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Aland Isles - where Sweden meets Finland - a Scandinavian secret.

Updated on June 23, 2014

Scattered in the centre of the Baltic sea - the Aland Isles

The ferry from Stockholm (Sweden) heading for Helsinki, (Finland) has ploughed on through the night.

Soon we arrive at the first port of call; a place I’m anticipating will be a unique experience. Scattered in the centre of the Baltic Sea are the Aland Isles.

It’s a stunning early morning sight, having breakfast while sailing through this archipelago of more than 6,500 islands and skerries of which only 65 are inhabited.

The ferries dock daily at Aland, the largest island, home to 90 percent of the population. It boasts the only town, Mariehamn with around 10,800 inhabitants.

Mariehamn - Aland

Mariehamn - Aland
Mariehamn - Aland | Source

Easy Living


Summertime and the pace is easy. Mariehamn is a pleasant, lively town and best discovered on foot.

Shopping is a must. Local creativity is displayed in the handicraft shops. Many items, like the exquisite candles, are crafted during the winter months.

Individual stores display crafts and textiles of strong vibrant design and colour. Many specialise in glass, ceramics, handmade silver jewelry; the silver flower shapes are exquisite.

Handcrafts in Mariehamn

shopping in Mariehamn
shopping in Mariehamn | Source

Food


I must mention Aland’s culinary specialty. The daily baked black bread has a taste I still long for.

Aland’s pancakes knock the socks off any I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve sampled a few.

Served with thick whipped cream and jam, I confess to addiction.

Shopping Mariehamn

wandering around Mariehamn
wandering around Mariehamn | Source

Conservation

The mention of islands often conjures up swaying palm trees and tropical elements.

In complete contrast Mariehamn is often referred to as ‘the town of a thousand linden trees.’ While this is poetically exaggerated there are around 700 lime trees, the first planted in the town square in the 1890s.

The islands are also known as the oak zone of Scandinavia. Deciduous trees such as oak, ash, maple, birch and elm flourish.

Nature conservation is significant, ensuring the protection of plants, wild flowers, rare orchids and many mammals and birds.

Throughout the islands around 40 nature reserves have been set aside to preserve different types of nature – the intention to benefit future generations.

conservation is paramount in Mariehamn
conservation is paramount in Mariehamn | Source

The Past


Aland has a complex history - Swedish, Finnish, Russian. Today it is proudly autonomous and demilitarized. No military presence and the islands may not be fortified.

While it remains a province of Finland the official language is Swedish.

The Swedish language is used by regional, municipal and state authorities and is the language taught in schools.

In 1861 Aland and Finland were part of Czar Alexander 11’s empire. Alexander himself conceived the wide open boulevardes and avenues of the town he named after his Czarina Maria – Mariehamn.

Today it is self governed boasting its own flag, stamps, car number plates, and is a member of the EU, Euro being the official currency. Past political upheavals, cultural heritage and traditions are well documented in the Aland museum.

Bomarsund Fortress

Bomarsund fortress
Bomarsund fortress | Source

A Fortress and Castles


In 1832 the Russian forces in Aland started to build a fortress they named Bomarsund.

Despite millions of hand-made bricks and massive quarried granite blocks it was never completed.

Enter the French and British and the Crimean war. After 22 years of building Bomarsund fell after just four days of battle. The rosy pink granite ruins are still commanding and offer a view of the archipelago.

A few kilometres from Bomarsund stands Kastelholme castle. Like most ancient castles it has tales to tell - of pirates and imprisoned kings - of decay and destruction.

Now partially restored, the past is also exhibited from the excavations. A large glass case displays scooped up remains; animal parts, feathers, human bones, teeth, flesh. It’s compelling and chilling.

Kastelholme Castle -

scooped from the past animal parts, feathers, human bones, teeth, flesh.
scooped from the past animal parts, feathers, human bones, teeth, flesh. | Source

The Nautical Connection


Messing about in boats isn’t compulsory in Mariehamn but it surely helps. The island is steeped in maritime traditions. Captain Gustaf Erikson lived here; known around the world as the greatest and last of the windjammer ship-owners.

He first went to sea at the age of ten. During his lifetime he owned more than 40 ships. You can sense his dedication in his enthusiastic quote - “Nothing is impossible for God and for a captain on board a sailing-ship.”

After Erikson’s death his family presented the town with the windjammer Pommern, now a museum ship.

Clearly this is one of the foremost attractions for tourists. Built in Scotland in 1903 she remains the only four mast sailing vessel in the world kept in original condition.

Today there is access to all parts of the ship and it is fascinating, even to a non-nautical person like me.

As the Pommern was once on the Australian grain run there are many links with Australia to be seen in the hordes of photographs and exhibits on the decks.

The Pommern

on the deck of the Pommern
on the deck of the Pommern | Source

Down to the Sea


The Maritime museum has a display of nautical artifacts including numerous imposing figureheads. Small boats are still being built - boat outings to other islands are readily available.

If you’re into fishing you’re in the right place. Plenty of charter boats and fishing teams on offer although you must buy a fishing licence, available locally. Experienced divers can join a dive to a shipwreck.

Maritime museum

The Maritime museum - imposing figureheads.
The Maritime museum - imposing figureheads. | Source

Darkness to Light

During the dark winter months the sea between the islands freezes, turning into an ice road. In spring the weather turns around and festivities begin. The midsummer celebrations herald the light, symbolizing Aland and the Alandic summer.

On Midsummer Eve around 60 official maypoles are erected. As each village has its own traditions no two are identical and they vary from year to year.

Some are decorated with juniper garlands and birch leaves. Others are wreathed in brightly coloured flowers. And it’s time to celebrate.

Midsummer Eve

Midsummer Eve around 60 official maypoles are erected.
Midsummer Eve around 60 official maypoles are erected. | Source

Summer Activities

Throughout the months celebrations continue. Viking Market days where market stalls tempt with authentic handicrafts while hotheaded warriors re-enact battles.

The annual peasant wedding market re-enacts a 19th century Alandic wedding complete with celebrations and procession.

There’s more to come. The tall ships regatta, a mail boat race, self governing day festivities, crossing the line ceremony, jazz and country music festivals, even Elvis shows.

For golfers - two 18 hole courses. Beach volleyball, trotting races at the track, hunting and fishing, or cheer on the soccer team - IFK Mariehamn. If nothing suits, island hopping is an option.

Nautical Days

Island Hopping?
Island Hopping? | Source

Here's Cheers

How about sampling the spirit of Aland? In France you might sample Calvados – in Aland it’s Alvados - brandy distilled from a variety of apples.

If you can have spirit you can have ale. The brewery staff are eager to share their product and explain the beer brewing process.

Sample a range from Stallhagen light beer to Stallhagen dark lagers and Export.

St Mikael's Church - frescoes and wooden sculptures

St Mikael’s Church
St Mikael’s Church | Source

Back to Town

Perhaps time to mention churches. Sprinkled around the islands, built with thick granite walls, many date back to medieval times. Impressive St Mikael’s displays beautifully preserved15th century painted frescoes and wooden sculptures, while hanging from the ceiling is a model of a ship.

I was fascinated by the history of Hilda Hongell, the first female architect in Finland who spent her childhood in Aland.

Long before feminism, at a time when only males were accepted into industrial schools, she made a difference. Her exceptional results saw her accepted to begin a career in architecture.

Hilda designed 98 buildings in the Mariehamn district. Take a stroll and you’ll be sure to find some of her work - around 44 of them are still standing. The ornamental Swiss style was much favoured at the time.

Hilda Hongell, the first female architect in Finland

 Hilda Hongell style, the first female architect in Finland spent her childhood in Aland.
Hilda Hongell style, the first female architect in Finland spent her childhood in Aland. | Source

Getting Around

No problems getting around the island. You can bike, hike, hire a car, local bus, taxi, or hire a guide and car from tourist companies. Accommodation ranges from camping, B&B, cottages and rooms, to splendid hotels.

If you find yourself in Aland head for the Information Centre, it’s the place to start.

And do yourself a favor – sample the Aland pancakes. I only wish you could bring one back for me.

Comments

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, maybe some day. I envy you the travelling that you have done, and I know envy is not a good thing, but what choice do I have. :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What a wonderful place travmaj, that I had heard nothing about previously. Thanks you for the travelogue, I enjoyed it greatly, though sadly I doubt I will ever get to travel there. Voted up.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Maj. I will never get to this part of the world, you have made a lovely job of introducing it. Well in formed and entertaining. Well done.

      voted up and all.

      Graham.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 2 years ago

      What a lovely place to visit and I am so glad you have managed to travel so much, as then you can share it with people like me who will never be able to get there. Up, interesting, beautiful and useful.

    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 2 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      travmaj, your Hub induced flashback of my visit to Sweden which I had more than two decades back. This is such a lovely part of the globe. Thanks for sharing such a lovely place and journey. Thumbed up.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      It sounds like a beautiful place. I love the architecture and the stores sell very pretty things. The boats must be fascinating and to relive the era of the vikings is so interesting. Alvados sounds very tasty. This is a wonderful travel discovery. Thank you!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I've heard nothing of this place, and now with this hub I wish I could go there. What a grand description -- I'd be willing to sample one of those pancake for you -- and those photos were simply beautiful. Well done!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      What a beautiful place this is! I've sampled Norway and am attracted to the Scandinavian countries but I'd never heard of these islands.

      I love the maypoles - strange to have them in midsummer instead of May!

      Great hub with loads of interesting places and subjects to explore. Hope I get to see it one day.

      Ann

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Wonderful! I like the idea of easy living and going places and learning about its rich history. I wish we have these beautiful places in our destination list.

      So far, I've only experienced fika breaks at Ikea and that should do for now.

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 2 years ago from Georgia country

      I would love to travel as much as you do. I hope I can manage to do that one day. But for now, I enjoy your wonderful hubs about fascinating places in the world like this. Thank you for sharing these beautiful places.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hiya, another great tour, this sounds amazing, I would love to be able to visit, but this is nearly as good as being there!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Thanks Bill, for many years travelling has been my work, nowadays slowing down. Home is good.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Hello Jodah, Glad you enjoyed the visit to the Aland Isles, thanks for commenting and vote.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Hello Graham - many thanks for commenting and vote. I'm pleased you enjoyed this visit to the enchanting Aland Isles.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      CyberShelley, thank you, I'm gad you enjoyed travelling this lovely Aland island with me. Appreciate your visit. Also thanks for your votes.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      srsddn - I'm so pleased this brought back some happy memories for you - yes it is a wonderful place to visit. I thank you for your lovely comments.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      grand old lady, hello and thank you for such positive comments. Aland is a fascinating place to visit. I appreciate your visit here. Thanks.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Flourish - oh, I wish you could go there. And you've love the pancakes, loved mine with thick cream and plum jam. Mmmmmm - Thank for commenting, much appreciated.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Ann - many thanks for your visit to the Aland isles, I hope you manage a visit one of these days - best regards...

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Aland Isles seems to be a lovely interesting place, thank you for the wonderful tour.The photos are great, the maritime museum looks awesome! Voted up, great hub.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

      Looks like a wonderful place. Maybe one day I can bring my family that way, until then I can imagine as I read your hub. Jamie

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      janetwrites - hello and thank you -really appreciate you positive comments on this Aland piece - it is a place easy to write about.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Nell Rose - thank you, glad you enjoyed the tour of Aland. Lovely spot. appreciate your comments. Cheers...

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Maj, your hubs always make me want to pack my bags, you remind me that there is still so much to see. Thanks for sharing all those wonderful places with us. I love all the images.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Vellur - thank you for your comments - the maritime museum is fascinating and I'm not a nautical person. Appreciate you comments and vote...

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Jamie, thanks for this, I'm sure your family would love Aland if you ever visit. Meanwhile glad to have had you along. Cheers...

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      tobusiness - I'm happy my piece makes you want to be on the move - that's the intention. Thank you for commenting, much appreciated.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      CrisSp - thank you. glad you enjoyed. Heee, enjoy the fika ikea breaks, - definitely cheaper. Love your comments, thank you.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 2 years ago from Taos, NM

      I have never heard of these islands before this. This is so interesting it is going on my travel wish list/bucket list. This town looks charming and thank you so much for such a great write up about this town and island. I love your presentation and photos. Just beautiful. Voted up and shared.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

      I bet that would be a great quiz question - where are the Aland Isles? Never heard of them before but they look like a great place to go.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      suzzette, Thank you, it's such a pleasure to share somewhere as delightful as Aland. It's not difficult to become enthusiastic about this lovely place. I guess you are like me with an overflowing bucket list.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Meg, thanks, what fun indeed. At least we know the answer! Yes, great place to visit.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 2 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Sounds like a great place to visit. I'd much rather visit the Aland Isles than any over-commercialized tropical tourist trap. Great pictures, too. Voted up and interesting.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      UHarald, thanks for commenting and vote. I totally agree, the Aland Isles are fascinating to visit, so much to discover.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      This sounds like a lovely place to visit and just enjoy rustic calm! Lovely pics, Travmaj.

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 2 years ago from United States

      Been my dream to visit to the beautiful Scandinavia! Thanks for taking us for a virtual tour there in the Aland Islands. Your mention of the black bread sounds really interesting.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Michelle, thank you. I think you'd enjoy Aland.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 2 years ago from Hudson, FL

      What a beautiful and interesting place! And no military presence is something I could get used to, for sure. Thanks for sharing!

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Radcliff, thank you, appreciate your commenting, glad you enjoyed Aland.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

      Thank you so much for this wonderful visit to Aland isles. I thoroughly enjoyed and vote up plus share.

      Eddy.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 2 years ago from Singapore

      It is a place I would love to visit. I love fortresses!

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Hi Michelle, thank you, hope you visit one day.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Eddy, glad you enjoyed this visit to Aland and thank you for the votes and share. (I somehow missed this post - sorry)

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      How interesting. I love traveling to interesting places and this looks fascinating. Added to my travel wish list.

    • travmaj profile image
      Author

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Glimmer Twin - thank you for your visit, Aland is fascinating place and I'd love to visit again myself - although the list is endless...

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      travmaj - What a wonderful hub and what a glorious Island/Islands. I had never heard of Aland before and your pictures and text just bring it alive. Now there is another place I want to visit. :) Sharing. Theresa

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Hello Theresa - thank you for your interest and enjoying this visit to the Aland isles. I hope you visit there one day. Best wishes, Maj

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