A massive structure of rough-hewn granite rising from a rocky islet, the castle at Savonlinna is the largest in Scandinavia. It was built in 1475 and frequently re-fortified during the next three centuries, for this was border country: Nordic occupancy alternated with Russian until modern times.
Opera has been performed here in the courtyard since 1912, so it even pre-dates Verona as a festival in a spectacular historic setting. During the last couple of decades its artistic achievements have placed this festival among the best in the world, yet its unlikely and rather inaccessible location keeps the number of international visitors well below what it deserves.
The courtyard is backed by a starkly beautiful wall of rough mediaeval masonry: its huge gateway and precipitous staircase make a wonderful setting for productions of operas. Musically, the acoustically-designed temporary roof allows both intimate scenes and vast choral ensembles to sound at their best. In all three performances, the Savonlinna Festival Orchestra and Choir – picked from among the best instrumentalists and singers in Scandinavia – will have the greatest opportunities to show their strength.
The lake district of eastern Finland is an area of gently beguiling beauty. Thousands of inter-connected lakes meet forests of birch and pine at an incredibly convoluted shoreline, the pattern varied with scattered patches of pasture and arable land neatly arranged around timber farmsteads. The scenery and pure air provide a restful and refreshing foil to nights at the opera.
Visits include a guided tour of the castle at Savonlinna; a boat trip through beautiful lakeland scenery; a visit to the Punkaharju nature reserve and the Finnish Forest Museum; and the largest wooden church in the world (1840s) in Kerimäki.
Fly at c. 09.50am from London Gatwick to Helsinki (Norweigan Air) and drive on to Savonlinna.
After a morning lecture, take a boat through beautiful lakeland scenery. In the afternoon, visit the castle of St Olaf at Savonlinna by guided tour. Evening opera: Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini). Frédéric Chaslin (conductor); soloists include Laura Verrecchia, Ville Rusanen, Alexey Tatarintsev, Raffaele Raffio, Shavleg Armasi, Päivi Pylvänäinen, Joonas Asikainen.
Visit the Punkaharju nature reserve and the Finnish Forest Museum. In the afternoon, drive to Kerimäki, the largest wooden church in the world (1840s). Evening opera: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Mozart). Kalle Kuusava (conductor); soloists include Elena Gorshunova, Claire de Sévigné, Jussi Myllys, Jonathan Winell, Petri Lindroos, Sebastian Wirnitzer.
Drive from Savonlinna to Helsinki and fly to London Gatwick, arriving at Heathrow at c. 6.10pm.
Dr John Allison
Editor of Opera magazine and music critic for The Daily Telegraph. He was born in South Africa and completed his PhD degree while playing the piano and working as assistant organist at Cape Town cathedral. Since moving to London in 1989 he has written for publications around the world, authored two books, contributed chapters to several other volumes and served on the juries of many international competitions. He has also held positions as music critic on The Sunday Telegraph and the Times.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,160 or £1,950 without flights.
Single occupancy: £2,440 or £2,230 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with Norweigan Air (aircraft: Boeing 737-800); travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets for 2 operas are included, costing c. £315.
Sokos Hotel Seurahuone, located by the lake in Savonlinna, this functional hotel is the best in town. It is basic but adequately equipped and with modern facilities. All rooms (including rooms for single occupancy) have twin beds.
Access to the castle and the forest walk would be difficult with impaired walking. Average distance by coach per day: 14 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'Our lecturer was extremely knowledgeable and interesting – both in lectures and socially.'
'Dinner in the castle was super – so atmospheric.'
'Good restaurants and an outstanding experience to dine in the castle.'
'Another excellent Martin Randall tour!'
'I am not prone to writing excellent as there are usually small disappointments, however on this occasion I felt it was the only way to describe the holiday.'
'Really enjoyable – very impressive orchestra and chorus. The soloists were maginificent.'
'The operas were amazing – very impressive soloists.'
'Operas very spectacular in the castle setting…most enjoyable.'