We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Yvonne, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Yvonne lives in the United States, and submitted the following report about the Aland Islands. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Swedish, Finnish, English
Reasons to Visit Åland Islands
Midsummer is a magical time in the Nordic countries. Finns and Swedes head outdoors to revel in the water and forests and worship a sun that never seems to drop below the horizon. The Åland Islands, an autonomous territory of Finland, are located between Sweden and Finland. Slightly remote, accessible only by ferry, small boat, or airplane, and dotted with churches and castles dating back 700 years, this is indeed a magical place to celebrate Midsummer. I had spent four months living in Jyväskylä, Finland, and before returning to the United States, my travel wish list included celebrating Midsummer in the Åland Islands.
I arrived in Mariehamn by Viking ferry from Stockholm on Midsummer Eve, June 19, 2015. Mariehamn boasts the largest population in the Åland Islands (11,000) and is the capital. Midsummer Eve is one of the most significant holidays in this part of the world, and shops and public transportation shut down early to allow everyone to join in the celebration.
I had reserved a cottage at Djurviks Gästgård in Gottby, and the owner kindly picked me up from the ferry dock. My cottage boasted two sets of bunk beds, electric heat, a small refrigerator, and a porch with a view of the sea. The main building contained a communal kitchen, bathrooms and showers, common areas, and a long porch for whiling away the summer afternoons.
After settling in, Harry offered me a ride to Gottby proper where the raising of the Maypole would take place in late afternoon. I had traveled to the Åland Islands to participate in this ancient ritual. Young and old gathered at the village crossroads to watch as the pole, decorated with green leaves, garlands, wreaths, and flowers was lifted using only long sticks, ropes, manpower, and sisu! Although a light rain fell during the ceremony, the small crowd of locals was not deterred. After all, this is Finland (and Sweden)! As I stood among the crowd of locals, I was deeply moved to be celebrating an ancient rite connected with fortune, happiness, love, and marriage.
The Åland islands are bicycle friendly, and all the inhabited islands are connected by the Ålandstafiken’s archipelago ferries. People ride for free, but tickets must be purchased for bikes or vehicles. Midsummer Day is a quiet time with everyone sleeping off the excesses of the previous evening. It was a perfect day for a bicycle ride through the countryside and an easy 12 kilometers from Djurviks Gästgård to Mariehamn. Bicycle and walking paths parallel the main roads, and then stagger off into a countryside dotted with windmills and placid horses chomping grass. Mariehamn is a charming harbor village with a number of boutiques, coffee shops, and museums, including the museum ship, Pommern. The staff at the Tourist Information Office is welcoming, and they will allow you to stow your luggage while you explore the town on foot or by bike.
The following day, I undertook a longer ride, 26 kilometers, and cycled from Gottby to Kastelholm in the municipality of Sund. Kastelholm is a well-preserved castle ruin dating back to the 1300’s. On the way, I stopped off for a look around the Church of St.Olaf located in Jomala (10.4 km from Kastelholm). The beautiful stone church was founded between 1260-1290 and is the oldest remaining church in Finland. Further on, I pedaled past Kvarnbo Gasthemin Saltvik. This is a lovely bed and breakfast and Ella, the owner, is a gem.
A few challenging hills rise just before Kastelholm, but most of the ride winds through idyllic farmland and sleepy villages with sweeping views of water. Wild lupines in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white create an Impressionist landscape. When my energy began to flag, it was easy to locate a small cafe for a coffee or ice cream. The Jan Karlsgårdens open air museum is also located at Kastelholm. Buildings from throughout the Åland Islands have been relocated to this site to form a typical Åland farm from the late 1800s. Thousands of visitors participate in the Midsummer celebration here, but I preferred the small village celebration in Gottby.
Upon my return to Djurvik’s, I blissfully sank into the steam of the sauna. The sauna is located in a small building and is in demand. Early sign-up guarantees a chance to indulge in this finest of Finnish customs. Later in the evening, I shared the kitchen with other campers, singles and families, and cobbled together a simple dinner. Lively conversation ensued with many questions for me as the lone American at the gästgård.
Back on the porch of my cottage, I sipped a glass of wine (a duty-free purchase on the ferry), and watched the swans gliding on the calm sea. Small boats drifted by and the cool breeze carried strains of music from adjoining cottages. Midnight arrived and the sky remained filled with light. Midsummer magic in the Åland Islands.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)