hidden europe 9

Post haste through the Åland Islands

by Nicky Gardner


We explore a rocky landscape of firs and lichens, convoluted coastlines and eerily silent bays that lies on the old mail route from Stockholm to St Petersburg.full article available online

The little port of Grisslehamn is an amiable enough spot, but scarcely a travel destination in its own right. Its claims to fame are slight; some interesting associations with Albert Engström, Sweden's hard hitting satirical cartoonist, and a handsome mid-eighteenth century postmaster's house that looks out over the Baltic.

The morning Eckerö Linjen ferry leaves Grisslehamn with its customary very Swedish punctuality. Naturally, there is entertainment for the kids, so the under-aged are detained by a clown and conjuror while their parents ravage the duty free shops. The ferry is bound for Eckerö in the Åland Islands. And because it is headed for the Ålands, that means duty-free. Cigarettes, aquavit and snuff - yes, snuff, for the Swedes have an appetite for ground tobacco unmatched by any other nation in Europe.

The Ålands are a complex archipelago of more than five thousand islands, rocky islets and skerries that lie between Finland and Sweden and, although part of the European Union, this scatter of islands lies outwith the EU's fiscal regime - a little accounting curiosity that the Åland Islands share with Mount Athos, the tiny theocratic polity on a peninsula that juts into the northern Aegean (and featured earlier this year in hidden europe 6).

The crossing from Grisslehamn to Eckerö is an exercise in Scandinavian comfort. A dozen variations of pickled herrings on the smörgåsbord! This is a far cry from the open rowing boats that used to leave Grisslehamn, carrying over to Åland the mail that was eventually bound for Russia. For the modern Eckerö Linjen ferry plies one of the most historic of Europe's old mail routes. From 1638, this was part of the postal route from Stockholm to the Swedish city of Åbo (now Turku in southwest Finland). After Sweden ceded Finland and Åland to Russia in 1809, the Åland mail route became one of the main arteries for conveying post to St Petersburg - the safe passage of the mail was entrusted to Åland's farmers and fishermen.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 9.
Related article

Marking Time: New Train Services for 2020

The hidden europe award for ingenuity in creating new European rail travel opportunities is awarded to Austria's state rail operator, Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB). We look at what ÖBB will offer anew for 2020, and examine too what's new on the rails in Russia, Germany and elsewhere across Europe.

Related article

An Essex backwater: Discovering Harwich

The old town of Harwich, a port in the county of Essex on England's North Sea coast, is tucked away on the end of a peninsula. Maritime connections have shaped the development of Harwich. It's a place for sea breezes, rock oysters and watching the ferries come and go.

Related article

Sea fever

When one time English poet laureate John Masefield extolled the lure of the ocean ("I must down to the seas again..."), he clearly didn't have Cunard's luxury Queen Elizabeth II ship or the same company's new super liner Queen Mary in mind.