Early risers witnessed our entrance into the quaint town of Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, a collection of Swedish-speaking Finnish islands in the Baltic Sea. The rest of us emerged for the day’s excursions into a chill but sunny morning – the perfect excuse to pull out the sweaters we’d packed but have barely had a reason to wear until now.
The first of three groups departed on a history tour of the islands, beginning at the ruins of Bomarsund Fortress, a Russian fortification constructed in the 1830s but destroyed by Anglo-French troops in the Crimean War. After a thorough exploration of the fort’s remains and a walk through the exceptional visitors’ center, guests on this excursion enjoyed lunch and a ‘Swedish pancake’ (a delicious baked rice pudding with cardamom and plum sauce). In the afternoon, they visited the nearby Kastelholm Castle, one of only five surviving Finnish medieval castles, and the Jan Karlsgården Open Air Museum.
The second group embarked on a maritime adventure, beginning with a visit to the Emelia, a galeas (small trade vessel) currently being built using traditional techniques. Their next stop was the Pellas Museum, the homestead of Captain Sven Erikson, the last captain of the four-masted steel ship Herzogin Cecile, which sank in 1939. Salvaged pieces of her wreck are on display at the Åland Maritime Museum, the final stop on the tour, which also included a walk through the Pommern, a stunning black four-masted barque built to carry cargo between England and Australia in the early 1900s.
The third group focused on the local producers around Åland, beginning with a stop at SALT, a living craft house with studio space for artisans to create and sell their woven rugs, printed tea towels, candles, and candies. We also explored the Emelia before being treated to a gourmet apple juice tasting at Öfvergårds, an internationally award-winning apple orchard. The delicious food did not end there. We drove to Stallhagen Brewery for a tour of their operations and an amazing lunch of locally caught fish and potatoes.
After reuniting on the ship, we all enjoyed an afternoon concert by the Gölby Fiddlers, a group of talented young female fiddlers from the islands. This was followed by a recap, dinner on board, and an evening to explore the parts of the town we had yet to see.