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The Blue Maiden

Off the west coast of Öland lies one of the most remote and "forgotten" islands of the Baltic, Blå Jungfrun, whose name translates to the "Blue Maiden." It rises high above the Kalmar Straits, 127m (417 ft.) above the sea bed and 450m (1,476 ft.) above sea level. Inhabited only by colonies of birds and wildlife, it's noteworthy for its bare, windswept cliffs; slabs of red granite; and thousands of rocky outcroppings. To us, it's more of a rock spur than an island, measuring less than 1.5km (1 mile) long and less than a kilometer (1/2 mile) wide, covering an area of about 65 hectares (161 acres). Designated as a national park, the island has two separate harbors, both of which lie near the northern tip: Lervik to the east and Sikhamn to the west. The direction and intensity of the wind at the time of your arrival will determine which of the two the crew of your ferryboat will use for a landing. Seas surrounding the island are tricky: Even a light wind can make it difficult to approach the island's rocky coastline.

Olaus Magnus, a famous Swedish bishop, mentioned Blå Jungfrun as long ago as 1555. Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) was the first to describe the island in detail, having visited it in 1745 during his "Journey to Öland and Gothland."

Later the forest and plant life suffered drought and the foolish mistake of introducing rabbits, which caused much damage to vegetation. Quarrying in 1904 brought more ecological disasters, especially when the largest of the great caves on the island was blown up. After World War I, forces mobilized to save the island; industrialist Torsten Kreuger donated enough money for the island to be purchased and turned over to Sweden as a national park.

Once on the island, you can observe how the granite dome was covered by sediment some 500 million years ago and how the island took shape about 1 million years ago during the Quaternary Ice Age. The larger boulder fields in the south of the island always draw much interest, as do the lichens and bird life. Other exotic animals include the island's black guillemot, as well as rare birds such as the water pipit, the velvet scoter, and the white-tailed sea eagle.

The "labyrinth," the only ancient monument on the island, was first mentioned by von Linné, who called it "Trojeborg." An intricate maze of paths, it lies on a level area of rock on the southern slope of the island.

The best way to view the Blue Maiden's attractions involves signing up for one of the summer (June-Aug only) tours of the island conducted by local fishermen. Check with the tourist office to hook up with such an excursion.

Alternatively, you can reach the Blue Maiden by departing from Oskarshamn, on the Swedish mainland. From the harbor at Oskarshamn, the M.S. Soltust departs every day of the week except Monday at 9:30am, with a return scheduled for 4:30pm. Transit takes about 90 minutes each way, allowing about 3 hours to explore, on foot, the hiking trails that crisscross the island. A kiosk on the island dispenses maps and local information about how best to appreciate this sparsely inhabited island's charms. Round-trip transit costs 220SEK ($44/£22) for adults, and 110SEK ($22/£11) for children 6 to 15 years old. For information and reservations, call the tourist office of Oskarshamn at tel. 0491/881-88. To contact the local branch (in Kalmar) of the Swedish National Park Service, the organization that oversees the hiking trails on the Blue Maiden, call tel. 0480/821-95.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.