On the west coast of Galicia, there’s a large national park comprising of many islands and archipelagos, called Parque Nacional de las Islas Atlánticas. The largest of them, starting from the north, are the islands of Sálvora, Ons and Cíes, that provide shelter to the Rías Baixas from the Atlantic wind and swell. Some of the park’s islands can also be found deeper in the rías. To be able to visit any of the islands, you have to apply for a permit through a pretty straight forward online process (form to fill, instructions here). For anchoring, you need an additional anchoring permit – during the high season you can book up to three nights in advance. This is how they keep the number of tourists to a moderate level, so visitors can enjoy the experience in relative peace and quiet – a little bureaucracy is a very reasonable price to pay for a unique experience.
Ría de Arousa is the largest of Rías Baixas, on the western coast of Galicia. It’s surrounded from every side by high hills, and the shores are dotted with lovely sandy beaches, small towns and numerous harbours. In the middle of the ría there’s a large island called Illa de Arousa, with its pine forests and beaches. The most prominent feature on this ría is the incredible number of viveros, mussle and clam cultivation rafts. There are apparently about 3000 of them on this ría alone. All the little bays are full of them, and to get to the different harbours and anchorages you often have to go a long way around the large fields, unless you’re brave enough to weave your way through. It’s possible to do that, because they are anchored vertically downwards, but there are many of them! It’s not recommended to arrive for the first time at night – the biggest fields have light buoys in the corners but the rafts themselves are unlit.
After our visit to the island of Bréhat we finally began to understand, that to see extraordinary sights in Brittany, you don’t have to travel far. You can find yourself in amazing places just by getting lost in the narrow alleys of your “home town”, but if that’s not quite enough, find a camera symbol on Google Maps, that marks an interesting viewpoint, and go check it out. That’s what we decided to do one morning, having already visited some of the more popular touristic sights of our area. We got in the car and headed for the northern tip of Brittany again. We chose to visit a peninsula north of Plougrescant and a small town called Tréguier, a little further west from Ile de Bréhat.
When our friends came to visit us from Finland, it was time to shake off the winter slumber and get to know our surroundings for real. Of course, we had completed a few boat projects every now and then, and taken our folding bikes on dozens of tours around the neighbouring villages and countryside – not to mention spending those socially packed weeks in Finland at the darkest time of the year. Still, life in our winter base had been pretty quiet compared to the fireworks of these couple of weeks that the four of us toured around Brittany! I wrote previously about our visits to Mont-Saint-Michel and the city of Dinan, and now the journey continues!
What a great time we had back in the homeland! Six weeks of celebrations – Christmas, New Year, meeting many of our old friends, neighbours and many members of our family. Those six weeks were packed with activity and socializing! It could have been overwhelming, after all, we had spent the preceding six months exclusively in each other’s company. But it felt great! Either we managed to infect our close ones with our cruising zen, or people just happened to be in their hibernating mode.
It was the weather gods of the North Sea that this time conveniently chose the next destination for us. And we obeyed: this late September Saturday seemed like the perfect day to sail to Helgoland instead of beating further southwest. For most sailors popping out of the Kiel canal the island of Helgoland is a natural stop along the way, being a tax free zone with cheap diesel and alcohol. We still had plenty of diesel and were not particularly thirsty either, so we had not planned to stop.
Our last destination in the Åland archipelago was the small island of Sottunga. It was a brief overnight stay, but we had time to visit another church very close to the harbour, and this one was especially pretty. It was built of wood and you could tell it’s age by the thick coat of red iron oxide paint on the cladding boards and roof shingles.
The northen Åland archipelago was a turning point of our holiday trip. From here on, we would be heading east, homeward. But the holiday was by no means over, there were still many beautiful islands to visit and interesting places to see. After another sunny day of downwind sailing we happened upon the island of Vårdö in the eastern Åland. It was only a 6 hour’s sail or so, but the landscape had changed from rugged, rocky hills to rolling, green fields and lush orchards full of apples. We tied up to a quiet, peaceful dock with only a handful of other boats. The village itself was a bit further away, but we found two bicycles parked by the dock, free for the marina guests to use for their shopping trips. We immediately decided to try them out, as the shop would still be open for a while.
After some rough sailing the previous day, it was time to take it easier and explore some of the best landscapes the Baltic Sea has to offer. We found our way into a narrow, fjord-like bay that provided an excellent, sheltered anchorage. The bay is called Djupviken, which simply means a deep bay, and is located on the northern shore of Geta, the northernmost part of the Åland archipelago.