Between Sweden and Finland is an archipelago consisting of 6,700 islands that lie low in the water, their coppery granite shores surrounded by the ink-blue waters of the Baltic Sea. These are the Åland Islands, an autonomous region within Finland, and despite being popular with Scandinavian travelers, they’re rarely visited by foreign tourists. You may never have heard of the area, but there are plenty of reasons to head over there.
Most visitors start their journey in Mariehamn, the islands’ capital. Visit the Maritime Museum for an immersive experience into Mariehamn’s nautical past. Look out for the skull and crossbones flag — one of only two real pirate flags in the world — then climb on board Pommern, a four-masted windjammer which now doubles as a museum
When the weather’s warm, take a dip at Lila Holmen, a picturesque beach south of the maritime quarter. You’ll walk through a small wooded park — where peacocks strut their stuff in the woodland and across the sand — to get there.
Stay at Hotel Park Alandia, a centrally-located hotel that’s been recently refurbished. It boasts sophisticated rooms decorated in shades inspired by the archipelago, a sauna and a traditional wood-panelled pub.
Head to Stallhagen, a gastropub and micro-brewery half an hour outside Mariehamn to taste the Historic Beer 1843, which was developed from a beer recovered from a shipwreck in the Åland archipelago. Despite being one of the oldest preserved beers in the world, it has a light, refined flavor as it was fermented without hops. Stallhagen also offers tastings, pairing their beer with tapas made from locally sourced ingredients.