Taste One of the World’s Oldest Beers and See an Original Pirate Flag in This Scandinavian Archipelago
Between Sweden and Finland is an archipelago consisting of 6,700 islands that lie low in the water, their coppery granite shores surrounded by the ink-blue waters of the Baltic Sea. These are the Åland Islands, an autonomous region within Finland, and despite being popular with Scandinavian travelers, they’re rarely visited by foreign tourists. You may never have heard of the area, but there are plenty of reasons to head over there.
An Intriguing Nautical Past
Most visitors start their journey in Mariehamn, the islands’ capital. Visit the Maritime Museum for an immersive experience into Mariehamn’s nautical past. Look out for the skull and crossbones flag — one of only two real pirate flags in the world — then climb on board Pommern, a four-masted windjammer which now doubles as a museum
When the weather’s warm, take a dip at Lila Holmen, a picturesque beach south of the maritime quarter. You’ll walk through a small wooded park — where peacocks strut their stuff in the woodland and across the sand — to get there.
Stay at Hotel Park Alandia, a centrally-located hotel that’s been recently refurbished. It boasts sophisticated rooms decorated in shades inspired by the archipelago, a sauna and a traditional wood-panelled pub.
Try the World’s Oldest Preserved Beer
Head to Stallhagen, a gastropub and micro-brewery half an hour outside Mariehamn to taste the Historic Beer 1843, which was developed from a beer recovered from a shipwreck in the Åland archipelago. Despite being one of the oldest preserved beers in the world, it has a light, refined flavor as it was fermented without hops. Stallhagen also offers tastings, pairing their beer with tapas made from locally sourced ingredients.
Relax in a Floating Sauna
Several guesthouses and campsites on the islands have floating saunas, built on jetties that extend over the water. After you’ve warmed up inside the wood-fired sauna cabin, cool yourself down with a dip in the ocean — particularly bracing during the colder months. Sandosund camping and Långviken both have saunas for private hire by guests and non-guests, just be sure to book a few days in advance.
Stay on Your Own Private Island
If you’ve ever dreamed of having an entire island to yourself, this is your chance to do it. There are several hermit cabins located on private islets in the archipelago, which can be rented during the summer months. One of the most well-maintained is the hermit cabin on Sviskär. Spend your days foraging for wild berries and mushrooms or relaxing on the beach or in the sauna. There’s no electricity here, so you really can get away from it all. If this sounds a little too rustic for your tastes, the sister island of Silverskär has several four-star cottages and a gourmet restaurant serving fresh caught fish, locally-butchered meat and foraged greens. Both islands can be rented privately.
Visit a Remote Sculpture Garden
The archipelago’s largest islands are all connected by public ferry, which is free of charge for foot passengers. Sail to rugged Kökar, where you can take a boat trip to the even more remote Källskär, one of the archipelago’s most unusual islands. In 1965 it was bought by an eccentric baron, who built a cottage and a vast landscaped garden filled with Greek sculptures. Artist Tove Jansson painted the picture that hangs over the fireplace. Brudhäll, the only hotel in Kökar, runs daily boat trips and guided tours there during the summer.