- Life Style
Utö is an island at the southern tip of the Finnish archipelago, but it feels like it might as well be at the tip of the world. I arrived on a foggy day, and throughout the entire five-hour ferry ride from the mainland, I could see nothing but sea and fog and the occasional rocky outcropping.
We stopped a few times at other islands to deliver either passengers or supplies, and although I tried to nap on an uncomfortable bench, I spent much time in the canteen where it was warm.
On Utö, I was greeted by our host and wheelbarrows for carting luggage to the cottage in which I would be staying. There are no paved roads or cars on Utö, only a few trucks used for work around the island.
About half of the island is owned by the military and is off-limits to visitors. Although the military technically withdrew in 2005 and allowed the barracks to be turned into a hotel, old canons and other armaments were visible in the distance through the fog.
The cottage was a former ship pilot’s quarters, and I had dinner at the home of my host, Hanna Kovanen. Hanna came back to Utö recently, but her mother is a lifelong resident who told stories in Swedish and sporadic Finnish of rescuing American sailors from a shipwreck during World War II.
The next morning the fog had cleared and the view was glorious. With a year-round population of fewer than 20 people, it felt like I had the island to myself. I explored the lighthouse (the oldest in Finland), the church (dedicated to sailors) and the surrounding fields and rocky shoreline.
As the southernmost point in Finland, Utö has played an important part in Finnish history. It serves as the gateway to the archipelago and was also used as a strategic base by the Russians when Finland was ruled by Russia.
But underneath the history and quaintness, Utö doesn’t differ much from the rest of Finland, despite its remoteness. There is reliable high-speed internet drawn from an underwater fiber-optic cable, and the island has been connected to the mainland power grid for over fifteen years.
Utö also continues its long tradition of rescuing those stranded at sea, and was the base of rescue operations when the MS Estonia sank in 1994.
I watched a magnificent sunset over the water at around 11 pm and then pulled the curtains closed as I went to bed, knowing that the sun would rise again in only a few hours (thankfully, my trip was not during Ramadan).
On my last morning on Utö, I took a walk out to the end of a rocky point. It was nesting season for the many species of birds that live there and they were on high alert, flying close to my head and squawking as a warning to stay away from their nests. On the way back to the cottage I saw a Kyy, one of the two species of poisonous snake that inhabit the island.
Having had enough animal interaction for one morning, I waited on the dock with my luggage until the ferry came. Using an onboard crane, the crew unloaded supplies like food, lumber and fuel, and then allowed us to board for our journey back through the sea of islands.