Situated 25 miles east of the Swedish coast, and officially an autonomous region of southwestern Finland, the Aland archipelago consists of about 6,700 named islands and 20,000 smaller rocky outcrops and islets waiting to be discovered. Conquered by Russia in the early 19th century, Aland was declared a Finnish territory in 1921, but the core of its traditions are Swedish, as is the official language. With the Baltic Sea as its backdrop, the archipelago ranges topographically from barren coastal cliffs to stunning white-sand beaches to forests and fertile farmland. Only 35 of the Aland Islands are inhabited and easily accessible from mainland Sweden and Finland; the central islands are linked to one another by bridges and cable ferries, while car ferries connect the archipelago’s more remote reaches.
At the archipelago’s centre is Mainland Aland, home to the region’s capital, Mariehamn, and much of the Alands’ population. The seat of the area’s grain trade in the 19th century, the port town is now home to a maritime museum, a rich craft culture and restaurants that make use of local ingredients like fresh fish and dairy, wild red berries and spirits produced nearby. The archipelago also draws outdoors-minded visitors thanks to its back-to-nature lodgings, cycling routes, hiking trails and kayak-friendly waterways — and its status as the sunniest area in northern Europe.
A cottage on Silverskär’s Klobben island.
Set amid the hills of the town of Geta (on the northernmost tip of Mainland Aland), this Scandinavian hideaway offers 30 rooms and suites in its main lodge, most with floor-to-ceiling windows, plush oak interiors and seaside saunas; there are also 20 wooden villas, with fully equipped kitchens and spacious terraces. Guests can explore the nearby pine forest by bicycle or jog along the island’s red granite cliffs — and the arrival to HavsVidden is an attraction in and of itself; some visitors take a helicopter from Stockholm or travel by sailboat to the property’s private harbour. havsvidden.com
These lodgings extend across a trio of islands in the northern Alands; Silverskar, for which the business is named, is home to several wooden cottages and traditional log cabins. Farther afield on Klobben Island, 10 grey oceanfront cottages — built to mimic the overnight refuges fishermen used in the early 1900s — are positioned near a cliffside sauna cut to match the curvature of the surrounding red granite rocks. And on neighbouring Sviskar, an off-the-grid, four-bed log cabin offers a back-to-basics experience complete with a wood-fired sauna for guest use. silverskar.ax
Gravlax and pickled herring at Smakbyn.
The celebrated Finnish chef Michael Bjorklund put Aland on the culinary map in the fall of 2012 when he opened the Smakbyn campus — which comprises a restaurant, separate cafe, distillery, wine cellar, market and cooking school — next to Kastelholm Castle, about 20 minutes by car from Mariehamn. The Smakbyn kitchen uses only ingredients found on the Aland Islands to form traditional dishes like oven-baked cod with hand-peeled shrimp basted in brown butter or horseradish and berries preserved in housemade rum and served with lingonberry, pear and cinnamon ice cream. Bjorklund himself leads five-hour-long cooking classes, the price of which includes a complimentary apron and wine or beer. smakbyn.ax
At this family-run farm in Finby, in northeastern Aland, Jennifer Sundman and Lars-Johan Mattsson (and their six cows) produce a range of specialty dairy products, from homemade kernel butter to rapeseed-oil cheese spiced with seasonings like rose pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, and garlic. Visitors can tour the facilities before stopping at the farm’s own cafe for light bites like salads with freshly made halloumi or decadent organic ice cream from the in-house creamery that comes in flavours such as sea buckthorn, rhubarb and lingonberry. mattas.ax
Amalia’s Lemonade Factory
Founded in 2014 by the brewmaster Tony Asumaa, this factory produces the sole soft drink in the archipelago, known as “lemonade,” despite being carbonated. Free of artificial colours and flavours, the cold-pressed juice is mixed with fresh water and a touch of sugar, and packaged in an old-fashioned glass bottle. Visitors can book private tastings to sample the 12 varieties — flavours include apple peel, lingonberry, rhubarb-elderflower and cranberry — all made from fruits grown deep in Finland’s verdant forests. limonad.ax
This Mariehamn studio once belonged to a traditional goldsmith, but now houses the archipelago’s leading jeweller, founded by Maria Karlstrom in 1989. Each Guldviva piece is handmade from either 18-karat gold or recycled sterling silver, and designed to reflect Karlstrom’s childhood summers spent in the Alands. Though she now has a team, Karlstrom still crafts the brand’s signature cowslip-shaped blomman charms by hand: She twists, solders and hammers the metal into the form of the official flower of the Aland islands. guldviva.com
Founded nearly two decades ago by a small group of full-time artisans, this cooperative in Mariehamn is a one-stop shop for handmade wares produced in the Aland archipelago. Customers can browse a selection of goods by 60 Aland craftspeople, from traditional earthenware and stoneware to wool socks made using sheepskin sourced from local farms. Edible items are also on display, like the shop’s proprietary line of salt-and-herb mixes for cooking and Aland-made jellies and chocolates. salt.ax
Aland Maritime Museum
What began in the 1920s as a private collection of antique sailing regalia like ship bells and figureheads belonging to the former sea captain Carl Holmqvist is now the largest museum in Mariehamn, open to the public since 1949. Among the objects on display: one of the world’s only authentic skull-and-crossbones pirate flags, a 200-year-old artefact that came to the Aland Islands from the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Following a renovation in 2012, the museum now features a self-guided tour of the Pommern, a four-masted, iron-hulled barque docked in front of the museum with an exhibit that recounts the crew’s voyages to carry grain from England to Australia in the 1920s. sjofartsmuseum.ax
Originally built as a fortress in the late 1300s, this medieval castle — situated on the shores of Lumparn Bay, 20 minutes by car from Mariehamn — has withstood sieges, fires and rebellions; until the 1600s, the building served as the administrative centre of Aland and was, at one point, the royal hunting lodge for Gustav Vasa, the King of Sweden from 1523 to 1560. Today, visitors can take one-hour tours of the open-air Jan Karlsgarden museum, where 20 traditional farmhouses offer insight into how native Alanders have lived and worked since the 1930s. The grounds are also home to the prison museum Vita Bjorn, which explores the castle’s history of jailing notable Swedish royals. kastelholm.ax
Visitors to Finland’s southernmost apple orchard have been known to arrive by ferry, bike, sailboat and even kayak since it opened to visitors in 2016. But Peders Aplagard started to produce sweet and crisp rubinola, lobo and raike apples decades before then, in 1985. Now, the orchard includes 1,200 trees, and has its own farmhouse cafe and shop where travellers can taste and take home jams, baked goods, locally produced honey and apple ciders flavoured with lingonberry, juniper berries and gooseberries. aplagarden.ax
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