Tucked away on a rocky ridge is a Finnish gem. You have a hint that Retretti is something special when the slow train to Savonlinna pauses there.
This is a minor single track railway, and the unstaffed station at Retretti is as small as they come. On the platform stands an oversized sculpture, an apt welcome to a community, hidden away amid the lakes and forests, that is utterly devoted to art.
The Art Centre
The Retretti Art Centre is in the premier league of European galleries. And it is unique in that the majority of its display space is underground in a series of caves.
It is a chance to immerse oneself in art in a space that is distanced from the here-and-now. Over the years the Retretti summer exhibitions have featured such celebrated artists as Ilya Repin and Marc Chagall.
The 2011 season
Retretti’s 2011 season kicked off last week with a summer program featuring artist-couples from the mid-19th to the early-20th century, so covering the heyday of Finnish Romanticism through to early Modernism. “Masters and their spouses,” you might say for in most cases it was the husband who enjoyed the premier reputation of the two.
Also at Retretti this summer are lithographs of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comic strip, a children’s art workshop with African flavors and many other displays and installations. In a sneak preview last month, we were especially impressed by glassware from the avant-garde Kyösti Kakkosen collection and the striking photographic installations of Maija Pirilä and Petri Nuutinen.
Retretti stays open until August 28. Art apart, the surrounding lake and forest landscape is magnificent. If you are bound for Savonlinna, famous for its summer opera festival, then definitely make a stop at Retretti. It is four hours by train from Helsinki to Retretti, and from there just a further half hour on to Savonlinna. There is also a useful boat connection from Retretti to Savonlinna that operates when the arts center is open.
Where to stay
As to accommodation, you will find more choice in Savonlinna than immediately around Retretti. When we were in the area last month, we stayed at the Hotel Hospitz on the shore of the lake in Savonlinna. Get one of the lake-view rooms with a balcony if you can (they only have two). It is a first-class location, just a short walk to Savonlinna’s imposing castle.
Savonlinna in summer is Finland at its very best. Throw in Retretti too, and you have a first-class destination.
The train journey from Helsinki to Retretti and Savonlinna is a very fine introduction to Finland. At one point it skirts the Russian border. But if it sounds too remote, Savonlinna does have its own airport, with Finncomm Airlines offering twice daily direct air service from Helsinki in just 85 minutes.
And the fast-growing regional airport at Lappeenranta, less than two hours by train from Savonlinna, is served by a direct link from Riga with Air Baltic, with connections at Riga to and from over fifty other cities.