From farm shops to rushing rapids
Morning comes and we load our bags onto the four-wheeler that Ann-Charlotte left at the Riipibo cabin and drive downhill to our hostess. The kitchen is filled with light and Ann-Charlotte is serving breakfast. She greets us good morning and sits with us while we indulge in breakfast. We thank her for the stay and head out on the dirt road, back to road 99 and follow Torne River south. The landscape is flatter here and the farms are scattered everywhere, huge fields are spreading out and we are driving behind several RV’s. We reach Övre Kukkola and see a sign: Pesula Lantbruk och Gårdsbutik (Pesula’s Farm and Farm Shop). We turn right onto the driveway and are welcomed by Åsa Pesula, all-around artist and farmer, who shows us the little farm shop named after the spider Elmer that lived in the building during WWII when the house accommodated soldiers. The farm’s own products, turnip rape oil and mustard can be bought here, as well as artisanal food from northern Sweden, hand-made decorations and clothes.
Turnip rape is related to the more common oilseed rape and grows better in the Arctic climate. It works perfectly as cooking oil, to fry in, bake with and dash on a salad. The turnip rape has a nutty flavor and a yellow color, and is of course KRAV-certified and ecologically produced – and Pesula’s farm happens to be Sweden’s northernmost cultivation of oil plants. When the oil has been extracted, the leftovers are pressed together to pellets, which are fed to their cattle.
– It is also a healthy snack for us humans, says Åsa and hands over a pellet that we get to nibble on.
The texture is dry and the taste a mix of nuts and grass, however, it doesn’t beat popcorn, which is my favorite snack. We buy mustard, a classic turnip rape oil and are gifted their latest experiment, a chili oil, also made from turnip rape. Before we leave, we check out the farm’s own art gallery Navetta (Finnish for cow barn) where Åsa is displaying her photo art together with historical farm utilities. An annual Christmas market is held in here and Åsa tells us that this year, when they let out the cows to graze in the spring, a record-breaking number of 2000 people visited and watched the milk cows run out on the field.
A couple of miles south is Kukkolaforsen where we make a stop under a hot sun, next to the famous rapid. Kukkolaforsen is known for their whitefish and guests can stay in cabins and eat in the restaurant with panoramic views over the river, the rapid and Finland, which is just across the water. It is also here where the Swedish Sauna Academy has its headquarters and the venue proudly offers no less than 13 different kinds of saunas. Adjacent to Kukkolaforsen is a historical area with a preserved mill, fishing huts, a clock tower and a fishing museum. We buy ice cream and stroll along the walking lanes while enjoying the perfect weather.
The lunch is eaten at the cute Taavolagården, right outside Haparanda city. Taavolagården is a traditional Torne Valley farmhouse with a main house and low barns that surround the yard. The main hose has cozy rooms decorated with carvers, tablecloths of lace and typical kitchen sofas of wood. There is also a small shop that sells everything from interior decorations to candy. We find a flea market inside one of the barns and rummage around vinyl and artwork. I get a nostalgic feeling when I spot a vintage Bakelite phone and almost bring it home.
The most peaceful border in the world and Sweden’s ugliest church
Haparanda is often called HaparandaTornio after the two sister cities Haparanda and Tornio, on each side of Torne River, one in Sweden and one in Finland, and in two different time zones. It is a historical trading site and still a place of trade with the world’s northernmost IKEA and a shopping mall situated right on the border.
We are feeling the height of summer and park the car at Rajalla På Gränsen (Rajalla On the Border), the shopping mall between Sweden and Finland. The border Haparanda-Tornio is called the most peaceful border in the world and at the Victoria Square, right outside the mall, the border is marked with sculptures drawn by children. The border bow was drawn by the then 9-year old Vilma Styrman and is braided in blue, white and yellow and represents the colors of the two countries. The sun sparkles in the border canal that runs across the square and reflects on the silvery swan that was designed by the high school student Kim Suomäki.
We have some time to kill and decide to drive to the building, which unofficially got the title as Sweden’s ugliest church – Haparanda church. The architect Bengt Larsson designed the modern creation in the 60s after a fire consumed the city’s wooden church. This church is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. An exterior in black copper plate contrasts a white airy interior. Sweden’s ugliest? Doubtful. Sweden’s most odd church – yes.
The last outpost
About 30 minutes from Haparanda, towards Kalix, is an anonymous marina in great need of some TLC. We are met by Patrik, one half of Malören Lodge that consists of the couple Hanna and Patrik Engström.
With the wind in my hair and the course set for the archipelago, I can’t help but smile. I’m ridiculously crazy about the sea, a strange combination since I’m afraid of deep waters and am somewhat a bath coward. My yellow sailor jacket, which I bought on a whim a few years ago, is contrasting the clear blue water and we breathe in the fresh ocean air. Patrik is maneuvering the boat with experience and the perfect weather makes it almost impossible to tell that we are on the water. It takes about an hour before we spot Malören, the small horseshoe-shaped island, the last outpost in the archipelago before the Bothnian Sea begins. The red lighthouse and the little chapel are amongst the first buildings to rise above the horizon. When we get closer, we can see the red cabins on the island and a massive pier of wood.
– There are 13 cabins on the island, Lotsstugan – the coast pilot cabin, an old house for the lighthouse-keeper, the lighthouse and the chapel, says Patrik while he carefully drives into the cove where the water is very shallow.
Getting onto the pier is a little scary, the landing is narrow and I need to take a big step upwards and get a helping hand. But atop the pier, the view is amazing. The sound of sea mews and other birds are like a welcoming song and the other cabin owners are politely saying hello. Hanna pushes our luggage on a trolley along the molded walkways that connect the cabins and we hurry after her to Lotsstugan (the coast pilot cabin).
Lotsstugan is decorated in a Scandinavian archipelago design with hues from the sea, the sky and rocks. Textures like wood an linen are mixed with the rounded boulders from which Malören got its name – it means ’round rock’. Lotsstugan has seven double rooms and a suite, a communal kitchen and shower room. You can choose to bring your own bed linen and food or book a package through Malören Lodge. This night it is just us and another couple staying in the house.
– We offer the suite for the newlyweds, says Hanna and shows the way up the stairs to an airy room with views in every direction.
We are in awe of the beautiful room and can hardly wait to try the bed with the wavy canopy. A window is open and the sea mews’ song can be heard, accompanied by a scent of salt. We are served an appetizer in the suite with Kalix Löjrom (the bleak roe), Kalix flatbread, chives and red onion, which we top off with Prosecco. The dinner continues outside on the deck – an amazing salmon soup that includes ocean views and a warm evening sun.
When the evening sun turns into the midnight sun, we explore the island. The lighthouse, built in the 1850s, bathes in the golden light together with the 250-year-old chapel that we enter. The chapel is nicknamed the Archipelago’s Cathedral since it is the only sea church with a cathedral spire on the roof. The church’s inside is shaped like an upside-down boat or the inside of a hull, and we let our fingers trace the carved names from past times in the wooden walls.