Island Magic: the Ålands
At ten o’clock this morning, as on most days during the summer, one of the sleek white Ålandstrafiken ships edges out of Galtby harbour in southwest Finland for an eleven hour cruise around the Åland Islands. This is one of Europe’s most deliciously beautiful boat journeys, as the ship picks a route through the dense island archipelago that lies between Finland and Sweden, stopping off along the way at some of Europe’s remotest communities. Places like wild and windswept Kökar.
Free ferries for all!
Scandinavia may be famously pricey, but Cheapos who stray off the well-trodden tourist trails will still find some bargain deals. Take the Åland Islands where passengers using the local inter-island ferry services travel entirely for free. You can put together multiple-stop itineraries that cruise from southwest Finland out through the islands and back again. That eleven-hour cruise from Galtby is free. Not a cent!
Of course, canny travellers stop off in the Ålands. If you ask us, the two best islands are Brändö and Kökar, both worth a day or two for their quiet beauty.
Photos courtesy hidden europe magazine
Cheap snuff too!
The Åland Islands are Swedish-speaking, politically linked to Finland, but have a high level of local autonomy. Once nominally part of Russia, the islanders resisted being fully assimilated into the Tsarist Empire.
Today it is that same spirit of independence that guides their relationship with Finland and the European Union. Åland plays the great game of integration but on its own terms. So the canny islanders have negotiated a smart series of tax breaks, which means that Swedes flock to the islands for cheap spirits, ciggies, and snuff. Yes, snuff (locally called snus), for which Swedes have a particular affection.
The Ålands are a place to linger. The archipelago is beguilingly beautiful, and a quirky geo-political oddity. The Ålands have their own postage stamps and many other marks of autonomy. Plus those free ferries. A rare combination! You can read more about the Åland Islands on the hidden europe website.