Åland, neither Finland nor Sweden

I visited the Åland islands for the first time two years ago, soon after our move to Sweden. The archipelago is the region of Finland laying closest to where I am located, yet despite belonging to the Republic of Finland (and the eurozone) Åland has always been enjoying a status of almost independence, raising its own flag and speaking its own language – Swedish. The islands are notable for their peaceful rural landscapes, the red granite beaches and for having one of the highest employment rates in Finland. Quite an intriguing combination.

aaland-archipelago-finland-6From Sweden, the most convenient way to reach the archipelago is by boat from the port of Kapellskär, about a three-hour drive from our place. The boat trip takes slightly over 2 hours; all the three times we have visited we have traveled with Viking Line. All their ships, including the one cruising between Kapellskär and Mariehamn, Åland’s capital, host a duty free that is one of the most notable places to buy alcohol in Scandinavia. On every visit we take advantage of their prices and stock up on Finnish beer.

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I have always visited the islands in the summer – once in July and twice in September – which is when the archipelago enjoys its tourist season. Not so many restaurants and hostels are open during the rest of the year. We have a favourite place to be lodged while on the islands and on all our stays we have been renting a cottage at Djurviks Gästgård. Summer is a great time to take advantage of the sunny weather and enjoy the islands’ colours at their sharpest. The red granite contrasts beautifully with the green and the blue that dominate the landscape.

aaland-archipelago-finland-4I personally like to “feel at home” when I am not at home, pretending that the place where I’m staying is my own, and the best way to have this feeling is to have access to a kitchen and make my own food there. This helps to keep the cost of traveling lower, besides giving me this lovely homey feeling. From time to time I also like to go out and try local eateries – eating out is one of my travel splurges. Sometimes, just stopping by a random place and deciding to give it a try can result in pleasant surprises, as it happened when we randomly stopped at Peggys Café for coffee and discovered such a beautiful decor:

aaland-archipelago-finland-10Also the capital city, Mariehamn, boasts a beautiful café, Bagarstugan – the oldest café in town – where we sat down for coffee and cake. Every room is exquisitely furnished and entering the place feels like stepping into a different time setting. My cake of choice was a fresh blueberry cheesecake that tasted delicious.

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Another notable place where to have a nice lunch is Niska pub in Mariehamn. Not much can beat the view on the sea while having lunch on a sunny day. They make a delicious thin crust pizza, my favourite being the one with goat cheese, cured ham and red onions. And the smell of sea air as side dish.

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The Åland archipelago is very rural and farm animal sightings are a common feature. Wildlife can be spotted as well, with larger animals such as deer and moose inhabiting the larger islands, but I never got to see more than three playful raccoon dog puppies. Much easier to encounter are sheep, especially the friendly ones at Kastellholm.

aaland-archipelago-finland-13Åland may not have the typical charm you’d expect a Scandinavian destination to have, with dramatic forests and mirroring lakes. But there’s much more to northern Europe than thick tundra and fjord stereotypes. This archipelago displays an authentic rural landscape, where the farmlands merge with the forest and the sea waves crash against smooth granite blocks. The islands still retrieve some memories of their Russian past, and their Swedish-speaking inhabitants are proud of their special land. These islands are full of surprises and to me they are the perfect getaway for a relaxing weekend. They’re definitely an off the beaten path destination, almost never included in one’s top ten places to see in northern Europe, but it’s especially for this reason that we love to take our guests there.

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36 thoughts on “Åland, neither Finland nor Sweden

  1. This post just makes me want to pack my bags and travel to the island! It looks so calming and relaxing – perfect for a get-away from a busy day-to-day life! 🙂

    1. That is exactly what I love about that place! I am a huge fan of dramatic fjordscapes, and although I live away from crazy city life (a small town in the middle of the Swedish tundra) the sense of relaxation I feel in Åland is unique!

  2. I’ve been lucky enough to visit both Sweden and Finland this past year but did not make it to Åland on either trip. You’ve intrigued me to visit in the future. When I do, I definitely want to eat that blueberry cheesecake!

    1. I am happy I have inspired you to travel there. Åland should be more popular! It is a big destination for locals, but not so popular outside of Scandinavia. But I think those peaceful islands deserve some fame!

  3. That looks just our sort of place. We’ve been on a boat just outside Stockholm before, and I had serious envy of the people puttering away on small boats, a bag of groceries wedged between their feet, with a destination somewhere in the archipelago. Also loving the Gustavian furniture in the cafe – I’m having house-envy too!

    1. I get the same house-envy whenever I enter a Swedish home. I’m working towards making mine more and more “hyggelig” but I guess it’s a lifelong process. Although I love to visit islands for sort holidays, my kind of place is not at sea but more like by a forest. I guess it’s just because I come from the mountains and the sea has always been a holiday feature rather than something that is there in my everyday life.

  4. I love when I come across a place that I haven’t heard of before and you did just that. I, never in my life had heard about this gorgeous place. The cafe and the small town charm is so inviting. Can’t wait to visit it one day!

  5. It’s beautiful there. Have memories from when I was a kid touring with a theater group on the iland. Can’t really say exactly where we were, just remember it was verry beautiful everywhere. And that the water was really cold😂

    1. It must have been cool to experience Åland as a kid! If I ever have kids I will definitely take them there. Let them get used to the cold water of the Baltic 😀

    1. It’s definitely worth a visit and even just a couple of days can be enough to get a glimpse of it. The main islands are connected by roads so even without taking any ferries one can manage to do some decent exploration.

    1. Thanks! I would like to try camping there once, although I would miss a lot that feeling of having “my own” kitchen 😀 I bought a tent three years ago and I still haven’t used it, shame on me!

  6. This looks beautiful – it’s official I need to go! 😉 I totally agree with you by the way, I love making temporary locations home, it really makes it more enjoyable and cozy.

  7. Oh wow! These islands look incredible, and sound like the perfect day out to me if living close by. I’d never heard of them before but they remind me a little of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Oh, and that Peggy’s Cafe? Definitely sounds like the perfect tea and cake place to me! Do you know if it’s possible to get to the Aland islands if coming from England?

    1. We stopped at Peggys Café for fika, whish is the Swedish equivalent of afternoon tea – coffee and cake. Only, fika can happen any time of the day, even multiple times. You can check out flights to Mariehamn, which is the capital of the archipelago; it has an airport. Otherwise, coming from England you can always fly to Stockholm and you can take a ferry (Viking Line, or Silja Line are those I’ve taken). I normally take the boat to Åland from Kapellskär because it’s more convenient for me, living north of Stockholm, but it is possible to travel to Åland also from the ports of the city. It just takes a little bit longer (around 7 hours) because the first half of the cruising is inside the Stockholm archipelago and the boat has to go very slowly. It is a beautiful experience as well. So if you’re not short on time I’d totally recommend visiting Stockholm a couple of days and then cruising from there to Åland for another couple of days. If you don’t have cheap flights to Stockholm, check Helsinki alternatively. Ferries between Sweden and Finland call at Mariehamn, so you can actually reach the archipelago from either Stockholm or Helsinki.If you need help with the ferries I’d be happy to help more, just get in touch 🙂

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