archipelago

In mid-July, me and Max decided to finally do something we’d been talking about for years: cycling Saariston rengastie or the archipelago ring road, which circles around the thousands of (mostly very small) islands that make up the Turku archipelago.

In total, it’s “only” about 200km in length, and the route is well connected by road and cable ferries in the summer. Well, although 200km is probably nothing for cycling enthusiasts who routinely complete the circle in one day, I’m not even an amateu( I don’t really enjoy extensive cycling that much, either quick hops from place A to place B or longer strolls with a very leisurely place are fine, but combining speed and distance just seems like overkill - I’d rather go running instead of dragging around a heavy metal horse). Moreover, neither of us had our own bikes, so we had to borrow from relatives and ended up with not-so-perfect fits. So we opted for the shortcut route, which is only about 100km, and decided to do it over 2 days, staying on the island of Nagu for a night.

The journey started off promisingly. We woke up early and arrived at the bus stop on time, waiting for our ride to Turku, the beginning of our route (60km away from the relatives’ place we were staying at). As the bus arrived, the red-faced driver curtly told me we could absolutely not take the bikes on the bus, although I had called the customer service centre 2 days previously (as instructed on the website) and made reservations for the bikes. Apparently, it was the wrong phone number, or the wrong customer service centre, or something. I negotiated with him for a bit, not willing to let our long-awaited archipelago trip be thwarted so easily, and after lots of huffing and angrily calling the customer service centre, he agreed to chuck the bikes into the storage in the back.

With luck on our side, we managed to reach the start line. We had coffee by the market square, and I bought some fruits for the journey.

The weather was lovely, and we had the bike lanes almost completely to ourselves as we cycled from the city towards the Archipelago Sea.

After making it from the ‘mainland’ to the archipelago proper, we stopped for a while in Sattmark. The archipelago ring road turned out to be surprisingly hilly, just constantly undulating up and down, not in a gentle but a very punishing manner. I felt exhausted after just a couple of hours of cycling.

To refresh my legs, I went for a little forest walk and picked wild strawberries, while Max had a nap in the grass. Despite the afternoon heat, we drank some coffee to strengthen ourselves before continuing towards Nagu.

After more tiny twisty uphills and crumbling forest bike paths, we made it to the road ferry that links Pargas and Nagu. These road ferries are completely free to use and very convenient.

On the Nagu side, we still had about 10km to go, since the B&B we had booked was located in a fairly remote corner of the island. The island didn’t feel maritime at all, as we were surrounded by quiet fields and forests, without any hint of the sea. It was very peaceful.

After making it to the B&B, we walked to the shore, which was in hiding but very nearby, and had the sandwiches we’d brought with us. It was pretty and calm - the archipelago sea is an inland sea, so it’s not very exciting. Although the distance we’d cycled wasn’t very impressive at all, we felt exhausted and fell asleep early.

The next morning, the plan was to cycle from the B&B to the main port of Nagu and catch the midday ferry to Hanka, which connects to back to the mainland. We managed to get lost on the way, ending up on a small forest path that turned out to be a dead end. Instead of turning back, I wanted to push through the forest, which we did. It took some time, and I ended up with scratched knees and lots of twigs stuck in the chains of my bike, but we made it back to the road. I only realised later that I completely forgot about the existence of ticks while making Max scramble through a field in the archipelago in shorts (sorry).

We made it in time for the ferry, with a few minutes to spare for getting ice cream. The ferry route, M/s Östern, went through the island of Seili, which has quite an interesting history. It used to be a leper colony in the 17th-18th centuries and then a sanatorium for the mentally ill until 1962. I did want to get off and have a walk around the island, but there are only 3 ferry connections a day, so we would have been in too much of a hurry.

Instead, we got off in Hanka, facing some really tough uphills on the way to Naantali. We stopped in the tiny town of Rymättylä, which has a pretty church, to eat more packed sandwiches.

We made it to Naantali with a few hours to spare until the bus back (this time, we had made sure the bikes were booked by calling the head of logistics operations instead of the customer service centre...). Naantali is a small town with an old centre of pretty, pastel-coloured wooden buildings. It also has a visitor port and is home to the Moomin world, so it’s always very busy in the summer.

I went for a swim on the public beach behind the church, while Max was reading on the bench, since he’d forgotten to pack any swimwear. It felt great to let the cool water wash off the exhaustion from the constant climbing. After I’d showered and changed, we went on a walk around the old town centre and had some dinner - the only time we ate out during the whole trip (we were well prepared, since the archipelago is expensive!).

We still had a final 15km left to cycle - first, 10km to the highway bus stop in Raisio, and then 5km from the bus stop to my relatives’ place. After getting through the hilly archipelago ring road, the rest of it went smoothly. It was tiring but definitely worth it. The possibility of cycling the full 200km ring road some other summer has been cautiously mentioned, maybe with thinner tires - it will probably be put off for a few years again, but one day it will surely feel like a great idea.

Kaisa Saarinen