By Cacinda Maloney
Arriving in Vaasa, Finland, I was ready for an adventure and Finland does not disappoint. Vaasa is the gateway to the western side of the country. This is where the narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia is connected to Finland by their longest bridge, the Replot, in the Baltic Sea.
I am about to jet out to a tiny spatter of islands (only 5600 of them!) where the Finn’s and Sweed’s take their summer holiday’s in tiny cottages. This has also been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Kvarken Archipelago. They weekly trek out here to get away from the big cities, as here, one can only ponder life, and well, of course, take a world famous sauna and jacuzzi or two!
The Kvarken Archipelago is one of those yet unknown places in the world, that was once covered in a mile thick sheet of ice ten thousand years ago. Since the ice glaciers are retreating, the land is now literally rising up from the sea and a new land mass is made at a rate of one meter every century! The joke out here is that one day they can all walk to Sweden! Well, at that rate, maybe in 2000 years!
It is late summer and the waters are cold, as we button up our blue and red jackets that were given to us from the men at the dock, I notice that they have built in life supports inside to create a fashionable life jacket. Honestly, that is one thing I love about the Finnish people, they are so stylish and use design experts to create such functional clothing.
We start the early morning in Björköby, where the boat rides over to the island are waiting and soon enough, I begin to wonder off, as the photography in this area is fabulous. There are picture-perfect reflections on the waters with tiny boat-houses all painted in some shade of red and yellow. There is also a viewing tower here that is worth the climb for an overview of the islands, so don’t miss that.
Soon we were loaded into our private boat and jetted across the sea, with wisps of water landing on my face, I quickly zipped up my jacket around my neck and braced myself for the best photo opportunities I could find. I could hear the noisy shouts of the Black guillemot seabirds and chill bumps began to appear on my skin.
The Kvarken Archipelago is gorgeous, as you can imagine and is also considered a protected area, although there are selected islands where these summer cabins are located. We are on our way to one of these islands to stop at the dock and have a Finnish picnic and coffee. The cabin we stopped at was a private cottage and we piled out onto the dock to take a look. While there, we wandered the islands a bit and then sat to have typical Finnish Oltermanni cheese, Hapankorppu sour crackers, and hot coffee. I went back time and time again for that cheese, which was of a most delicious variety and the crackers were so good that now I wish I had bought a package to bring back to the States with me. Soon enough, we packed up again and jetted back to Björköby.
That evening we made our way to Kalajoki, where I was delighted to find one of those magical places in the middle of nowhere! Being so far from the cities, usually things begin to change and the expectations are lowered for the chance at gourmet food, but this place was right on target and could not have been more tasty. Although family owned and run, the menu was perfect with a start of a local berry cocktail.
There is a Finnish tradition of berry picking, the food store of Mother Nature and I believe they have perfected the usages of berries here. Berry picking is a part of the lifestyle, culture and culinary traditions in Finland, as we quickly found out on our many treks in the woods of Western Finland. The berries were readily available on almost every path we took. There are about 50 different wild berry species in Finland found in the marshes and woods and we picked many, including Tyrni (Finnish) or Sea Buckthorn (English name).
The meal at Pihvitupa Steakhouse was complete with a perfectly cooked steak (medium rare, of course) and sliced cheese potatoes, with a berry crème brûlée for desert.
For me, it was the quintessential dinner with a great atmosphere and wonderful company! So if you are ever in the region, look up this restaurant, it is well worth a visit. Afterward, we ended the night by taking a long walk on the beach. My day in Western Finland was perfect!
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be a guest of VisitFinland as part of their series called #OutdoorFinland. All opinions, of course, are my own.