Tarulinna, Russia

Photo: Sortavalan_saaristoa.jpg: Yoneh at fi.wikipediaderivative work: Igriks (Sortavalan_saaristoa.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Spring has finally arrived on the lakes in Karelia. It takes a lot longer in Northern Europe. But the ice that recently choked the water has melted. Waterfalls have become powerful and noisy in the process. Bright primroses blanket the shore. Perch, pike, and carp bream are biting. Plus, most importantly, adult Ladoga ringed seals are molting, and their pups are starting to get more adventurous and playful in the chilly water.

Karelia is the land that lies between the White and Baltic Seas along the border of Finland and Russia. The region has been ruled by both countries, as well as Sweden, over the years. It’s now divided into a Russian republic, a Russian oblast, and a Finnish region. It’s hard to tell the difference once you’re there. All of the land is covered with pine forests, lakes, and rivers. Much of it has been protected as national parks. While most people know it as a peaceful escape from the cities—especially St. Petersburg.

You’re escaping to Lake Ladoga. The freshwater lake is the largest lake that sits entirely in Europe. In the Middle Ages, it sat along the trade route that connected the Varangians (Vikings) to the Eastern Roman Empire. The Valaam Monastery, an Eastern Orthodox place of worship, was established on the lake’s largest island at the end of the 14th century. Fortresses, quarries (granite and marble), and rocky shores line the lake. Your destination is a little hotel near the northern tip.

Photo: Dacha Wintera

Dacha Wintera (Winter’s Cottage) was built in the early 20th century by a surgeon, Dr. Gustav Winter, who loved to garden. He planted rare flowers, from all over the world, in between the lake and the pine forests. The beautifully landscaped property was eventually turned into a hotel after both his death and World War II. Its North Art Nouveau building features Ladoga rubble stones at the base of its massive columns. Wooden shingles, granite staircases, and leaf wreaths decorate it, too. Modern rooms, townhouses, and cottages spread out and form a little village from there. Large windows and neutral colors make each a relaxing escape. The spacious balconies overlooking the water don’t hurt either.

Your two favorites spots on the property quickly become the Gustav Winter Restaurant and the steam hut. The restaurant has a Scandinavian vibe with a glass-walled fireplace and a panoramic view of the lake. Trout baked with honey and hazelnuts is the first dish to try on the menu. The steam rooms sit right on the lake. It features wood-stove heaters and a cozy relaxation room. There’s a rope park to walk between the trees, bikes to explore the wooded paths, and fishing poles to practice your casting, as well.

Or you can just sit along the water and watch the flowers pop open. Karelia seems to be getting prettier and more colorful with each passing moment. Spring is in full bloom now.

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