Like sirens, Turku archipelago ring road lures regular wanderers and habitual hedonists alike. So, without more ado, let us begin!
Or, on a second thought, let me have a few words first. I have been living in Finland for a year now, and I have to admit that recently I have successfully executed some amazing trips in my native country: I fell a tiny bit in love with Porvoo, and I am still head over heels for my new local area of Turku and Naantali. And now, finally, I had the opportunity to drive around the Archipelago Ring Road – popular among cyclist – by a car.
Enjoy the epic journey in pictures!
Stop no 1: Sattmark Kaffe&Safka
Officially Turku archipelago ring road begins from, yeah, you guessed it, Turku. I decided to whizz past this former Finnish capital (where I visit on a weekly basis) and drove straight from my breakfast table in Naantali to a tiny place called Parainen. Here, the first pit stop was a quarry: a barren, 150 meter deep hole in the ground surrounded by a fence. The Pargas quarry was founded back in 1898, when Finland was still under Russian rule. There was a museum also, diving into the history of Finnish quarry work, but it was closed as it was so early in the morning. But the nearby café, built in an 18th-century croft, was open so we enjoyed another breakfast before our first ferry. Sattmark Kaffe&Safka is a very traditional Finnish coffee shop and I highly recommend it – the doughnuts are said to be the best ones on the isles. I tested, and do not argue.
Stop no 2: Nauvo antique shop
The first ferry we took (and after this first one I lost count) left close by the Sattmark café (about 15 minutes by a car) and arrived at Lillmälö, on the next island, in ten minutes. We drove straight to the island’s biggest village, Nauvo. Nauvo has a little but bustling harbour area with restaurants and little souvenir and clothes shops. From the harbour, you can take a ferry to an island called Seili, which is a historic place where a leper hospital was set in the 17th century: but for this trip, you really have to keep a close eye on the ferry timetables. And as my party still had to reach the next island,we left Seili to wait for another journey.
The best find in Nauvo was a quite big antique shop. If you are a fan of souvenirs, why not get some coffee related paraphilia as, after all, Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinking nation.
Stop no 3: Korppoo Church
After arriving the next island, we drove straight to Korppoo, a tiny town, with this church in it. There is also an acclaimed design shop DAG-15 in Korppoo, but we were hungry, and were just after some food. I had heard that on this island there was a new restaurant called Back Pocket so we asked for directions: it turned out we had passed it already. But don’t worry, this is not a problem on the islands, as they are very small, and getting lost sets your timetable back 15 minutes at most.
Stop 4: Hotel Nestor and restaurant Back Pocket
We found this manor house hotel by a small dirt road, slightly off from the main archipelago road number 180. Definitely worth the detour! If you love Finnish countryside living with a hint of gourmet, you will love Hotel Nestor. Hotel Nestor is located in an old farmhouse, and its recently opened restaurant is certainly one of the best culinary finds in Finland. I tried the carrot soup (I am a sucker for lunch soups) and it was the best soup I have had in Finland. We sat outside, as Ernesti the Westie was with us: it was a perfect day to gaze to the surrounding fields, grass waving in the slight breeze under a late summer sun. Even before leaving the Back Pocket, I started to dream of my return.
We had the most time to spend in Houtskär: a tiny island of about 600 inhabitants. Most of the Houtskär people are Swedish speaking, as the West Coast of Finland in general is more heavily Swedish speaking area than the rest of the bi-lingual Finland.
So, as we had plenty of time to kill, we drove everywhere around the island, like… to a sight seeing spot on top of some cliffs where we stared at the horizons for some minutes. This spot is quite hard to find: search for a crossroad where the sign for a place called ‘HYPPEIS’ stands: on this crossroad, there’s a safety mirror, too. Turn left from here, and drive about 5 minutes until there is a tiny little hill with tinsy bits of parking space on both sides. Park here, continue walking for a minute or so, and on the right-hand side, you see a sign hidden in the bushes. This is the way to the sight seeing spot.
As we were driving everywhere on the island looking for this spot we decided to stop in a local tomato shop to ask for directions. Luckily a customer (or an owner, I do not know, she was the only one there) promised to drive in front of us to the right direction, as she and her bagful of tomatoes were going that way anyways. In general, people on the islands seem much more relaxed and outgoing than an average, grumpy Finn.
Stop no 5 & 6: Medelby tomato shop & Houtskär Church
Stop no 7: Hyppeis
In Houtskär, a tiny place called Hyppeis was a better find than the church or the official sight seeing tower. In Hyppeis, you have a dead end road (to the sea) with some traditional, red boat huts rising from the salty sea. I started dreaming of moving here…
I mean into a proper house, not a boat hut.
Stop no 8: Grill Café Skagen
In Houtskär, we dined in Grill Café Skagen’s terrace where you can observe the people who have boats in the harbour. The children were rallying from the sauna next door straight to the cold(ish) sea while the parents were chatting with each other on the pier, next to their white and shiny sail boats. You have to understand that I come from a very different Finnish background, from the Savonia area in the middle of Finland. So no sea or boats for us! No, on summer holidays we would drive deep into the forrest, as far from anything as possible, and if on our daily rowing boat expeditions we would happen to pass a faraway neighbour, we would just row a bit faster and maybe, maybe, lift our hand a little bit for a recognition. But even this waving could be interpreted as something totally too extrovert, verging on extravagant.
But here they were, the people from the islands, having a good time, enjoying the summer and chatting away with each other.
To the food: I asked for a salmon salad, but salmon was out. By some sort of magical trick, I did, nevertheless, manage to get a salmon burger! Maybe the chef quickly went fishing.
Next day we took the early, nine o’clock ferry towards our final destination, Kustavi. To reach Kustavi, you need to take a few ferries, so if you are on a schedule you will end up just driving from one little harbour to another. Which we did. And even this was fun!
Stop no 9: Kustavi café and craft village
So Kustavi was the end point for our archipelago tour – and we ended it with style: coffee and doughnuts, of course.
To sum it up, the archipelago ring road took us from one “best doughnut place” to another “best doughnut place” via some churches, an antique shop, hamburgers and carrot soups. Oh yeah, and boat huts!
And that was our journey around the Turku archipelago ring road! A cheery and summery air prevailed, and everywhere the people were friendly and helpful. The route might be a bit tricky to plan in advance, as even though you do find information from the official tourist site, it is hard to visualize the locations in your mind, as the islands are very scattered and the names are not that easy to remember.
Also, the ferry timetables cause their limitations. Recently, as I have needed to travel in a short notice to new places, I have come to a habit of sending an email to the local tourist offices asking for a tiny bit of assistance to plan the trip: normally, I get pointed out to the historic coffee shops and museums of my specific interests, and everything works perfectly on these short visits.
But I suspect that the local tourist board is working a new approach to the archipelago advertising, and they have taken too literally the worn out mantra of a place being “the best-hidden secret” – in this case, of Finland. As here I am, month after the trip, still waiting for a reply to my email asking about places to see on the archipelago ring road.
But thank you, market square sales people, coffee shop owners and unlucky passers-by for giving tips and guidance along the way – and beaware, Turku Archipelago Ring Road, your secrets are out!