Bright blue waters, forests reaching out to the sea and the friendliest people in the world: that is the archipelago off Turku. If you are looking for nature and seclusion, the area in Finland’s far southwest is right for you.
Today I would like to introduce you to an area that every Finn knows, but which is unjustly little known outside his own country: the island world off the coast of Turku. It is connected by a 250-kilometer ring road, also known as the Archipelago Trail.
Since the entire route either has separate cycle paths or leads through remote areas with very thin traffic, the Archipelago Trail is very popular with cyclists. In the uncertain Finnish autumn weather, I preferred to explore the area with a rental car. That proved to be the right decision at the end of September.
Despite the weather pitch, the numerous small islands off the southwestern coast of Finland were among the most beautiful destinations I visited this year. The surprisingly calm sea, the autumn woods and the sleepy villages were incredibly relaxing for me.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan this road trip, give you the reasons why I liked the area so much, and give you a little warning so that you do not make the same mistake in planning me and you are prepared for the off season.
Where is the Achipelago Trail?
The circular route starts just before Turku, the former capital of Finland. Turku is about two hours west of Helsinki and has an international airport but few airlines fly to it. See my tips for finding cheap airline tickets.
Even though Turku has only a few historical buildings due to several major fires, I still recommend spending a day or two in the relaxed student city with cool cafes and delicious restaurants.
The trail leads you over the larger island of Pargas and Nagu into the seclusion as far as Mossala. From there you take a ferry to the northern part of the islands and slowly return to Turku.
The entire route is about 250 kilometers long and can be just under a day. But then you miss out on the best of the trip: The secluded accommodations that exist everywhere on the islands. I would therefore plan at least one to two nights. I could easily spend a week in the area.
In addition, I recommend not to go back to Turku at the end, but to make a detour to the north. Very nice and only a very small detour is the town of Naantali with its historic wooden houses and the sleepy harbor.
Also very worthwhile is Rauma – a World Heritage city located about 90 kilometers north of Turku. It houses the largest collection of historic wooden houses in all Scandinavia and is undoubtedly the most beautiful city I have ever visited in Northern Europe.
That’s why I liked the Archipelago Trail
If you imagine the trip on the loop just as a trip through a lonely island world, then you are only half right. Despite the seclusion, the path has a lot to offer.
The local art
Finns like art. And you’ll also find plenty of art on the remote Archipelago Trail. The first thing you will do in Parainen is the “Art Bank”. Here, a crazy private collector pretending to be the reincarnation of Salvador Dali presents an impressive collection of Dali’s artworks (or his own, which unfortunately remained somewhat unclear during the visit).
A few kilometers further in Vikom is Katriina Design – the exhibition hall of the well-known artist Katriina Lehtilä-Laine in Finland. She ties carpet-like paintings with colored strips of paper. She also makes cool vases out of granite. One stands with me on the desk.
Just a mile from the port of Nauvo starts the Viktor Westerholm nature trail. Here you will find (or perhaps not because of the lack of signage) the forests and shoreline sections that the well-known Finnish landscape painter painted over a hundred years ago. The path leads through a beautiful landscape and is also worthwhile if you have nothing to do with Westerholm.
Shortly before Korppoo near the Hotel Nestor, the so-called Barefoot Trail offers another possibility for an exciting hike through the Finnish forests. Here the path leads past a series of art installations between the trees, which change regularly.
Travel always means food. And that is on the road trip through the islands before Turku a real treat – even though it is sometimes not so easy in the fall to find open restaurants. In the low season, you should definitely book a table so you do not stand in front of a locked door.
If you only have time for a single restaurant, you should definitely give the restaurant back pocket a chance. It is part of the already mentioned Hotel Nestor and is located in a converted old barn. The just 26-year-old owner is a gifted and passionate chef. I had there probably the tastiest soup of my life on the basis of lentils with fine salmon strips. A true dream!
If the back pocket is closed, you will find the restaurant Hijalmars a few kilometers further. It is probably the only restaurant on the island that really is open every day of the year and has therefore become a popular destination for the locals, with whom you can easily talk to here in the off-season. The food is tasty and cheap.
The remote huts
As I mentioned earlier, a trip along the Archipelago Trail is not complete without spending the night in a secluded cabin and having it melted right on the shore in a Finnish sauna. I have visited the following three cabins and I highly recommend them:
Villa Apollo in Parainen: Situated on a picturesque bay are various bungalows and wooden houses. Right on the sea you will find a super nice sauna. You can also rent a kayak here and explore the sea, which is mostly very quiet in this part of Finland. I have not stayed here and therefore can not say anything about the rooms.
Villa Wallden in Korppoo: The large wooden house is pretty well hidden on a side island and reminded me a bit of the ski huts in the Alps. The rooms are relatively basic but functional and clean. A big plus are the two Jacuzzi with direct sea view.
Mossala Island Resort on Mossala: At the far end of the trail – where the ferry translates into the northern islands in summer – Mossala Island Resort is a sprawling and super-beautiful resort. Not very cheap and only to rent on a weekly basis, but with a great decoration is the Design Villa, in which we spent the night.
I’m not a big friend of islands and I already called myself as “island muffle”. That’s because I get bored pretty quickly at the water. The sea around the islands off Turku, however, I found fascinating, because it looks like a lake in long stretches. Locals also pointed to the sea and said “Lake”.
This is partly because the water is very quiet because of the many islands. If it does not wind, there are practically no waves. This makes the sea attractive for numerous water sports that are not necessarily adrenaline-laden, such as kayaking or SUP.
It is also special that the forests usually reach all the way to the coast. You do not usually have a beach. That too makes the sea look more like a lake. Especially in the fall, when the many birches glow yellow, the coast looks beautiful.
Car ferries may be perfectly normal for one or the other. I found it exciting to drive on a boat and cross over to other islands. I found it funny to observe that the ferries became a little smaller with each further crossing.
But above all, the ferries of the trip give something very relaxed. Before some crossings I had to wait up to two hours until the ship was back on our side. This gives plenty of time to leave the car and take a walk in the vicinity.
The Archipelago Trail in the off season
The main travel time for the archipelago is short, very short. In essence, it is limited to the three summer months between June and August. Although the islands can be visited all year round. But if you’re out of season, it’s going to cause a lot of trouble.
Since not all islands are connected by bridges, the biggest limitation arises from the timetable of the ferries. Many start with a much lower clock rate from September, so you often have to wait longer for a crossing. Some tracks are even completely stopped, leaving behind Mossala a gap. Specifically, this means: In the off-season you have to go back the same way.
In addition, many resorts and restaurants are closed in low season or have much shorter opening hours. Also, it is more difficult to provide you with groceries from stores, as the supermarkets sometimes close at 15 o’clock. The journey is not impossible, but you have to plan everything much better.
Despite these challenges, I found the fall an excellent travel time. The already beautiful forests turn into all colors. The streets are virtually empty and the whole region gives the feeling that you are really at the bottom of the world.
What you should know about the road trip
The best way to put the road trip in a rental car. In Turku there are various providers both in the city center and at the airport. With a little luck, you can find a provider from about 21 euros per day at cheap-mietwagen.de. Also note my tips on finding cheap car hire.
No matter how bad your orientation is, on the Archipelago Trail you can hardly get lost. Once you have found the right road outside of Turku, there are almost no junctions left. Nevertheless, I recommend you to install on the phone, the offline maps.me maps.
The maximum speed on the generally well-developed overland roads is usually between 60 and 80 km / h and is – as usual in Finland – monitored by any amount of fixed speed cameras. So keep an eye on the speedometer.
With most vehicles, you can easily complete the Archipelago Trail with a full tank of fuel. If you need fuel, you’ll find simple self service dispensers near the ferries.
After my first visit to Finland this spring, I immediately fell in love with the North European country. I like the lightheartedness and generosity of the Finns, but also the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and the sometimes very pretty historic towns.
Since Turku and the archipelago are very easy to reach from Helsinki, I would highly recommend taking this short road trip in the itinerary. Ideally also with a stopover from Asia.
Disclosure: The trip was at the invitation of Visit Archipelago and Visit Turku. In addition, in the text isolated affiliate links.
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