Exploring the Finnish Archipelago through Island Hopping

This year, there has been a recurring theme in many of my travels. I’ve found myself on quite a few islands for various reasons. It could be because I spent most of last year living in the Channel Islands, but I’ve developed a fondness for island life. From Koh Lanta and Koh Phangan in Thailand to Paros in Greece, the Scilly Isles in England, and even island hopping on my recent Silversea Cruise, it seems like almost every other trip this year has taken me to an island. And my most recent overseas trip was no different.

In the span of four days, I embarked on an island-hopping adventure, with a focus on outdoor activities, immersing myself in the breathtaking natural landscapes that this remarkable region has to offer. Of course, I couldn’t resist indulging in plenty of cakes along the way, as always. Here’s what I did in the Finnish Archipelago…

Exploring the Åland Islands

What I find particularly appealing about islands is the strong sense of community they often foster, which is distinct from the mainland and can sometimes feel quite insular. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Åland Archipelago in Finland. As an autonomous community, Åland is situated almost halfway between Sweden and Finland and has a history closely tied to Sweden. In fact, the official language in Åland is still Swedish, rather than Finnish. This group of over 6,500 islands in the Baltic Sea possesses a unique and captivating identity, reflecting a fascinating blend of both Swedish and Finnish cultures.

In the early morning, I embarked on a Viking Line ferry from Stockholm, arriving in the capital of the Åland Islands, Mariehamn, in the late afternoon. It was a splendid day, and the rocky isles looked incredibly enticing. As I approached, the small islands, adorned with lush pine trees, surrounded the ferry, set against the backdrop of the deep blue sea. I couldn’t wait to get out and explore.

My first stop was Kökar Island, a small island that you can walk around in less than twenty minutes. This little island is also home to an incredible resort where guests can stay in one of ten cozy cabins, fully immersing themselves in the isolation and tranquility of this place. These cabins are small and simple but truly charming inside—I could imagine myself wandering here for a whole summer, writing a novel, and never once going online. (We all have dreams, right?)

By the water, I enjoyed a yoga session under the whispering pine trees. It was the perfect way to shake off the stiffness of long-distance travel and immerse myself in the mood of the journey—a serene relaxation.

My Island of Solitude: Silverskär

Leaving Kökar, my journey continued to the larger Silverskär, which is also managed by the same company and offers guests the unique opportunity to rent the entire island, providing an exclusive private island experience. Upon arrival, I treated myself to a delectable dinner prepared by skilled chefs using locally sourced ingredients. It was a culinary delight, and after savoring every bite, I settled in for the night on Silverskär. My accommodation was nestled within a traditional Åland barnhouse, and each of the eight rooms was beautifully decorated. From my room, I had a picturesque view of the pine forest on the island’s edge. As I lay in bed, the only thing that enveloped me was pure, blissful silence.

The following day marked a bittersweet farewell to Silverskär, but the allure of another splendid summer day compelled me to explore different parts of the Åland Islands. In the afternoon, I embarked on an adventurous kayaking expedition with the local company Paddelboden, also known as the Paddle Shack. Paddling through the dazzlingly bright blue waters, I faced the challenge of navigating the rolling waves of the open sea. Eventually, I made a stop for lunch on a nearby uninhabited island that appeared to have been entirely forgotten. Besides the tranquil ambiance and the soothing sounds of the sea, there was nothing else to disrupt the serene beauty of this secluded spot. It was becoming evident that I was discovering a unique pattern of unspoiled natural treasures in the Åland Islands.

White Night Magic: HavsVidden

Following my kayaking adventure and a brief bike ride, during which I had an unfortunate tumble while attempting to Snapchat (a lesson learned – definitely not recommended!), we made our way to our next destination. There, I was greeted by my own private cabin, perched on the edge of a cliff. My cabin boasted a balcony that wrapped around three sides of the room, complete with a private infinity pool and a personal hot tub. The entire setting was awe-inspiring, and although it wasn’t an entire island of my own, it still exuded a profound sense of seclusion. It was the perfect escape!

I had an unforgettable dinner at the HavsVidden restaurant, featuring what I can only describe as the best carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life (no exaggeration). Later in the evening, I enjoyed a few drinks while soaking in the hot tub, and I spent the rest of the night in bliss. Finland’s summer nights are unique in that they never plunge into complete darkness. The sun sets around 11 p.m., and even after it dips below the horizon, the night maintains a gentle illumination. Relaxing in a hot tub during Finland’s white nights is nothing short of a truly magical experience.

For my final stop in the Åland Islands, I landed on Eckerö Island, where I seamlessly blended two of my favorite pastimes: leisurely walks and indulging in delectable cakes! Following a short stroll, during which I marveled at the stunning scenery, I arrived at Café Tsarevna, located within the Eckerö Mail and Customs House. This charming café presented a delightful array of exquisitely decorated cakes, each one more enticing than the last. My excitement for cakes had been building throughout the entire week! (Yes, I may have a slight cake obsession.) It was an utterly delightful experience.

Embarking on the Turku Archipelago Trail Adventure

Leaving the Åland Islands, I boarded a ferry bound for the Finnish mainland, specifically Turku on the Finnish coast, and the vast Turku Archipelago. From Turku, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to my next destination. Well, more precisely, a bus ride and a boat journey, but that’s less poetic. With the golden hues of the sunset dancing on the water, I set sail for Pensar Island.

At Pensar, I spent two nights at the charming Pensar Syd eco-resort, embracing a back-to-basics lifestyle. Here, everything is geared towards living in harmony with nature and relishing the simple pleasures of the sea, pine forests, and wildflowers.

The Turku Archipelago boasts over 20,000 islands, making it one of the most island-rich archipelagos in the world. These islands are scattered from the coast all the way to the Åland Islands, with many of them remaining uninhabited and in a pristine natural state. What’s truly impressive is the close-knit connectivity among the inhabited islands, with dozens of inter-island car ferries. Other routes are connected by bridges, forming the 250-kilometer-long Turku Archipelago Trail, a popular cycling and hiking route (some sections require ferry crossings).

I cycled a short distance. Long and open bike paths or winding forest trails took me from Kirjais Österudd to Nagu. Typically, this was the only time I encountered rain during my entire journey, but despite the weather, it was still an enjoyable trip. I had a quick fish lunch at the beautiful Nagu guest harbor and then headed to Pargas for some more secluded activities. Ted Wallin, the charming (and a bit quirky) owner of the local ArtBank gallery, showed me his Salvador Dalí collection. Although I wasn’t previously a fan of Dalí, Ted’s infectious enthusiasm and fascinating stories about Dalí’s life and work were enough to change my attitude—it was a very interesting insight into surrealism.

Kiss My Turku

The final stop in Finland was Turku. Leaving behind the forests and the deep blue sea of the islands, I spent a few hours exploring the city and delving into some of its culture. Turku is a popular university town with an interesting and trendy atmosphere. Along the beautiful Aura River, there are many restaurants and bars, many of which are housed in converted boats or renovated old buildings.

Panimoravintola Koulu is one of these repurposed buildings, an old school that has been transformed into a brewery restaurant. “Koulu” means “school” in Finnish, and the restaurant still retains many of the original classroom decorations and furnishings, including wooden tables. However, today it operates as a functioning brewery and a popular restaurant (offering some delicious hot dogs). I attended a beer tasting class at the “beer school” complete with a chalkboard. Koulu brews craft beer, cider, and even whiskey using Finnish malt and water from Turku, all without additives.

I had no idea what a vast world the Finnish Archipelago is. From unique cuisine to a complete cultural experience, there is so much to explore. But the true highlight is reconnecting with nature and enjoying outdoor activities. After a busy few weeks, a island-hopping trip in Finland was exactly what I needed. Everything, including the cool, clean air, felt refreshingly serene and revitalizing. It was so beautiful.

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