Saturday, 3 September 2016

Around Aland - history, surprises, amazing people and creative craziness

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Aland's hundreds of islands all have their own vibe. They're full of history, sights, hidden gems, amazing people and creative craziness. 

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There's plenty to see between Mariehamn and Havsvidden and it soon becomes evident, why Aland isles are such a popular destination for those traveling by bicycles.

Next time that's exacty what I'll do, too: explore islands' wonderful nature on a bicycle; with the sun on my face and wind in my hair. With a fully stocked picnic basket in tow, of 

In case you didn't bring your own, you can also hire them at Ro-No Rent at Mariehamn's Western Harbour (Länsisatama). Prices start at €10/day or €50/a week). In case you're staying at our favourite; Hotel Arkipelag, you can borrow a bicycle from there.

Aland charms with its archipelago ambiance and amazing views and a bicycle is the best way get to know them.

The distances between different isles are short and a bicycle gets you quickly from one gem to another. The isles also surprise with their versatility: each of them has their own personality and vibe.

And surprises are something Aland has no shortage of. In the middle of nowhere you'll discover all sorts of hidden gems, such as this Café Stickstugan in Lemland.

Another delightful discovery is Judy's, a British potterymaker's place in Gölby.

An antique shop? Workshop? Vintage store? Café? Oh, yes, And then some.

That's the thing with the people in Aland: everywhere you go, you bump into people cheerfullt pursuing their creative passions. No matter how crazy they are. 

That's how it should be, says Christian from Stallhagen's Brewery, himself a 17th generation Alandare. "If what you're doing isn't at least just a little crazy, it's not worth doing!"

His latest venture is a rock festival, held on the beach next to his pub.

As I said: crazy. But in the best possible way.

In addition to all things foodie, we made it our business to see some real sights, too. Such as Bomarsund fortress in Sund. 

Destroyed in the Crimean war, Bomarsund fortress was built by the Russians who at the time ruled over the region. At the time it was the largest building in the whole of Aland. After the war Aland was declared a demilitarized zone and no more fortresses have been erected here.

Part of the fortress and the town-like community that sprung up around Bomarsund is Notvik tower, who, along with its cannons, was supposed to protect the Northern way in, which the Russians though was the only way battle ships could use to attack Bomarsund.

But oh, how wrong the Russians were: the enemy arrived using the Southeastern strait of Ängösund. And rest, as they say, is history. 

So long, suckers! 

Visit to Notvik is highly recommended for the spectacular views over the archipelago alone. 

Free admission to both of these.

While we're bona fide foodies and shameless culinary escapades are what we do best, we decided to continue nourishing our souls and focus on satisfying that  hunger for history.

For that Jan Karlsgården's open air museum is a great destination. Much like Seurasaari in Helsinki, it consists of buildings brought over from other parts of country (in this case Aland), with the aim of recreating the spirit of late 19th century village.

Admission here is free, too. For more information check out the museum's website.

Right next to it there are the ruins of  Kastelholm Castle, one of the most popular sights in Aland.

Built in the late 14th century, this castle has hosted Swedish royalty from Gustav Vasa to Duke of Finland John III along with Eric XIV and his wife Karin Månsdotter, though the last two stayed here as Eric's brother's prisoners. 

The fire of 1619 damaged the castle but its master at the time tried to repair the place to its former glory. Not long after that, though, Kastelholm lost its administrative status, resulting in loss of overall importance.

The following fire of 1745 destroyed the castle almost completely.

I want me a castle, too! Oh, and minions. I've always wanted to have an army of my very own minions!

The castle caters to all sorts of visitors. Children, for instance, get to play dress up. Being slightly over 120 cm, we had to make do with admiring the props, which was a bit sad considering we even have our tiaras. 

(That, for the record, is no joke. Others have might guest towels and what have you, but the Cat Blogger actually has her own guest tiara at mine.)

Views from here, too, are...well, rather majestic.

...over the river and the charming countryside surrounding the castle...

... and what do you know: a restaurant! And not just any old restaurant: Smakbyn, the #1 destination for any self-respecting foodie!

At this point our bodies needed some nourishment, too, so we happily succumbed to what we do best: eating.

Smakby's  location couldn't be more ideal. And there are several reasons why it tops the list as a must see- foodie destination.

There are the luscious cocktails they make using alcohol they distill themselves...

...and their excellent, robust food.

The owner's, Michael Björklund's laid back attitude and cheerful character won over even the Finnish-speaking nation's hearts during his stint at a Swedish-speaking TV series Strömsö. 

You shouldn't let that fool you though: the man is a culinary star. In 2011 he represented Finland in Bocuse d'Or, finishing at 5th place. The result was best ever for Finland and the only one to do better since was Matti Jämsén, who came in 4th in last year's competition. 

Oh, and in case you need more reasons to head over here, there's the distillery downstairs, where you can freely tour.

Unfortunately (because of Finland's backward legislation) you can't buy any of the products to take home with you, but there are drop-in tastings here from Tuesdays to Saturdays (€25 pp).

You don't need to leave empty-handed though - adjacent to the restaurant there's a charming little shop that sells local produce.

And soon you won't have to leave at all: Smakby is about to open their own inn!

Another place that's in the process of opening their own inn is Stallhagen Brewery, another great destination for those travelling in the search of good food and drink. 

The brewery also operates a gastro pub (a proud purveyor of nose to tail-thinking) and their future plans include gastrotours, during which foodie travellers get to know the producers behind restaurant's dishes and cook with top chefs.

"We're really not much of beer drinkers", we tried to protest in vain as we were invited to sample brewery's selection and were swiftly proven wrong. 

Out of all the beers we tried, we loved... well, every single one of them, much to our surprise. I can tell you, that now, when ever we see Stallgahen on the menu, we go for it. Back here on the continent it is available in more than 50 restaurants in 18 different cities.

New, at times rather quirky-sounding additions are launched every couple of months. We were particularly enamoured with blueberry ale and raspberry stout.

Our biggest favourite, however, was probably Historic Beer 1843, which won us over not just with its fruity smoothness combined with crisp freshness but also with the story behind it. 

Its recipe is carefully reconstructed based on the oldest survining beer in the world, which was found in a shipwreck discovered in front of Aland. 

Drick mindre, drick bättre. "Drink less, but drink better".

Words painted on Stallhagen's gate greet us on our way out. Wise words and like so many other things we learnt during our stay here, they will stay with us for a long time. 

Aland has made itself a home in our hearts and we can't wait to return. 

I hope you enjoyed our trip as much as we did? What was your favourite part of it?

Aland's soul-nurturing nature?
Mariehamn's wonderful villas?
Capital's sights and restaurant finds?
Or Havsvidden's luxurious surroundings?

* In collaboration with Visit Åland 





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