialities – spicy meat pastries called vetyjä and atomeja. If you're feeling more energetic, climb the steep path on the harbour's western side, which brings you to the top of the town's old earthen ramparts and into the Russian-built fortress area, where Lappeenranta's past soon becomes apparent. Its origins as a trading centre reach back to the mid-seventeenth century, but it was with the westward shift of the Russian border in 1721 that the town found itself at the front line of Russian– Swedish conflicts. After the Peace of Turku in 1743, the border was again moved, this time leaving Lappeenranta inside Russian territory. Subsequently, a garrison of the tsar's army arrived and, by 1775, had erected most of the stone buildings of the fortress, which sits on the short headland that forms the western wall of the harbour.