JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNIKA MARIA MÄKELA FROM THE ÅLAND ISLANDS, FINLAND !
Annika Maria Mäkelä is a 31 years old content creator and event producer in the Åland Islands. She loves outdoor adventures. Her hobbies include pottery and spending time with her two dogs Pixar and Pablo. She is also a founder of the Finnish Outdoor Women’s Community called Taivasalla. Learn the culture by the sea from Annika, a local.
THE ÅLAND ISLANDS
Situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea, midway between Stockholm and Helsinki, the Åland Islands is an archipelago of around 20,000 islands out of which 6,700 are named and only 60 inhabited. Although Åland is part of Finland, Ålanders speak Swedish. To get to the smaller islands, you have to use boats in summer and snowmobiles/hovercrafts in winter.
Today Aland is divided into 16 municipalities, out of which 10 are on Fasta Åland. The other six cover the far flung archipelago. West of Åland lies the Sea of Åland, a waterway between Roslagen in Sweden and Åland. To the east, the Åland archipelago borders the Åboland archipelago in Finland. 40% of the small population of Åland lives in the capital. However, in summer, the city is taken over by tourists and receives up to 1.5 million visitors a year.
Åland’s largest island is Fasta Åland, where the capital Mariehamn, the world’s smallest metropolis, is located. It was founded in 1861 by Russia’s Czar Alexander II, who named the town, meaning “Marie’s Harbour”, after his wife whose memorial statue is situated in the city centre. The Russian Czar’s granite fortress, built to house 2,000 Russian armed forces, workers and prisoners, which was destroyed by the British and French soldiers during the Crimean War can still be visited in Bomarsund.
Mariehamn has a strategic position in the Nordics., close to the big cities in the East and West. Hence, shipping has always played an important role in Mariehamn and many shipping companies have their headquarters in Mariehamn. Most of the houses in the island and in neighbouring countries are painted with Falu Red, which was made from copper found in a Swedish mine in Dalarna. When the copper was oxidised, a red soil was obtained which helped preserve wood from rotting.
Please tell us something about your connection with Åland Islands?
My grandfather and my mother were born on Åland and many of my relatives live here. I grew up in Turku but have spent all my summers on Åland since I was a child. I moved to Åland from Helsinki 4 years ago to renovate my mothers cabin and have truly found my roots and home on this peaceful island in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
A sub-region of Finland, this year Åland Island celebrates its hundredth anniversary of autonomy. How different would you say Ålanders are from their neighbors?
Åland differs from Finland and Sweden in many ways. We have our own traditions, legislation, culture and even our own flag.
Although Åland is part of Finland and our school system and most of our legislation is similar to the ones in Finland, many identify with Swedish culture through the shared language. That is also why the islanders mostly enjoy TV series, music and pop culture from Sweden and many students move to Sweden to study. But if you ask what ice hockey team they support it’s most likely Finland.
Mainland Åland is home to the capital Mariehamn. What are the different ways one can reach it?
One can reach Åland Islands by ferry from Sweden (about 2h from Grisslehamn, 5h from Stockholm) and from Finland (about 6h from Turku). A boat trip through the archipelago can be a true experience. There are two major ferry lines, Viking Line and Tallink Silja. Viking ferries are newer than Silja’s. The ferry takes around 5 hours to get to Mariehamn from either Stockholm and Turku.
From Helsinki : There are at least two daily ferries in each direction between Helsinki and the Åland Islands operated currently by Tallink-Silja and Viking Lines. You can also travel on ferries from Turku and Naantali both in the morning and evening. The archipelago ferries depart from Osnäs or Galtby near Turku.
From Sweden : The shortest ferry connection from Sweden is the one from Grisslehamn with Eckerö Linjen or from Kapellskär with Viking Line. Both ferries take two hours.
From Tallinn : From Estonia you would opt for Tallink Silja from Tallinn.
Note : In the summer it’s advisable to make your reservations well in advance, especially if you are travelling by car or other motor vehicle on a ferry.
Åland Islands can also be reached by plane. Mariehamn has an airport with direct flights from Helsinki, Turku and Stockholm. The airport in Åland is 4 km northwest of Mariehamn and takes just five minutes by car from the town of Mariehamn.
From Finland : It takes just 30 minutes from Turku, and less than an hour from Helsinki-Vantaa. NextJet flies once daily to/from Turku while Finnair between Helsinki and Mariehamn.
From Sweden : It takes just 30 minutes both from Stockholm Arlanda. NextJet flies twice daily to/from Stockholm Arlanda airport.
Apart from the mainland, which are the other islands one must visit? How to get around the islands?
The archipelago around Åland is beautiful and a visit to at least one of the smaller islands is a must. My favorite islands are Föglö, Kökar and Silverskär. You can reach these islands by car and a ferry ride. A bicycle is also a good way to get around the islands. My personal favorite is sailing from one island to another.
Föglö lies within 30 minute ferry trip from Svino in Lumperland. Foglo’s largest village is Degerby with its old historic wooden houses. The church of Foglo is located two kilometres from the village. The nature can be explored on one of the hiking trails.
Kokar lies in the outermost southern part of Åland. It consists of one larger island surrounded by thousands of smaller ones. The island has been inhabited for about 3000 year. One can reach Kökar directly from Finland or Sweden. From Mariehamn first take a bus to Långnäs and then hop on a ferry to Kökar – the ferry takes over two hours and has a café on board.
Isolated in the north archipelago of the Åland Islands and neatly nestled between Sweden to the west and Finland to the east, are the three charming Silverskär Islands – Silverskär, Sviskär and Klobben.
The Silverskär features five lodges while the more intimate Sviskär offers a four-man cabin on its own island for ultimate privacy, just a short boat ride away from the main hotel. On Sviskär you can completely disconnect yourself from the outside world. You listen to the voices of the nature, walk on the beach and pick berries and mushrooms. The atmosphere of Klobben is different, here you could stay in one of the ten sheds where the sea is your closest neighbour.
What are the five must visit places on mainland Åland?
Åland has a strong maritime history and it used to be the main income of many families. So a visit to the Maritime museum in western harbour of Mariehamn along with the Pommern ship that is dockedoutside is a must. Pommern is a four-masted barque, built in 1903. It is an almost 100m long ship that used to haul cargo all the way to Australia and was turned into a museum in the 1950’s.
A boat ride away from Mariehamn (book at shipland.ax) you can see the picturesque islands like Rödhamn or Kobba Klintar. Rödhamn is a popular destination during the summertime. For centuries, it has been the first port of call for boats heading east. It is located around 10 nautical miles from Mariehamn. It also offers a popular visitors’ marina with a summer cafe and restaurant, a wood-burning sauna and a museum.
How to Reach : Several taxi boat companies offer archipelago excursions.
Kobba Klintar and the striped lighthouse has for a long time been the first land that sailors lay eyes on when they travel from Sweden to Finland across the Baltic Sea. It is a great destination for an excursion and gives unique view of the Åland Sea.
How to Reach : In the peak season there are regular boat transfer to Kobba klintar. For Kobba Klintar you can catch boat from Korrvik fishing harbour in Mariehamn, Bo-Erik Westberg or take a packaged boat tour from Shipland.
The outer archipelago with its red rocks is beautiful and a visit to Källskär in Kökar to see rock formations shaped as Moomins is highly recommended. The formation reaches about 3 m from the rock, soft and round. During the summer months the island is accessible by excursion boats from Kökar. Kökar is the second-smallest municipality in Finland, with around 250 residents. It lies directly east of Rodhamn and comprises of three islands – Karlby, Finno and Hello.
How to Reach : From the bus lot next to the Mariehamn library, take the bus to Långnäs harbour which takes about 1 hour to reach. The ferry from there takes about 2,5 hours to Kökar and is free for passengers without a vehicle. Can also be reached from Galtby in Finland and takes 2,5 hours.
Stallhagen brewery is a very popular visit place, there you can have a taste of local beer. The brewery is located in Finström, in the middle of Alånd’s beautiful agricultural landscape. At Stallhagen, Åland‘s oldest brewery, you can eat at Pub Stallhagen, visit the brewery, taste their different types and styles of beer, and also buy some of your favourites from the farm shop. Live music plays on the terrace and a concise dining menu is offered.
How to Reach : From Mariehamn take bus 2 towards Geta via Gölby to reach Finström. Distance from Mariehamn to Finström is 12 miles and driving distance is 14 miles. Travel time by car is about 24 minutes.
Restaurants on Åland have a high standard and you can find many different types ofcuisine. My favorites are Indigo, Nautical and Boquerian.
Restaurant Indigo is housed in an old stone warehouse and offers a fine dining restaurant as well as a bar serving bistro menu. Restaurant Nautical in the Western harbour is one of Mariehamn’s most prestigious restaurants and offers a splendid sea view. It along with Indigo are two of the five selected restaurants ranked by the White guide Nordic among the best restaurants in Finland.
Which adventure activities can one indulge in when visiting Aland Island?
Anything involving the surrounding sea. Kayaking, stand up paddling, sailing, jumping off the red cliffs and wild swimming. Paddleboden Paddle Shacks offers guided kayaking tours for beginners or those who want to hone their skills. They have several qualified instructors who offer introduction courses in kayaking as well as SUP.
Bouldering is also big on Åland. It is one of the most popular bouldering destinations of Finland. You can find some world class bouldering spots on the north side of the island in Geta. There are various campsites on the island, but probably the best is to rent a timber hut. To stay in walking distance to the boulders take one in Soltuna.
Åland is also filled with relaxing experiences. Åland as a part of Finland brings to mind the Finnish sauna-traditions. Treat yourself to a traditional smoke sauna, a sauna heated with firewood or may be try a floating sauna-raft or a hot tub.
Some also combine sauna rituals with ice swimming, a trick to shock your body into happiness. They warm up in the sauna first before heading to the water or take a dip in icy cold water and then warm up in the sauna.
With miles of coastline to explore which according to you are the best beaches on Åland?
There are not that many sandy beaches on Åland but my favorite is Degersand (https://www.degersand.ax/en) in Eckerö.
I prefer the red smooth rocky coastline and some of my best spots are hidden along the rocky coastline of Geta and Hammarland. Lying towards the north of Mariehamn, Geta faces the open sea with stunning hills and forests. It also has some superb hiking trails.
What is the local produce and cuisine of Åland Island? Any suggestions on local places to try the cuisine?
The most known local dish is Ålandspannkaka which is a type of oven-baked pancake made with semolina and flavoured with cardamom. It can be served either warm or cold, and traditionally with whipped cream and prunes. A visit to Åland would not be complete without a taste of this traditional dessert. Also, Åland’s national bread is black bread made of malt, syrup and rye flour. One of the black bread bakeries is situated on Kokar.
As mentioned before Åland has a relatively good amount of restaurants for an island of only 30.000 inhabitants and new restaurants are popping up everywhere. Most of them are located in the capital of Mariehamn but even places like Smakbyn in Kastelholm offer local delicacies. Smakbyn is owned by Aland best known celebrity chef Michael Björklund and is located next door to the Kastelholm castle.
Are there any popular markets on the island which tourists can visit? Anything that one must bring back from Åland?
Åland Grönskar during spring and Skördefesten (3rd week September) during fall are the biggest countryside
markets on the islands where local producers open their farms for tourists and sell their produce directly to customers.
During summer the big events like Rockoff Festival (last week July) attract thousands of visitors to the capital with a 9 day long music festival on the market square. Viking Markets Festival is held in Kvarnbo, Saltvik in late July. It is one of the largest viking events in Europe with over 10,000 visitors. You can check out viking house replicas and try viking-style food and drinks.
Visiting the local apple orchard Grannas or the Taffel potato chips factory is a fun way to taste the main exports of the islands which are apples, potatoes and onions.
If you’re looking for some souvenirs I recommend heading over to the Salt shop in the Maritime quarters in Mariehamn or Victors on Torggatan for some beautiful local crafts. Majority of the shops are located along the pedestrian street Torggatan as well as Norragatan and Sitkoff Gallerian.
As a local would you give any suggestion/tip to tourists visiting the island?
This year (2022), Åland will celebrate its 100th anniversary of autonomy, hence the entire year will be packed with special events. Official celebrations will begin in June 2022 and last until the end of the year. For more detailed information, go to the Visit Åland site.
Don’t rush things while on a visit. This is an island after all and some kind of “island life” mentality applies here as well.
THINGS TO KNOW
Exploring Aland : Mariehamn is walkable but you might want to hire a car to explore other parts of the archipelago. The archipelago’s main islands are linked by bridges and ferry services, which make it easy to explore by car. You can also take a taxi or water taxi depending on where you are going. Bikes are an easy way to explore the island with green and white signs tracing cycling routes through the island.
By bike : Ro-No has bicycles available near Mariehamn harbour. They rent out bikes and mopeds from its outlet in Osterhamn. The smaller outlet at Vasterhamn just rents out bikes.
By Kayak or SUP : Paddleboden rents out kayaks and stand up paddle boards to explore the southern coast of Åland Islands.
By Inter-Island Ferry : Three kinds of inter-island ferry serve the island.
For short trips, free vehicle ferries sail non-stop.
A private summer bicycle ferry run between Hammarland and Geta.
Longer route ferries for inter-island hopping run to a schedule. These are free for foot passengers but tickets need to be bought for bicycles or cars.
By Bus : The regional bus station of Mariehamn is from where five bus lines depart.
Bus 1: Hammarland and Eckero
Bus 2: Godby and Geta
Bus 3: Godby and Saltvik
Bus 4: Godby and Sund-Vårdö
Bus 5: Lemland and Lumperland
Åland Islands Weather : Åland has a temperate climate with significant rainfall. The best time to visit Åland Islands is from July until September, when you will have pleasant weather with limited rainfall. The days are long and the weather is fairly warm (16-18C). It also has the most sunshine hours than anywhere else in Northern Europe between May and August. July is particularly busy with music festivals.
Åland Islands Key Facts :
National Language : Swedish
Currency : Euro/Swedish Krona is accepted as well
National day: 9 June
Åland Islands Tourist Information :
Official website of the goverment of Aland : http://aland.ax
Information about local events, cultures and more : http://aland.com
Helpful tourist Office in Aland : http://visitaland.com
Åland Islands Country Code & Emergency Nos. :
- International dialling code : +358
- Emergency telephone number: 112
- Local Police : 018 527 100
- Medical Services : 018 538 500
Swedish words to learn :
Hello -> Hej
Yes/No -> Ja / Nej
How are you? -> Hur mår du?
Good/Not so good -> Bra/Inte så bra
Do you speak English? -> Talar du engelska?
Thanks/Don’t Mention/You’re Welcome -> Tack/Ingen orsak / Varsågod
Goodbye -> Hej då / Adjö
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