St Olav’s Waterway: Heaven for the easy explorer

AT THE START OF SUMMER, I FOUND MYSELF BUSY AT MY DESK WRITING. WHEN ALL THE WORK WAS DONE IT WAS DIFFICULT TO REALLY CLEAR MY HEAD. WE PACKED UP A PICNIC BAG, A CHANGE OF CLOTHES AND SOME HOLIDAY READING, AND HEADED INTO THE ARCHIPELAGO FOR A FEW DAYS OF HIKING.

Share page

Edellinen artikkeli
Seuraava artikkeli

JUST FOLLOW YOUR FEET. Initially, our plans were flexible, like on holiday. We were to begin by following the newly opened St Olav’s Waterway as long as it suited us, deviating only when hunger or tiredness necessitated.

Our actual hike started on the ferry between Pargas and Nagu. Connecting is the electric-powered ferry Elektra, so the ride is silent and emission-free, just as a nature trip should be. As soon as we stepped off the bus, the calm sea breeze immediately worked its magic. When the bow hit the dock, an aching hunger immediately took hold.

We grabbed coffee and sandwiches from the harbour kiosk. As we sat down at the outdoor table, we met our first fellow hiker. Maria was from Stockholm and an enthusiastic walker. While planning her summer vacation, she had come across the St. Olaf Waterway online and decided this time to walk from Turku via Åland to Stockholm.
​​​​​​​
“Next year, Trondheim,” Maria called out as she waved and lifted her backpack. We wished her a good trip and admired her brisk pace as our new acquaintance disappeared from sight.

WE WEREN’T IN A HURRY, so we let the day warm up and breakfast settle before we set off.

 

For the first few kilometres we had to walk at the side of the main road. The traffic was busy but with a bit of teamwork we just about survived. Motorists generously gave a wide berth and where it was not possible because of oncoming traffic, we happily ducked onto the verge. The convivial atmosphere was epitomised by the fact that we were twice asked if we wanted a lift. We politely refused and received a happy wave in response. Thanks and see ya round!

 

 

 


After an hour of dodging other road users, we headed off onto smaller roads. As the sounds of traffic disappeared, we once again noticed how navigating through nature aroused all our senses.

 

 

NATURALLY THE LANDSCAPE PROVIDED ITS OWN STORY. Open fields surrounded by logged fences, wind-blown archipelago pines, the sun glittering off the bays and the clouds gently floating in blue skies were like something straight from the lyrics of Our Land.

The surrounding sounds were also inspiring. Birds were singing, the cows were mooing, a dog was barking and somewhere an axe fell, splitting logs for firewood.

​​​​​​​Most surprising was the intoxicating smell of wild strawberries. It came subtly, with neither of us realising what it was at first, then we laughed at our shared ignorance. Hmm, it smells like strawberries here? Of course, the entire roadside is red.

Once again we noticed how navigating through nature aroused all our senses.

Oh, how good they tasted. As did the blueberries and raspberries we found later.

The value of touch — perhaps the most important you might say because without it humanity wouldn’t have existed — became clear after walking ten kilometres. As the soles of our feet began heating up, it was a gentle reminder that our undemanding feet needed some attention. A good way to avoid blisters and abrasions is to change your shoes from time to time. So we took off our hiking sandals, slipped on our sneakers and continued on.
​​​​​​​
The well-marked St. Olav's Waterway was easy to navigate. At crossings there are small but clear signs telling you which direction to take. However, with fewer signs on the straight sections they provide a greater test of a traveller’s faith. But all is well when you finally spot a familiar red-and-white cross marked on a roadside tree.

The countryside is so diverse – patchwork forests, rolling hills, arching bridges, delicate inlets, broken beaches, tracks and trails in the right amounts – something interesting all the time.

AFTER FOUR HOURS OF HIKING WE ARRIVE AT A PARISH VILLAGE. After the quiet of the forest landscapes, the bustle of Nagu is quite the happening metropolis. There seemed more people, cafés, market stalls, laughter and life than the market square in Helsinki.

 

 

 


We certainly had a good time. We craved a cup of coffee, so we sat down at a suitable terrace for a moment to watch the energy of the marina. When our strength had returned, we made the spontaneous decision to rent canoes for a couple of hours. The rental period of five hours was enough for a small sea adventure. We weren't kayaking for long but a scan of the nearby shores gave us a good feel for what the archipelago looked like from the waves.

For the first night we’d booked into Hotel Stallbacken. After a shower and rest, we marched to the restaurant hungry like a wolf.

Dinner was served on the terrace. The hot day turned into a balmy evening, with the setting sun yielding a golden glow from the surrounding fields. We admired a couple of nearby cranes, dined long and leisurely and by ten o’clock we were already flat out in our rooms.

After breakfast, we threw on our backpacks and headed for Korpo. After leaving Nagu, we took a detour from St. Olav's Waterway and continued our own path. We strolled along the side roads, ate berries from the verge, admired lungfuls of scenery, and spoke of the world drifting by.

  • Also, watch in wonder at these: The Archipelago Trail

    The Archipelago Trail is an official tourist route, which you navigate either by bicycle,
    scooter, car or hiking. There are two routes of different lengths to choose from. Along
    the way, you’ll discover attractions and, of course, the authentic archipelago
    atmosphere. There are boat sheds, wood-fired saunas, arching bridges, ferry
    crossings and traditional archipelago bread. Places to stay and eat are open all year
    round.

    Read more at: saaristonrengastie.fi/en

    Archipelago Trail ~ 250 Kilometres Turku – Pargas – Nagu – Korpo – Houtskär –
    Iniö – Kustavi – Taivassalo – Askainen – Merimasku – Naantali – Turku

    Short Archipelago Trail ~ 100 Kilometres Turku – Pargas – Nagu – Seili – Hanka
    – Rymättylä – Naantali – Turku

WALKING IS A WONDERFUL TIME TO CHAT. Silent moments never seem uncomfortable, so conversations are relaxed and unforced. Thoughts can mature into full sentences unhindered and answers can be just as thoughtfully composed. Time is a gift. Conversations given only five minutes at home, on a hike are granted a five-hour exchange.

We had set out on our journey after making a pretty spontaneous decision and we certainly weren’t the only ones on the same path. The Archipelago Trail attracts more and more tourists every year, and it’s a popular area for holiday cottages. We were quite lucky that we were able to stay the night exactly where we wanted - or at least with a close neighbour.

 

 

 


As firm fans of good food, the destination for the second day was obvious – we headed for the acclaimed Restaurant Back Pocket. Sadly, Hotel Nestor was full but fortunately, only a few hundred metres away, we found a comfortable double room at Faffas B&B. The house was cosy and homely, so everything came up smelling of roses.

 

 

As firm fans of good food, the destination for the second day was obvious – we headed for the acclaimed Restaurant Back Pocket.

Back Pocket was worthy of its reputation. We had lunch at the restaurant and afterwards were especially thankful our accommodation wasn’t further away. Even 200 metres on a full stomach was a struggle. We managed to make it back and spent the rest of the day reading, snoozing and digesting lunch in the Faffas garden.

BY EVENING OUR APPETITES HAD RETURNED. We walked again to Back Pocket and its kitchen did not let us down. Bulging like a juicy tick on a summer’s night, we collapsed in our cabin.

After breakfast it was time to plan our return home. We didn't want to go directly to Turku, so decided to walk to Korpo Church, and the beauty of the morning definitely looked like the best time. We sauntered less than ten kilometres in over two hours but got there in the end. We picked up a snack from the store and boarded the bus.

  • Another great option for cyclists: The Coastal Route

    The coastal route is a beautiful bicycle route that runs through the National Parks of
    the Archipelago Sea, Teijo and Ekenäs. Along the route you will find a number of
    must-see places such as Bengtskär lighthouse and the islands of Högsåra, Rosala
    and Örö, as well as the idyllic ironworks villages of Taalintehdas, Mathildedal and
    Kirjakkala.

    If you do not own a bike, you can rent one along the way. The bike can be picked up
    from one location and returned to another. So you can come by car and then bike
    where you like. The route is approximately 200 kilometres long, with 35 kilometres of
    the route carried out aboard ferries.

    Get to know the route at: rannikkoreitti.fi

GET TO KNOW THE TRAILS AND DESIGN YOUR OWN MINDFULNESS-JOURNEY

Text Jari Salonen. Video Kim Allen Mersh.

Published | Updated