Glorious Åland Archipelago is the sunniest spot in northern Europe and its sweeping white-sand beaches and flat, scenic cycling routes attract crowds of holidaymakers during summer. Yet outside the lively capital, Mariehamn, a sleepy haze hangs over the islands’ tiny villages: finding your own remote beach among the 6500 skerries (rocky islets) is surprisingly easy. A lattice of bridges and free cable ferries connects the central islands, while larger car ferries run to the archipelago’s outer reaches.
And yet, Åland is a geopolitical anomaly: it is Finnish owned and Swedish speaking, but it has its own parliament, flies its own blue, gold and red flag, issues its own stamps and uses its own web suffix: ‘dot ax’. Its ‘special relationship' with the EU means it can sell duty-free and make its own gambling laws.