Above all else, progress in transportation has most influenced Punkaharju’s accessibility. While in the mid-1800s people came to Punkaharju mainly by horseback or horse carriage, beginning from the 1880s you could also reach the area by steam boat. In 1906 a train connection was opened between Elisenvaara and Punkaharju, which significantly increased the accessibility of the national landscape and the State Hotel to visitors.
The road between Olavinlinna and Vyborg ran through Punkaharju. At both ends of the esker, in Tuunaansalmi and Punkasalmi, cable ferries assured access to the mainland. Couriers speeding on horseback along the esker had to constantly evade slow-moving traffic, such as farmers with their carriages and livestock. The first travelers in the 1840s came to Punkaharju by horse carriage.
By Steamboat to the State Hotel
Steamboat traffic on Lake Pihlajavesi increased in the 1880s, when authorities marked the first waterways between Savonlinna and Punkaharju. From the aspect of tourism, the waterways were significant as you could travel to Savonlinna from St. Petersburg through Vyborg and the Saimaa channel, and continue on to Punkaharju, either by road or boat. An increasing number of two-storied Saimaa steamboats appeared at the State Hotel pier, from where a horse carriage would carry travelers and their luggage up to the hotel.
The steamboat maintained its position for quite a long time in the competition between road and railway transport. Shallow-draft steamboats sailed from pier-to-pier through the labyrinthine and, at places, very shallow water of Lake Pihlajavesi, picking up travelers and all sorts of freight. According to the newspapers, S/S Punkaharju, S/S Heinävesi and S/S Don Juan ran regularly on the route between Savonlinna and Punkaharju.
From Elisenvaara to Punkaharju and Savonlinna
Opening of the railway in November 1906 represented a major development in Punkaharju tourism. Now, for example, a Russian tourist could board the train from the Finland station in St. Petersburg, then in Vyborg switch to the Carelia railroad and travel through Kamennogorsk to Elisenvaaara, and from there board the train to Savonlinna. At first there was a connection only to Punkaharju, but starting from February 1980 the railway took travelers all the way to Savonlinna. The tedious and slow steamboat trip from St. Petersburg through the Saimaa channel to Savonlinna and Punkaharju was significantly expedited. Travel within Finland was also revitalized thanks to the new railway connection.
A grand art nouveau-style railway station designed by Bruno Granholm was built in Punkaharju. At the time, train stations were classified into 5 categories according to their location and amount of traffic. Size and architecture of the station building was standard for each category and the Punkaharju station represents a category 4 station. It contained a grand waiting hall and at the beginning there was a post office in the station. A Stationmaster’s and station workers’ houses were built beside the station. In 1994, the Punkaharju station was renamed “Lusto” because of the Forest museum, which was built near the station.
Travel on the railway was very busy from the beginning and in addition to freight trains, several passenger trains ran daily. Travelers took a horse carriage to the hotel and some of them continued on to the Takaharju sanatorium (opened in 1903) to visit friends or family. In 1914 another hotel, Finlandia, opened in Punkaharju. Hotel Finlandia was just a short walking distance from the railway station.
Automobile Traffic Takes Over
Beginning from the 1920s, automobile traffic grew steadily. The national road authorities in charge of maintaining the esker road built the road at its current location in 1930. At the same time, the road was widened so that vehicles could safely meet oncoming traffic. Still, only a few of the hotel visitors came in their own cars, while most guests came by train or bus. It has only been since the 1960s that most of the State Hotel visitors have arrived in their own cars.