Mariehamn, Åland seems just too good to be true. This is a place where everyone's happy and sun always shines!
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Apple tree blossoms float in the air like snow flakes before slowly falling onto the lawn surrounding Mariehamn's wooden villas. Eery silence hangs over the summer afternoon - the only thing breaking through it is the muffled sound of a big band, cheerfully performing on the town square.
Everywhere you go, people greet you with a smile on their face. Finnish way of downplaying everything is literally a foreign concept here: everything is helt suveränt ("just awesome").
Welcome to Aland - home to 20 000 people, happiness and eternal sunshine.
And I wasn't kidding with the sunshine: according to the locals there are more sunny days here than anywhere else in the mainland Finland. Oh, and those apple trees: a whopping 75% of Finland's apple production comes from here.
There's something so magically jovial about this place and it's impossible not to catch it. Steps take on a slower pace as if by themselves. Breaths become deeper. There's no rush anywhere.
Aland immediately wraps one into a comforting hug and whispers how nothing bad's going to happen to you. I thought this kind of places only existed in Elsa Beskow's books, but no. Here I am, witnessing it everywhere I look.
As I wonder out loud if anybody ever commits any crimes here, I'm met with amused chuckles. No. There is no criminality. This is verified by both statistics and conversations with the locals.
"I've never locked the door of my house, ever", assures Christian, himself a 17th generation Alandare. "And I always leave my car keys in the ignition. I mean, what's going to happen here? Everybody more or less knows each other!"
With only 11 000 inhabitants Mariehamn, the capital of Aland is tiny. Half of the population has a summer place somewhere else in the archipelago, so especially during summer weekends the town ressembles a ghost town. Albeit a ridiculously cute one at that.
Town's architecture has some serious eye candy in store - for blog's tour of her beautiful wooden villas just click here.
Lars Sonck is the architect also behind restaurant ÅSS Paviljongen, located near town's western harbour Länsisatama.
The restaurant, also recommended by White Guide Nordic, is an excellent choice for a whole host of reasons: great cocktails, wonderful menu consisting of the best the archipelago has to offer (Herring! Shrimps! Gubbröra!!!) and excellent wine and beer pairings (3 course dinner without beverages around €55 pp)
Their terrace is one of the best places to observe archipelago's glorious sunsets.
Another restaurant definitely worth checking out is Nautical, which the White Guide Nordic has ranked as #7 in the whole of Finland.
(6-course tasting menu without beverages €75, lunch €15-27)
One of the biggest attractions in Mariehamn is Pommern. This windjammer, built in 1903, made its last voyage in 1939 and now functions as a museum ship, located right next to ÅSS Paviljongen.
Tickets (adults €10, chicldren under 17 €6) also grant admission to the closeby Maritime museum.
People of Mariehamn are rightfully proud of their beautiful town and very particuar about the atmosphere maintaining its original charm. Owing to this the only (tiny) shopping cetre the town has, was built outside the town centre.
The surrounding sea is one of the key attributes of Mariehamn's atmosphere. I do wonder... if I start writing Santa now, wishing for a boat of my own, could this year be the year he actually listens to me?
For souvenir shopping you should head out to Merikortteli, the quarter consisting of restaured boat houses. Locally made arts and crafts for every taste (and budget).
I suppose the closest thing to criminal activity here would be not sampling the islands' famous Aland pancake (for my recipe, just click the link).
For that, I recommend Bagarstugan, along with a minor fast as upon seeing all their goodies you are not going to want to stop just at the pancake...!
Oh, Åland - you're åwesome. And I can't wait to get back!
ANYONE FOR SECONDS?
SHARING IS CARING!