Fthe interior has handled the pandemic better than many other countries. It still has one of the lowest rates of confirmed cases (around 103,851 at the time of writing) and coronavirus-related deaths (currently 982) in Europe, a feat many have attributed to a rapid lockdown strategy and strict travel restrictions.

He did it all in a typical Finnish style: without yelling at it. Perhaps this calm demeanor has to do with the country’s deep connection to the natural world, where shouting is usually not necessary. More than 90% of Finland is made up of forests or water, and the jokamiehenoikeus (wandering right) gives anyone living or visiting Finland access to all of this nature, including many private lands.

All of this makes it a place where it is very easy to escape the people and the pressures of everyday life, as I discovered on a visit in 2019.

Days after starting my trip, I found myself cycling along a deserted road on a clumsy old bike borrowed from my guesthouse, and the only living creatures I saw were a family of geese waddling in a field towards a thick pine forest. If I hadn’t been sitting in a sauna by the beach 45 minutes ago, sweating noticeably more than the other two bathers, I would have sworn I had the island of Iniö to myself.

View of the Turku archipelago. Photography: Tristan Parker

It became a familiar feeling on my trip around the Turku archipelago – around 20,000 islands off the southwest coast of Finland. Visiting the 20,000 looking a bit ambitious, I chose to follow approximately the 200km Archipelago Trail, a loop of roads and ferries that begins and ends in Turku, Finland’s oldest city and its ancient city. capital city.

Turku is a good blend of historic monuments and modern comforts, and while there isn’t much of a breathtaking singular spectacle, there are plenty of miles to go just by jumping between galleries and bustling cafe-bars. (many bordering the Aura River) and immersing yourself in a rich dining scene. Favorites included Kuori, for creative and cute vegetarian and vegan fare, and Tintå, a lively bistro on the Aura that offers gourmet pizzas with unusual toppings (asparagus, strawberries and vegan feta were an unlikely winner).

I started the trail by driving south towards Parainen, 25 km away. The main attraction of this small town is Art Bank, which claims to be Salvador Dalí’s only visible private collection in Scandinavia, though Dalí’s surrealism seems pedestrian compared to eccentric owner Ted Wallin, who showed me around. “I fall into a trance where I know I am Salvador,” he said casually. “Out in Pargas [the Swedish name for Parainen], everyday life doesn’t have a lot of glamor, so people come to Art Bank for fun.

Art bank in Parainen.
Art bank in Parainen. Photography: Tristan Parker

I got my excitement as I drove to the small town of Nauvo, amidst a landscape of flat, lush green fields and pine forests punctuated by red wooden houses.

My base was the Lanterna Hotel (doubles from € 100 B&B), near the harbor, where restaurants include Najaden, a bar and pizzeria on an anchored steamboat. I checked out a red wooden steeple nestled in a forest before rushing to the harbor to catch a ferry to Seili, a small island off the main trail with a spooky history.

Seili has a lot for nature lovers: it is home to various rare and unusual plants and I saw wild hares, huge dragonflies and even what I thought was a wild mink. But it hides a more macabre past. In the 17th century, Seili housed a large leprosy hospital, to which hundreds of people were sent one way. The hospital was later transformed into a psychiatric hospital for women. Although today the hospital is the Archipelago Research Institute, studying the environment and wildlife around the Baltic Sea, visitors can still walk around the old buildings and cell-like rooms, some of which have been preserved to show the history of the hospital.

The next morning, in Lanterna’s antiques-filled dining room, I had lunch of rye bread with peanut and tamarind sauce, as well as plenty of cucumber – a Finnish staple. Next, I headed to the port for the (free) five-hour ferry ride to Utö, Finland’s most southerly inhabited island, with a population of around 45.

Mark Nixon's Shiver House on the Barefoot Path art walk on Korppoo.
Mark Nixon’s Shiver House on the Barefoot Path art walk on Korppoo. Photography: Tristan Parker

Seeing Utö on Google Maps gives a dizzying sense of its isolation – and it is exactly this remoteness that appeals. There is a hotel in a former army barracks (the island is still used by the Finnish army), but I stayed at Hanna’s Horizon B&B (double with homemade breakfast from € 77). Owner Hanna Kovanen is a source of knowledge about Utö, being born here, and also arranges tours of the Red and White Lighthouse (the oldest working example in Finland), which has a chapel on the third floor.

After the visit, I climbed some rocks on the south coast of the island. Maybe it was the romantic filter my brain designed for Utö, or maybe it was the (admittedly quite strong) Finnish IPA that I had taken with me, but as I gazed into a glorious nothingness , I realized that I would never have been more detached from the rest of the world. It was fantastic.

My next stop on the island was Korppoo, which is home to the rural hotel Nestor (double from € 130 B&B), plus a lake and a sculpture walk through the forests.

Korppoo Island.
Korppoo Island. Photography: Tristan Parker

Iniö, four ferries and a four hour drive north, was my last stop. Its small main village has a pretty church, a cafe and a small harbor with sauna and beach, where I forced myself to dive into the cold water. I warmed up in the sauna (traditionally you’re supposed to do a sauna first, then dive into cold water), where I made the British mistake of wearing a bathing suit. After the mocking looks of other users, I left, took off the shorts and came back, pretending nothing had happened.

Back in Turku, I stopped at several towns on the last section of the trail, now connected to the mainland, including Taivassalo and Naantali. The tourist port of Naantali was a good place to walk, but nowhere did the sweet magic of the small islands – or their wildlife. I had regularly seen jumping deer and deer, countless fluorescent caterpillars and colorful insects, as well as rarer birds than my basic birding could name.

My magical tour had touched only about 20 islands in the archipelago – and I was very happy to think that left 19,980 more for me to explore on a return trip.

This article was amended on August 4, 2021 to use the Finnish names Korppoo, Parainen and Nauvu rather than their Swedish equivalents Korpo, Pargas and Nagu.

For more information see VisitFinland.com. Ferry timetables are available on saaristolautat.fi

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