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The Aland Islands

Date Created: 04 February 2015

It’s not your usual travel destination but these islands, forged by the elements, war and conflict, offer a surprisingly alluring cocktail for the adventurous traveller. 

Pronounced "Oh-lahnd", the Åland Islands form an archipelago in the Baltic Sea at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. This autonomous region of Finland consisting of 6,500 islands lies between Sweden and Finland in the northern part of the Baltic Sea.  Ålanders mostly speak Swedish and have more affinity with the Swedish culture. But despite the potential for split personalities,  Aland secures its own identity with its own flag, stamps and duty-free status.

The Aland islandsSo why go there?  Because there’s nowhere else like the  Åland Islands. With their rocky cliffs, rolling green hills and a host of outdoor activities, this is a perfect destination for lovers of adventurer.  They also offer a unique opportunity to glimpse life as it is lived in a remote archipelago.

The only town is Mariehamn, Åland's mostly sleepy main town, except in summer. With only 11,000 inhabitants, it offers a pleasant downtown area with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Browse in Marimekko, the Finnish design house, or stop by Jussis Keramik to pick up ceramic shot glasses or a glass blown bird.  The other 16,500 residents are spread across 65 inhabited islands.

Åland, the rest of the coastal area and the archipelago are great for touring by car. Idyllic island life, towns where past meets present and great cuisine en route make for an unforgettable drive. Or rent a bike from the shops at the east or west ports to explore the main island, or hop on a bicycle ferry that chugs through the island waterways so that you can explore multiple islands. Anglers can rent a canoe or fishing poles, while hikers can explore the nature trails that dot the islands. Golfers can play 36 holes at the course near Kastelholm.

On Sund, east of the main island, you can visit the Kastelholm castle, dating from the Middle Ages, and a quaint 800 year old church, Sankt Johannes church. Near Kastelholm is Jan Karlsgården Museum, a pleasant outdoor park with traditional wooden buildings from the islands (and one windmill). At Bomarsund you can climb on the ruins of a Russian fortress built in the early 1800s to safeguard, ironically, against the Swedes

The best time to visit Åland is in the spring, summer, or autumn. The Åland Islands receive less rainfall than Sweden and Finland because the wind currents usually carry storms to the north or south.

Ferries leave daily from Stockholm, Sweden on the way to Helsinki, Finland, and stop in Mariehamn. The trip from Åland to Helsinki is overnight, so book a cabin. You can also take a six hour ferry ride from Turku, Finland.

 

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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