Twenty thousand: that’s the total number of picturesque isles in Finland’s Turku Archipelago. Take your pick and get pedalling.
It has been a 30-kilometre bike ride from the town of Naantali in southwestern Finland to the Taivassalo ferry dock. From this point on, I have all the time in the world.
But that’s the whole idea of biking: to explore the surroundings, take in the scenery, and enjoy every small detail – the red ochre wooden houses, the apple trees, and the bright white sails blinking on the horizon. In the old days, vast merchant ships used to sail from this spot to all four corners of the world.
Despite the near-deserted landscapes, the area is rich in history. Iron and Bronze Age tombs have been discovered here, and the names of islands such as Iniö appear in tax records dating from 1540. The local villages were inhabited as far back as the 14th century, and some of the local plants are believed to have been imported by the Vikings, whose route may have once passed through the Archipelago.
This marks the start of our four-day cycle tour on the Archipelago Trail, a 250-kilometre circular route connected by 12 bridges and nine ferries through the islands of Turku.
First up, lunch at a local eatery called Pollin Piha, where the salmon soup is said to be the best on the island. It certainly smells heavenly: I detect garlic, chives, and dill, but the chef, Antti Lahdenperä – a criminal investigator in winter and entrepreneur in summer – chuckles at my guesses at what makes his soup so incredibly tasty.
Sounds of summer
Lahdenperä runs the farm together with his wife Milla Lahdenperä, a teacher of dental technology who helps run the family business during her summer holiday. Occasionally she tinkles a tune on the piano, but more often than not there are professional singers and musicians giving a show.
The restaurant is adjoined by a granny-style bed and breakfast in an old farmhouse. Next door there is a lovely mini-spa and an old storehouse that has been turned into a museum of antique tools. The spacious barn is used for hosting events such as flea markets.
The couple has three daughters and three giant Leonbergers.
“This is a wonderful place for the kids and the dogs to run around. Although running the place keeps us busy almost around the clock, this is the perfect way to spend the holiday – working together with the best possible company, my lovely wife,” says Antti, who was born in Taivassalo. He fondly recalls childhood summers filled with endless swimming, sauna-bathing, and fishing.
Riding is a pleasure with a full stomach – especially after a relaxing encounter with friendly, easy-going locals.
Afternoon becomes evening as we unsling our bike bags at Peterzéns Boathouse on the island of Kustavi, our accommodation for the night. A charming row of black thatched boathouses next to the guest harbour offer shelter and sauna for both cyclists and sailors. And, after a long day of biking, nothing beats a hot sauna and a dip in the sea, followed by a long, leisurely dinner.
The place is run by Leontina Peterzéns and her brother. Peterzéns entertains us with her stories and infectious laughter, which rings long and loud into the light summer night. Born in Helsinki, she spent her childhood summers here. The boathouse was originally founded by her mother, textile artist Laura Peterzéns, who still runs the adjoining gallery. Later Leontina moved to Bilbao in Spain, but every spring, she and her three children pack their suitcases and head back to Kustavi, the only place she can imagine spending her summers.
After dinner it’s time to set off on the bike again, but this time only for a short ride. In a massive log building we discover an unexpected surprise: a musical circus performed by international circus stars Pauliina Räsänen and Slava Volkov.
The young, talented couple are both Cirque de Soleil-trained circus artists who decided to leave behind glamorous Las Vegas for the Archipelago. Today, they run a circus school and last winter they performed as guest stars of Petrushka, a circus show at the Berlin Komische Opera.
The next morning, with our bellies full of traditional oatmeal porridge, smoked fish, rye bread, yoghurt, and many cups of coffee, it’s time to set off to the next island, Iniö. As the islands get smaller and quieter, our four-member group pedal side by side (though it’s not recommended), enjoying long conversations on the way. There is hardly any traffic and the occasional local greets us as we pass by. Every now and then we also come across other cyclists.
Stocking up on sunshine
In winter the small islands are all but deserted, but come summer, there is a sudden influx of cottage owners and tourists. The only place that ever becomes crowded, however, is the ferry, especially on weekends or during summer events such as Korppo Sea Jazz in July or the Kustavi Salmon Market in August, which draws thousands of visitors.
Our group are experienced cyclists, so we have come prepared with a tool box in case of a puncture or other mishap. The distances are long and spare parts might be in short supply on the road.
We spend four wonderful sunshine-filled days on the road. At suitable intervals we stop for coffee or lunch, fill our stomachs with strawberries we pick fresh from a farm, take a walk on a nature trail, and enjoy the views from a lookout tower.
The pedalling never gets too exhausting, as there are many ferry stops along the way, and daily saunas help to soothe fatigued muscles.
And nothing beats finding a secluded beach, stripping off damp clothes, and plunging into the crisp, cool water. The sea never truly gets warm so far up north, but after a swim, the sun gently dries shivering skin. We drink in the myriad shades of blue and hold them dear as a lucky charm to ward off the grey darkness of the long Nordic winter.
Eat & Sleep
Pollin Piha B&B in a farmhouse, complete with a mini-spa, restaurant, concerts, events, awesome salmon soup, and sea buckthorn berry cheesecake. pollinpiha.fi
PeterzÉns Accommodation in thatched boathouses, a dock restaurant, entertainment, and dancing four nights a week. peterzens.fi
Lootholma offers yurts and beautiful, new villas with hot tubs on the balcony. lootholma.fi
Café and B&B Buy fresh bread from Erkas Gården or enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch at the 18th-century farmhouse in the beautiful surroundings of Jumo village. erkasgarden.com
Bruddalsviken offers a menu of tasty and original Thai food cooked by chef and cookbook author Niramon Thanuddhanusilp. bjorklundbatslip.fi
Mossala Island Resort Cottages and camping with a beautiful view from the lookout tower, just a ten-minute forest walk away. mossala-island-resort.com
Hotel Stallbacken and Grännas B & B caters to every taste with its high-quality restaurant serving island delicacies. hotelstallbacken.fi
Kustavi ArtTeatro Circus Festival: July 6–August 5, book tickets in advance. artteatro.com
Parainen ArtBank: an interesting private collection of Dali and Finnish and international contemporary art. If possible, book a guided tour with the owner Ted Wallin, a passionate Dali collector. artbank.fi
Geocaching: a good excuse to take a break from the bike saddle. There are plenty of caches in the Archipelago; all you need is a smartphone.
- Plan the route, book accommodation in advance, and check ferry timetables. Plan an itinerary and allow time for surprises and changes. Please note that some ferries operate frequently, others only a couple of times per day. Leave time for exploring, stopping at interesting places, and resting.
- Take along an extra inner tube and a small tool box with basic tools (pump, Allen key set, tyre repair kit, extra master link or extra chains, wrench, multifunction tool).
- Pack snacks such as dried fruit and energy bars in your bike bags.
- Pack warm, rainproof, and windproof clothes just in case.
On the ride:
- Remember to drink plenty of fluids even when you’re not feeling thirsty. Dehydration isn’t a pleasant travel companion.
- Watch for road signs pointing to interesting attractions.
Text by Ninarose Maoz Photos by Robert Seger
This article is published in the May-June 2017 issue of Blue Wings.