If I asked you to name the largest group of islands (by number) in the world, I wonder where you’d think that might be. Pause a moment and ponder.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking of sun kissed beaches and turquoise waters, with palm trees flapping around lazily in the breeze. Maybe there’s a pina colada somewhere in the shot.
I suspect that on the list of countries and destinations you were considering, Finland may not have popped into your head.
Well, as I learnt recently, the Archipelago Sea off Finland’s southern coast would in fact be the answer. It’s tough to get an exact number, but there are at least 50,000 islands, with over 17,000 of those being large enough to put some kind of dwelling on.
Counting the islands is tricky enough, because new ones keep popping up. This is because the whole region is rising up out of the sea at the rate of a few millimetres a year – enough for it to change noticeably even within the lifetime of a person. Geology on amphetamines, Finland style.
Part of this area is a national park, cunningly named the Archipelago National Park, which is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is chock full of interesting wildlife, from huge eagles through to seals. Not to mention all kinds of underwater stuff that would be of interest to those who spend their holidays below, rather than above, the water.
On my trip though, the adventures took place above the water, tripping around and between these islands.
Boat is, without doubt, the best way to explore the area.
We took a ride from Kasnas, a village on the southern tip of the island of Kimito. Here there’s a visitor centre where you can learn all about the Archipelago, from the people to the wildlife and geology.
Our destination for the day was the Bengtskär Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Scandinavia. The trip involved us wending our way through the many islands, a task that required an experienced navigator at the helm, as so many of the rocks in the area are hidden just below the surface.
On our way out to the lighthouse we stopped off at a replica Viking Village, where we got to play with chain mail and swords. This was particularly fun for the kids in our group, so if you’re travelling with kids, I can definitely recommend stopping off at the Rosala Viking Centre. Just be warned that the chain mail is heavy!
Then it was across to the lighthouse, which is the highest one in the Nordic region, at 52 metres above sea level. It was built at the turn of the 20th century, and has had a rocky past (sorry), being involved as it was in a major battle during the Second World War, when a good number of Soviet soldiers tried to take it from Finnish control.
They failed, but after the war the lighthouse fell into disrepair, only to be saved much later on in the 20th century when an association was formed to preserve it. These days it’s a major tourist attraction in the area.
And for good reason. The guides on the island are knowledgeable, and will tell you all about the history of the island in a nice easy 20 minute chat on the rocks. Once they’re done explaining, you are free to wander, and I highly recommend taking the time to head up the lighthouse steps.
The view from the top of the surrounding ocean is marvellous, even if the climb up to the top is a little on the strenuous side.The good news is that the sea is good for swimming, so if you get a nice day then you can heat up on the climb and then dip in the water afterwards to cool off. Splashing optional, but recommended. We went for the splashing option!
Before we knew it, our fun was over, and it was time to head back to the island of Kimito , where, naturally, a hot sauna was waiting for us, along with a cold beer and an excellent Finnish sunset.
We couldn’t ask for more than that! If you want to do this tour yourself, then the whole thing including the Viking Village and lighthouse is available either by taxi boat between the islands, where you can arrange the different visits yourself, or by booking a specific tour from one of various operators. Whichever you choose, I’m sure you’ll have a fun time!
And with that, I end my trip around the 50,000 islands of the Archipelago Sea off the Finnish coast. Next in this series of posts from Finland I’ll be sharing with you some thoughts on how to spend some time in the capital of this lovely country. Until then – safe travels!
My trip to Finland was in partnership with VisitFinland, who put together our awesome itinerary and sorted out all the logistics. Content remains my own.