Imatra is located right beside the Russian border. The border is only 8 kilometres away from our hosts´ house. Susanna and Miika took us to see the border crossing. It is a bit shame that we don´t have our visas that would allow us to go over and visit Svetogorsk. Over 1 million people go across the border every year right here.
Imatra is a simple and an ordinary Finnish little town. There is not much to see, but still a lot of russian tourist visit Imatra every day. That makes this small town survive a lot better than many other similar towns in the East of Finland. Russian tourists love to shop in Finland. They buy a lot of clothes, groceries and electronics.
Also many finnish people visit Russia. Many citizens of Imatra and the nearby villages drive to Svetogorsk to buy especially gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol, which are a lot cheaper in Russia than in Finland.
Imatra was russian tourists´ favourite place already a long time ago. The River Vuoksi and Imatrankoski Rapids were a major attractions already in the 1800´s. The most beautiful builging in this town is Valtionhotelli. It looks like a castle from the Alps rather than a Finnish hotel. It was built in 1903 and became popular amongst the wealthy people of St. Petersburg. At that time Finland was still a part of Russia.
During the World War I this castle-like hotel became a hospital for the wounded soldiers. Finland became independent in 1917 and was separated from Russia. That made the toursim fade here. But after the World War II this building turned into a hotel again and it was restaurated carefully in the 1980´s. Now it is a successful hotel, restaurant and a spa.
Tourism however is not the most important business in Imatra. This town has been living from paper industry for ages. We went to see the paper mill of Stora Enso. It was built in the 1930´s and it still is the biggest employer in Imatra. In this factory they produce paper and carton 24 hours a day. And you sure can smell it!