Bengtskär – The Nordic region’s most magnificent lighthouse
With the sea surrounding you on every side, it feels very wild. Under feet is stone that’s around 1.8 billion years old, formed when the Ice Age past by the same spot about 11,500 years ago. As you stand and gaze up at the handsome and imposing grey stone tower before you, rugged and beautiful in equal measure, there’s plenty to make you ponder your significance.
Bengtskär – an island of solid rock – is arguably Finland’s southernmost tourist destination. No trees grow there and only a few square metres of grass. However, Finland has no shortage of forests, so this is refreshingly unique. Raising its head up from the waves of the outer archipelago, Bengtskär is a spectacular, and somewhat vulnerable, sight. The island of rugged nature, both mystical and awe-inspiring, is complimented and at the same time defined by the impressive stone edifice constructed there.
Bentgskär’s lighthouse is the highest in the Nordic region. Standing at roughly 52 metres, the pillar of granite and brick in the middle of the open sea sends small chills down your spin. The lighthouse was constructed in 1906, a consequence of the many shipwrecks and lives already swallowed by the surrounding sea. During its lifetime it has served as a guide and a refuge for seafarers. During the years of prohibition, a few bottles of wine were smuggled under its shadow. It took some pounding from artillery during the wars, but continued standing tall. And so now there is a hotel and a restaurant.
So it’s possible to spend a night on the island alone or in a pair, as well as in a group, large or small. If planning a day trip, it’s advisable to check the opening hours of the café and other services from Bengtskär’s website. It’s recommended to stay full board overnight, which includes breakfast, archipelago buffet, coffee as well as your evening meal. In addition to the regular accommodation services, overnight guests can use the sauna in the courtyard. And whilst rainwater is used for washing purposes, debit and credit cards are accepted means of payment.
Of course, the island has a few other aces up its sleeve. Slip off your shoes and take a look around. The sun-bathed granite is like therapy for the soles of your feet, whilst the water seems much brighter than is normal elsewhere in the Baltic Sea.
You can reach Bengtskär aboard you own boat or via scheduled tour boats from the mainland. Departure points are from Kasnäs as well as Hanko and it’s best to visit the website to see which is most convenient for your trip.
Örö Island Fortress – Military history and peaceful nature in one package
Örö is a well-preserved and deliberately kept secret of Turku’s archipelago.
Until the start of the 1900’s, the island was used for pastoral farming but due to its geographical features it was to bare a heavy burden, as it became fortified for military use. However, it was a fate that led to the island becoming an unparalleled Finnish nature destination.
Nature was of course not the primary concern when the Finnish army used the island. There, the nature has been able to survive and develop, unlike in civilian areas where anyone can walk and build as they please. Here, you’ll find many species not present anywhere else, with the variety more diverse than in neighbouring countries.
During the migration season the island is popular with bird watchers, and in summer it is full of butterfly enthusiasts. Örö is a species-rich area of Finland, with 250 endangered or rare species. In addition to rare nature, the island teems with foxes, hares and pheasants, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if you spot a moose or deer wandering around.
It’s hard to imagine, that in the centre of all this is a huge hidden fortress system. The sand and stone paths that crisscross the island have felt a fair few pairs of combat boots. You can really see that the island is truly prepared for the worst-case scenario. There is a moat and a bunker. A sight recognised in films, there are reminders all around, such as the anti-tank barriers on the beach and guns with diameters larger than the arm span of any human.
However, what’s best nowadays, is that in the centre of this stunning contrast, it’s possible to spend some carefree leisure time. The mind is occupied with pleasant things to see but there’s also a lot to do, such as the western shore’s 4-km long sandy beach, featuring sea kale that only grows on Örö. There’s no room for boredom here.
When you decide it’s time to visit Örö, the island is accessible with a tour boat from Kasnäs as well as from Korpoström, or with your own boat from any direction. You can even stay in the barrack hotel, the semi-detached houses, in cottages or in the so-called President’s sauna-cabin. However, the campsite provides the most authentic atmosphere, with no need for a reservation.
More detailed information is found at: www.visitoro.fi
Högsåra – What a sweet little hideaway
If you know someone local with a boat or an interest in sailing, then you’re sure to have heard the name Högsåra as they make plans for the weekend. Simply put, for both boaters and locals from the mainland, it’s an island offering a guaranteed place for relaxation.
If you’ve already tasted the traditional archipelago experience, then this island might not get you going, but if the word idyllic is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. So expect the island to offer up the most traditional archipelago milieu but spiced with a bit more personality.
Without doubt, the main attraction is the Farmors Café, from where you can smell the scent of fresh sweet breads from out at sea. Grandmother’s red-ochre house is a little way from the pier, so there a short walk to get you there. On the journey you can skip through the long grass or gaze at the sheep. Soon you’ll discover the café-restaurant, famous for its cake buffet and archipelago cuisine. Local and naturally sourced ingredients are preferred in all the recipes.
The island is approximately 2.5 km east-west and the same north-south. So all the best places can be explored on foot. One spot worth visiting on the western side is definitely Sandvik bay and its sandy beach, part of the Archipelago Sea National Park. At the northern end there is the interesting Keisarinsatama, the harbour that was frequented by the Russian Tsar Alexander III and his court. When it was the Grand Duke Nicolas II’s turn to visit, at the start of the 1900’s, he ended up smashing the world’s biggest yacht on the reef in front of Högsåra.
The Coastal Route – Bike into the archipelago and back
If you’re yet to decide where in the archipelago to visit (or you’re having difficulty choosing), it’s worth tackling the new cycling network, along which you’ll find a bit of everything.
The Coastal Route is a cycling trail, which runs along the eastern parts of the Archipelago Sea. Along the way you’ll discover ironworks villages, restaurants, cafes, swimming places and traditional archipelago scenery. It’s been designed to include various types of overnight accommodation, so you have the choice of everything, from beachfront cottages to camping.
What distinguishes the route from The Archipelago Trail are the magnificent sections by the sea, the ironworks villages and the idyllic wooden houses. The system of island ferries also carry bikes, meaning you can travel between the Kemitö Islands and Hanko, or visit the fortress island of Örö and Bengtskär lighthouse. In addition, the route takes in the national parks: Teijo, the Archipelago Sea and the national park of Tammisaari.
The entire route is a combined total of about 200 kilometres but, as we’ve pointed out, you can design your own route, and if you go a bit further you don’t have to push your bike all the way.
You can explore the places to hire bikes at: www.rannikkoreitti.fi/english
Hotel Nestor – A synonym for harmony
Harmony is a word much used by brands and businesses to describe the services they offer. Experience shows, that Hotel Nestor and the surrounding environment can never be accused of false advertising – Nestor is the epitome of harmony.
The hotel, built in a renovated old barn building, is just as interesting a sight as it sounds. The premises of the family-run hotel are quaint and cosy, but more than enough. Plenty of wood and warm colours have been used in the interiors, evoking the essence of the serene Finnish forest and a peaceful state of mind. Here, there is no hurry to go anywhere.
It’s interesting to observe that several archipelago destinations seem to favour art, as does Nestor. In addition to the beautiful objects on display indoors, leave from the hotel garden across the field and you come what’s called the Barefoot Trail. The path takes you to a forest full of art. So, to the forest we go. The barefoot exhibition is a kind of gallery, which like other galleries, you have to experience for yourself. And it’s best in bare feet.
Then there is food from Nestor’s Back Pocket. Before you’re even able to taste it, first you’re compelled to feed your Instagram account. Here, like elsewhere in the archipelago, they give preference to high-quality fresh ingredients sourced from the surrounding areas. The menu offers a bit of everything, from game to fish and vegetables and everything in between, and whatever you choose, there’s a high risk of recommending it to everyone you know. Nestor’s Back Pocket is fine dining in the archipelago.
Hotel Nestor is located on the Island of Korpo in the municipality of Pargas in the Archipelago Sea region. From Turku it’s roughly 75 km, whilst from Helsinki it’s about 220 km.
You can find much more here: www.hotelnestor.fi
ArtBank – A speciality of Pargas
Are you wondering what might fit the hashtag descriptions #special #surprising #whatonearth? If nothing else, then try the ArtBank gallery in the centre of Pargas, a place that fits every hashtag you could imagine.
Search the village for the old yellow building of the Bank of Åland. The entrance is to the side of the building, with half an ant guarding above the doorway. Please, come in.
The unique and distinctive atmosphere is palpable as soon as you cross the threshold, all quite intentional I’m sure. So, have you ever seen the work of Salvador Dali in real life? Perhaps, but what about in Finland? Well, in any case in the centre of Pargas is the permanent Dali exhibition, something that you have to see for yourself.
Of course, you’ll find yet more inexplicable things in there as well. According to the owner – who is particularly skilled in hospitality – from the phone lying on the table, “Dali himself” will answer. Lifting the receiver, you can hear someone talking, but everyone can draw their own conclusions about “caller” on the other end. In addition to Dali,you’ll also discover art to admire from Pargas. Once upon a time, there was also a stuffed sheep, the monetary value for which was said to be quite astronomical.
This and much more is on offer at the ArtBank. There’s really not much more that needs to be said, other than: go inside, it’s the yellow building in the centre.
Tammiluoto Country Winery – A pearl in the embrace of nature
The archipelago is full of intimately individual little hideaways, and the Tammiluoto Country Winery is one that shouldn’t be missed. Although the archipelago venue is more commonly used by groups and conference guests, it’s also available during summer for visitors travelling in couples or on their own.
First and foremost, a winery in Finland is really something of a rarity. Then, the fact it’s located in the archipelago is another. It’s easy to imagine the venue’s facilities are at their best when hosting a wedding, for example, or the saunas in use by a bachelor party or for a company retreat.
The winery is found on Lemlax Island in Pargas, in a sheltered cove of the bay. The courtyard is beautiful and carefully maintained. The distances from one building to another are short, so it would be easy to create a great atmosphere even with a large gathering. The outdoor tables are sure to have overheard some interesting business conversations, and it’s easy to imagine the rows of fluttering legs dancing out to the pier with a wine glass in hand.
Speaking of wine, Tammiluoto is an apple farm, with over 3000 apple trees under its management. That’s an awful lot of apples! The vineyard is open every day during summer and offers wines and liqueurs. Of course, they also have coffee and treats available. Separate wine tasting is available on request.
They also operate a delightful little shop, selling its own wines but also selected delicacies from around the nearby area.
Explore in more detail at: www.tammiluoto.fi
St Olaf’s Waterway – Pilgrimages are now the IN thing!
It’s often asked why there are not so many hiking trails along the south coast? With so many in Lapland, then why not in the south? Well, there is at least one here, stretching all the way from Turku to Trondheim in Norway.
A pilgrimage makes it sound like you must either be devoutly pious or somehow strongly connected to you chosen beliefs. It is known that pilgrims are different from ordinary travellers in that they choose holy places as their destinations and search for spirituality as they travel. Well this is certainly the case here, but other non-spiritual people can also discover an interesting journey along this passage.
St Olaf was one of the most important medieval saints in the Nordic countries. He was recognised as a saint in 1031, after which pilgrims began to flow into the town of Nidaros (modern-day Trondheim). The pilgrimage continues today but now includes the beautiful scenery and unspoilt nature.
The pilgrimage has gained popularity in Europe and especially amongst those slightly less fervent believers. There is a mysterious sense of adventure but also something of a clear purpose. If hiking is something that interests you then this trail is something to take seriously. Perhaps on the road you’ll find yourself, or something else?
For more information, visit: stolavwaterway.com
In cooperation with Pargas and Kemitö.
Text by Juuso Suominen. Photos by Kim Allen-Mersh.
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