Some of the most stunning natural landscapes of Northern Europe can be found in the Åland archipelago, land of water in Swedish, a group of 6,700 volcanic islands and islets located in the Baltic Sea, whose origin dates back 10,000 years.
The Islands form an autonomous province of Finland, although the spoken language is Swedish. This is because, during the Middle Ages, Vikings inhabited the archipelago, and, for centuries, it belonged to the Swedish Crown.
Around 300 of the islands are able to support human life, but in reality just about 80 are populated. This is an ideal place for those who want to relax and enjoy the spectacular unspoiled scenery, the incredible sight of the Aurora Borealis and the silent, endless sunsets of the Scandinavian summer to comfort to the body and enrich the spirit.
Tourism is the main source of income in Åland. Nature lovers will find a wide selection of outdoor activities such as biking tours, hiking and excursions in kayak. The archipelago boasts more hours of sunshine than any other Scandinavian site.
The main island (Fasta Åland) covers 70% of the territory, and 90% of the population lives there. Administratively, the province consists of 16 municipalities, and Mariehamn is the only one with the rank of city. The easiest way to reach Åland is by plane from Stockholm or Helsinki, but we recommend taking a comfortable ferry ride, similar to a cruise ship. Foreign visitors are, sometimes, surprised at the sight of these huge vessels navigating the narrow channels between the tiny islands. Ferries depart several times a day and, on board, travelers will find restaurants, all kinds of entertainment and convenient duty free shops. Fares are surprisingly inexpensive, considering these are genuine floating palaces.
Unaware travelers may think that the Åland Islands are an inhospitable place, but that idea is immediately dismissed once they reach their destination. Choosing a place to stay could be a complicated decision, as there are more than 160 options in 72 places, from luxury hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts, or great beach houses with all the amenities. And if you travel to Åland by private yacht, there are 17 charming harbors scattered around the archipelago.
The highly recommended HavsVidden Hotel in Geta is nestled amidst the natural beauty of the Baltic Sea. It offers unexpected luxury for such a remote area: sauna, pool, Jacuzzi… and the possibility of enjoying a bath next to the cliffs or taking a relaxing stroll through the Marina Pier, admiring the boats and the soft stillness of the blue waters. It also boasts a remarkable restaurant, which serves delicious Scandinavian dishes, using the generous bounty of produce, meat and fish found around the island.
Some sights not to be missed:
Mariehamn, capital of the Åland Islands, is perfect for long walks along the picturesque maritime quarters, where a visit to the sail ship Pommern, built in 1903 and used to transport grain from Australia, will delight history buffs. There are also lovely cafes and handicraft shops. If you prefer to rent a bicycle, the preferred method of transportation here, you could immerse yourself in the great parks located on the south side of the island before finishing the day with a local tradition: a fabulous picnic.
The only medieval castle in Åland was built, in the 14th century, to hold royal prisoners. In 1556, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa “spent some time” in the Castle, and in 1571, King Erick XIV was imprisoned there.
Jan Karlsgarden Open-air Museum.
Located near Kastelholm Castle, the museum was designed on the style of the typical Scandinavian farms of the late 19th century. There you will see the old Vita Björn, built in 1784 and used as a civilian prison for 200 years.
The ruins of the Bomarsund fortress.
The Russian fortress, Bomarsund, was an amazing construction before the English and French destroyed it in 1854. But even so, it is still worth visiting.
This is the home Åland’s beer, Stallhagen. Guided tours of the factory allow travelers to explore the entire brewing process, but the best part of any visit is testing their product in the brewery’s pub.
Museum of hunting and fishing.
Located in Eckerö, the museum is of great ethnological interest, a place to learn about the hunting and fishing techniques of the ancient natives.
The Åland archipelago remains untouched by my mass tourism. It is a European destination where one can still get lost in the magic of nature: hiking, surfing, playing golf, canoeing and fishing. In general, this is a place to avoid big crowds, a sort of earthly paradise without stress of any kind. ■