Saimaa region is 2024’s must-taste!

Saimaa region is 2024’s must-taste!

5 February 2024Foodies of the world sit up and take note: the Saimaa region in Finland will be 2024’s must-visit and must-taste! With a perfect take-off, Saimaa’s programme as European Region of Gastronomy 2024 awarded by IGCAT, officially spread its wings on 2-4 February with a memorable weekend highlighting local food and culture. Under the theme Taste Saimaa, the region launched an eventful calendar to celebrate its title year and deservedly position itself on the international gastronomy map.

The weekend opened with a seminar held at Kehruuhuone, in Lappeenranta on 2 February, inviting perspectives from both Finnish and international experts, including representatives from other awarded and candidate World and European Regions of Gastronomy.

The first session, titled Saimaa with all the senses: a delicious union of food, culture and traditions, was held in Finnish and moderated by Sari Kaasinen, Project Manager of Saimaa, European Region of Gastronomy 2024. Ambassador for Culture and Creative Industries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Paula Parviainen, contributed a presentation about Saimaa – A delicious union of food, culture and traditions, while journalist and Professor of Practice at LUT University, Sami Sykkö focused on How can Saimaa be the most delicious province in Finland?

Finally, President of the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT), Diane Dodd PhD spoke about IGCAT’s Story – Food, Culture and Sustainable Tourism as nourishment for circular economies, health and well-being, explaining how the European Region of Gastronomy concept was created and how it grew into a force for good over the last 9 years.

The Power of International Cooperation was the topic of the second session that welcomed to the stage representatives from fellow World and European Regions of Gastronomy to share their experiences with the local stakeholders and audience. Moderated by Saimi Hoyer, Ambassador of Saimaa, European Region of Gastronomy 2024, the seminar was joined by:

Gemma Moliner, Communication and Gastronomy Manager at Prodeca, Government of Catalonia, World Region of Gastronomy awarded 2025, who contributed the experience of Catalonia, European Region of Gastronomy 2016’s Legacy: Lessons Learned and Future Horizons.

Jaume Gomila, Co-Founder of Menorca, European Region of Gastronomy 2022, who reported about Building collaboration among Menorcan stakeholders and their European counterparts: a focus on IGCAT joint-projects.

Emanuela Panke, Executive Manager of Sicily, European Region of Gastronomy 2025 and President of IterVitis Cultural Route of the Council of Europe, who joined the seminar online to present Sicily – European Region of Gastronomy 2025 Plans and Goals, highlighting common challenges and opportunities for collaboration with Saimaa.

Finally, a panel discussion about Authenticity as a Tourism Asset invited the views of Diane Dodd, Jaume Gomila, Sami Sykkö, and Mirka Rahman, Director of Marketing and Tourism at the City of Lappeenranta. The main takeaway for the audience was to take proud in their food products and traditions, since very often the things that locals take for granted turn out to be the most surprising and interesting experiences for visitors. 

A Taste Saimaa Partner market was held alongside the seminar for attendees to savour and buy food products from local producers. The Taste Saimaa Partner Network officially labels products and services delivered according to criteria of quality, local cooperation, responsible operations and the use of local raw materials.

To celebrate that 2024 is also Lappeenranta’s Dream Year of Culture, aimed to recognise the important role of culture in ensuring well-being and inclusion within the community, the audience was delighted by the performances of musical and circus students of Estradi Art School, and had the chance to explore the ice sculptures’ exhibition of the Lappeenranta Fine Arts School in the Lappeenranta Fortress area.

This first day concluded with the Top Websites for Foodie Travelers 2024 awards, where IGCAT announced the 10 best websites offering unique cultural and gastronomic experiences from across the globe, followed by a dinner inspired by the local producers and nature especially designed by Taste Saimaa Ambassador, Ulla Liukkonen, and hosted by CEO of goSaimaa, Katja Vehviläinen.

On 3 February, international guests participated in a Historical Gastronomy Tour hosted by Arja Ylä-Outinen at Café Majurska, where they learnt about the story of Lappeenranta Fortress and the local food traditions. They then joined local stakeholders in the Opening Gala of Saimaa, European Region of Gastronomy 2024 at Lappeenranta’s historical Old Town Hall (Raatihuone), attended by Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland, Sari Essayah; Chairman of Lappeenranta City Council, Joonas Grönlund; Regional Mayor of South Savo, Pentti Mäkinen; and Mayor of Savonlinna, Janne Laine.

“It is a pleasure and an honour to celebrate the European Region of Gastronomy 2024 Award with you,” claimed Minister Sari Essayah. “I am very proud that Finland is hosting this title, and even prouder that this distinction was awarded to Saimaa. It is the result of a lot of work that successfully brought together many different stakeholders to reach a common goal. Food is part of our history and food culture is passed down from generation to generation, connecting us with our land. The European Region of Gastronomy title comes at a difficult time for Saimaa, but the winners are those who dare, set off and proudly present to the world what they have to offer, so you will find ways to keep going and bring about something new. What we see here tonight is just the beginning!” concluded she.

Diane Dodd PhD congratulated congratulated Saimaa for the region’s culinary successes since gaining the 2024 award and noted that the region has all the ingredients to have a fantastic year. 

An official dinner was served by teachers and students from Saimaa Vocational College Sampo under the leadership of Outi Suopanki, Senior Lecturer of Bakery, Pastry and Confectionery, who offered a culinary journey among the most authentic flavours from the three counties in Saimaa region (North Karelia, South Karelia, and South Savo). The meal was interluded by the musical performances of the Saimaa Trio.

Saimaa’s opening weekend concluded on 4 February with an ice fishing experience on lake Saimaa followed by the open-air contemporary circus show SISU, masterfully performed by Sirkus Supiainen from Joensuu.

With such a uniquely weaved combination of culture, arts, pristine nature and sustainable gastronomy, Saimaa shines on the international scene as a one-of-a-kind destination ranking high on the foodie travellers’ 2024 bucket list!

About the European/World Regions of Gastronomy

Candidate and awarded World/European Regions of Gastronomy, guided by IGCAT, are working together to strengthen food security through the celebration of distinctive food cultures; create employment by stimulating creativity and gastronomic innovation; nourish children and adults through culinary and cultural education; drive environmental sustainability in tourism, hospitality and agricultural sectors; support balance and sustainable tourism practices; highlight and support expertise from within rural and urban communities, creating connections and sharing good practises; and contribute to community health and well-being.


IGCAT aims to empower local communities by raising awareness of the importance to protect and promote distinct regional food, culture, arts and natural assets as part of sustainable and balanced tourism and development strategies. This is essential to safeguard our planet, health, wellness and local economies.

IGCAT is a non-profit institute established in 2012, working with regional stakeholder consortiums in the fields of gastronomy, culture, arts and tourism. It counts on the expertise of a worldwide network of experts and works in partnership with specialised intergovernmental organisations.

IGCAT founded the World/European Region of Gastronomy Award and is the official secretariat for the World/European Regions of Gastronomy Platforms. Furthermore, the Institute has developed the European Young Chef Award, the World Food Gift Challenge, the Top Websites for Foodie Travelers Award and the international Food Film Menu.