An Aland adventure Signpost

A family break on Finland's Aland islands

A view of Aland at night. (Photo: Flickr/Niklas Sjoblom)

A view of Aland at night. (Photo: Flickr/Niklas Sjoblom)   | Photo Credit: mail pic

It is a Nordic holiday playground where people come to cycle, kayak, sail, fish, swim in the cold Baltic Sea

At midnight there is a long orange streak of sunset across the horizon and the colour of the sky is just past dusk. Later, when the ship leaves, the green silhouettes of the islands we've been staying on are visible in the fading light long after midnight. 

This disorientating feeling of the Nordic white nights makes a holiday on the Aland islands unsettling and unusual. It is light when you go to sleep and dawn if you wake at four in the morning; no one feels inclined to sleep too much. 

The autonomous Aland archipelago - a patch of around 7,000 islands, halfway between Finland and Sweden - is a Nordic holiday playground where people come to cycle, kayak, sail, fish, swim in the cold Baltic Sea and warm up in saunas afterwards. The islands are Swedish-speaking but attached to Finland, and families from both countries come here from early June to late August, renting wooden cabins by the sea. But in late May, it is empty. 

We stay for two nights in a log cabin in a small forest next to the sea on the main island, Fasta Aland. It is a 20-minute cycle ride from Mariehamn, the port town, where it is easy to rent bicycles at Ro-No and roam south to smaller islands, which are connected by narrow bridges. The town is pretty, with old wooden buildings, painted in yellows, greys, violets and blues, with the windows, doors and porches in contrasting colours. Its architecture is reminiscent of a 19th-century provincial Russian town.

When you leave the town, you follow main roads but these are so empty that it doesn't feel perilous, even with relatively young children. The route to the islands of Nato, Grano and Jarso is lovely, with water on both sides, and views on to small islands, dotted with wooden houses in rusty red and yellow, and boat huts poking out between the rocks and the trees. 

We also enjoy the Mariehamn public steam room, swimming pool and sauna where a lot of children are being initiated by their grandmothers into the routine of sauna, steam room and a swim in the pool.

The island food proves useful for restoring energy levels. Aland pancakes - a solid slab of semolina, milk, sugar and cardamom - help boost morale in the face of icy winds. Hot karjalan pies, which are a bread roll with rice paste, are also cheering, and I particularly like the Finnish salmon, dill and potato soup, lohikeitto, and some mashed potato topped with crayfish.

After two days, we travel north to Saltvik, to a B&B in a beautiful, restored, 19th-century wooden villa which used to belong to the owner of the first bank of Aland. It looks on to a 12th-century church, and is a five-minute walk from a lake surrounded by tall rushes. There is a recreation of a Viking encampment five minutes' walk in the other direction, where school children come for history lessons.

This is the most relaxing day of our trip, where the most strenuous activity is walking to the village bakery to sit eating cinnamon buns and cakes with cranberries and cream cheese, and soaking up the magical scenery.  — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 11:05:32 PM |

Next Story