It is true that just getting to Åland is half the experience. Its location in the bold blue waters of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden, at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia, makes for a stunning ferry journey through the Stockholm archipelago. From an open-air top deck the air is fresh, the sun is warm, and the archipelago unfurls ahead of you, blanketed with trees and dotted with summer cottages and saunas. Wooden docks extend from rocky shorelines and anchored sailboats bob languidly on small waves.
Soon, however, the waterway widens and you no longer feel as if you can reach out and touch the archipelago. And once you reach open water you have Åland’s capital city, Mariehamn, to look forward to.
Founded in 1861, Mariehamn has always been an important centre for shipping and fishing on the Åland islands. A walk from Västerhamn, the city’s western harbour, south to the old Korrvik fishing harbour is a special way to enjoy your first sunny afternoon.
The path is quiet and at times takes you directly along the shoreline, with the only sound being a symphony of white-peaked waves crashing onto the rocks below. At the path’s end at Korrvik fishing harbour is something that will make every step of your walk worthwhile, providing you plan ahead and bring a fresh baguette and a bottle of wine – a fiskekoja.
This cheerful wooden fish hut, painted a shade of red that characterises many buildings on Åland, sells fresh, pickled, and smoked fish, alongside tasty sauces to pair your choice with. The selection of walleye, perch, cod, and flounder depends on the season and the local fishermen’s catch but the specialty, delicately smoked salmon with lemon pepper and garlic, is available year-round and is the last ingredient you need for a simple lunch or early evening picnic on the water’s edge.
If you find yourself at Korrvik fishing harbour on a summer’s day at either 11am or 1pm (except on Mondays), catch a lift with Bo-Erik Westberg of Fiskelyckan to the rocky island of Kobba Klintar. Tanned, Bo-Erik looks like a man who has spent his entire life on the water. As his boat picks up speed after leaving the fishing harbour and skips lightly over small waves, he is completely at ease behind the wheel.
Kobba Klintar is home to an old pilot station, established in the same year Mariehamn was founded, and from where ships would receive piloting directions when trying to navigate their way into Mariehamn’s western harbour. The pilot station was manned by four to five pilots at a time, on week-long shifts, and they guided ships through this difficult stretch of water.
The station closed in 1972 but the original pilot’s cabin from 1862 remains, lovingly restored, as does a larger pilot’s house built in 1910.
In the cabin you will find Kobba Café & Sjömans Bar. Its outdoor terrace provides a panoramic view of the small, rocky island and you can have lunch whilst you sit back and enjoy it. If it’s a breezy day and you have a sweet tooth, opt for a mug of piping hot tea and a pastry filled with jam and custard and dusted with sugar. It will chase away any chills and prepare you for the many sweet things yet to discover on Åland.
During her discovery of Åland, Tanya Braaksma was a guest of Visit Åland.