The Ålands are composed of more than 6,500 small rocky islands and skerries, inhabited in large part by families that fish or run small farms. Virtually all of the more than 25,000 locals speak Swedish and very proud of their largely autonomous status, which includes having their own flag and stamps. Their connection with the sea is indelible, their seafaring traditions revered. Åland is demilitarized and has special privileges within the EU that allow duty-free sales on ferries between Finland and Sweden.
Mariehamn (Maariahamina), on the main island, is the capital (population more than 10,000) and hub of Åland life. At its important port, some of the greatest grain ships sailing the seas were built by the Gustav Eriksson family.