I was immediately captivated as soon as the engine turned off.
It had been 20 minutes into my initial sailing trip in Sweden on a wonderfully sunny morning in late June. Accompanied by two friends, we had set sail from their summer residence on Kilholmen, a wooded islet nestled in the central archipelago, about an hour by bus (followed by a brief five-minute boat ride) from Stockholm. After navigating through a narrow waterway, passing smooth, rounded cliffs backed by pine forests and the occasional red timbered cottage, we entered a vast open bay, turned the bow into the wind, and hoisted the sails. When the rumbling engine was silenced, there was suddenly tranquility, only the wind against my face and the shimmering archipelago before me.
The sheer enormity of Stockholm’s archipelago is awe-inspiring. Shaped like a fan extending from the capital into the Baltic Sea, this expanse of water covers over 650 square miles –
more than twice the size of New York City’s five boroughs – with an estimated 24,000 to 30,000 islands and islets.
“The innermost islands are quite large and populated,” said Jeppe Wikström, a photographer and travel writer who has resided and worked in the archipelago for many years. “The further out you go, the smaller and lower the islands become. And in the outermost archipelago, there are only low slabs of rock.”
In Swedish, each landmass in the archipelago has a specific term, ranging from the big islands adorned with pine trees and majestic nineteenth-century summer houses to tiny islets with nothing more than a few shrubs and lichen.
“I could probably give you 30 different words for an island, and most people would know what the island looks like based on that name,” Mr. Wikström said. “Skär, kobbe, haru, ö – it’s similar to the Inuits and snow.”
For Swedes, the archipelago is an essential summer destination that has often served as the backdrop for movies and television shows, from Ingmar Bergman’s film “Summer with Monika” to Astrid Lindgren’s children’s series “Vi på Saltkråkan” (“Seacrow Island”). However, few foreign visitors manage to find their way to these idyllic isles.
“It’s a cliché, the hidden gem, but those are 24,000 hidden gems,” Mr. Wikström said. “They’re jewelry stores of hidden gems.”