- This article is about Själö island in Nagu. There is another Själö at the border of Houtskär and Iniö.
Själö (Finnish: Seili), is an island in the Archipelago Sea about 30 km southwest from Turku. It is famous for being a former leprosy colony and a fairly popular day-trip destination during summer season.
The island was part of the Nagu municipality, now part of Pargas. It has long been a popular destination, but opened for more organized tourism in 2017.
The name Själö has a grim sound to any locals. The island had probably been inhabited by seal hunters as the Swedish name suggests ("själö" means "seal island"). In 1619 King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered a leper colony to be established on this island. As the island was virtually treeless until the late 1800s, anyone who was sent to Själö had to bring coffin materials with him/her. As the patients had right to make moonshine for medical purposes, they willingly sold it to the sailors of passing ships. This produced still living expression "olla seilissä" or 'to be on seili' for drunkness to the Finnish vocabulary. The last leper patient died in 1787.
The dark history of the island continued as the island became a mental hospital. Authorities had started to send (allegedly) mentally ill people to Själö already in the 1680s. Probably there was some just poor or physically disabled among them. In the 1850s the current mental hospital building was accomplished and replaced old wooden crofts. In 1889 Själö turned into mental hospital for women only but the idea remained the same: it was not to cure the patients but to ensure they would stay outside the society forever. This was easy as the asylum was virtually self-sufficient. The doctors and other medical staff got households and farmlands from the island for free but were also free to visit outside the island. The mental institution was operational until 1962 when the last patients were finally moved to mainland. The dreadful story came to an end.
Since 1964 the University of Turku has operated the Archipelago Research Institute in the former mental hospital. In addition there are some permanent residents, mostly relatives of former hospital staff, living in their family estates.
The island was opened for more organised tourism in 2017, with restaurant and lodging. The whole hospital area, surrounding farmland as well as the church and its graveyard are included in the Finnish list of nationally significant built cultural environments. The rest of the island belongs to the Pakinainen-Seili nature conservation area which is on the Natura 2000 list.
Finnish pop singer Jenni Vartiainen named an album after the island.
By connecting vessel
- M/S Norrskär. June to August and weekends in May and September: daily at 10:00 from Turku (arrives 11:45); except 22 June to 9 Aug: Wednesdays and Saturdays it leaves at 09:30 (arrives 11:15). By far the easiest way is to make a day trip from Turku. The vessel continues its trip to Nagu or Gullkrona and arrives to Seili again at 16:30 (every day) and is back to Turku at 18:15. At least at weekends it might be a very good idea to book your trip in advance. €36 for adults and €22 for children (return ticket). Price for Seili-Nagu route is €15 and €7.50€ (return ticket), respectively.
- M/S Östern. From Nagu or Rymättylä on the Nauvo–Seili–Hanka route, part of the Archipelago Trail. Three times a day between May and August. The ferry has a café. €7 for adults, €3 for children and €3 for bicycles (one way tickets).
- M/S Falkö, ☏ . The vessel operates a route in northern Nagu archipelago year round. It is free of charge but not really aimed at tourism, and visits Seili only by request. However you are free to use it if you find it suitable. Summer 2019 Timetable Winter 2019 Timetable. M/S Falkö must be reserved by phone the preceding day before 14:00.
All connecting vessels call at the 1 post jetty which is about 800 m from the mental hospital.
If you have your own boat daytime visits are free of charge. The 2 church jetty and post jetty are for day visitors while the post jetty and 3 station jetty can be used for overnight stay. For staying overnight the harbour fee is €28 including basic services and evening sauna.
By walking or by bike. The gravel roads are in good condition and everything is within about one kilometre from the harbors.
It is not possible to take your car to Själö, even though M/S Östern does carry cars.
- The awesome nature!
- 1 Själö church. mid-June–July: daily 11:00-15:00; August–September Sa Su 11:00-15:00. This wooden church built in 1733 is the only one in Finland having separate nave for lepers, and the interior is worth of seeing. The church does not belong to any parish and is maintained by Finnish Forest Administration. According to a legend the leprosy patients were buried under the meadow next to the church. However, nobody knows where the bodies actually are. Those resting in the graveyard are mostly mentally ill women and some mental hospital staff. adult €3.50; children €2; family ticket €8.50.
- 2 Mental hospital. Even though Själö has been mental asylum at least since 1680s the current hospital building was built in 1851. The buildings were designed by famous architect Pehr Johan Gylich and this group of Empire style stone-made buildings is unique in the archipelago. Former mental hospital is now part of the Turku University and people are making science here, so do not wander around too much. One patient room in the ground floor is still in its original shape. Also Restaurant Seili and public toilets are in the ground floor.
Enjoy the views and history. Try to spot rare plants but, please, do not pick any flowers!
Guided tours are available daily in Finnish. For a guided tour in English, contact Visit Seili in advance.
- 1 Restaurant Seili (at the hospital), ☏ . Restaurant Seili is open daily from June to August. There is a buffet lunch from 12:00 to 16:00 and à la carte between 17:00 and 20:00. Breakfast must be ordered beforehand. Terrasse on the inner yard. lunch €16, soup lunch €12.50; children €8.
- 2 Summer kiosk (behind the church). Small kiosk next to the Church Jetty is operated by locals. Coffee and buns, some snacks and Själö themed souvenirs.
The island is popular place for family picnics. Pack some food, drinks and a blanket.
You can fill your water bottles at the hospital building. There is a special beer called Seili available from the restaurant.
Virtually the whole island is a nature protection area which means that every man’s rights do not apply here! So, camping is forbidden and the only option to stay overnight is to take a room through Visit Seili or sleep in your boat.
Accommodation in 1–5 person rooms is available around the year. Room prices start from €40/€75 (single/double, Aug 2020). From October to April you need to make reservation in advance by e-mail or by phone.
Beware of ticks and sunshine. Do not disturb grassing animals.