Restaurant l’Escale in Nagu – how a restaurant created a sailing destination

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Welcome to l'Escale

Welcome to l’Escale

Nagu as a tourist destination and the Nagu Marina are the number one destinations of the Finnish archipelago. About 8000 boats visited Nagu in 2012 during a couple of hectic months that make up the short summer season. Nagu has many attractions, but one of the most important ones is the wide variety of high quality services for boaters and other tourists. Today Nagu is a great example of how a small location can become a big tourist attraction if all the players co-operate with the interest of the visitor in mind. It might be a bit presumptuous to give the credit for the success of Nagu on a single company, but I would still claim that Nagu would not be the tourist destination of choice that it it today, had it not been for one specific company, the restaurant l’Escale in Nagu.

The restaurant is located in the heart of the Nagu Marina.

The restaurant is located in the heart of the Nagu Marina.

l’Escale was opened in June, 1987. l’Escale was founded by Lise-Lotte Ölander-Smeds, Mikael Smeds, Nina Wiiala-Laude and Alain Laude. I guess Alain was mainly responsible for the name of the restaurant and that it – from the start – was a french-inspired fine-dining restaurant. And what could be a more appropriate name than “l’Escale” which roughly translates into English as “stop-over“.

If my memory serves me right, many people wondered why anyone would like to go to a french restaurant in Nagu. There was a shop in Nagu and boats had galleys and an ample supply of dried food (fridges on boats were actually not that common yet in 1987). If that was the case, were they ever wrong!

lescale-arial

The restaurant is housed on what used to be a store in the old Nagu Marina. This aerial picture shows the building sometime in the late 50’s/early 60’s.

At that time when l’Escale was opened, there was a tiny marina in Nagu; much, much smaller than today. What was the impact of l’Escale on the growth of Nagu as a sailing destination? I don’t think that this can be explained by the number of people attracted by l’Escale. Up to the late 80’s, sailors and boaters were kind of treated as “explorers” of the archipelago. They were welcome but largely assumed to be self-sufficient and – as the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy would put it – mostly harmless. What I think is that l’Escale really was the first demonstration that professionally operated services would actually be interesting to boaters and that services could be a successful business.

Today the restaurant is still owned and operated by the original owners Lise-Lotte Ölander-Smeds and Mikael Smeds. Over time l’Escale has become the “must visit” restaurant in the archipelago. One of the reasons for it’s continued success is that the owners have managed to keep the quality of the food stable over the years. This is no small feat considering that much of the staff changes from year to year as the restaurant by necessity will be staffed mainly by seasonal workers.

So if you are planning to stay on Nagu, make sure to reserve a table at l’Escale and spend a nice evening overlooking the marina and the hustle and the bustle that l’Escale has created or at least helped create!

Here is what I had when we visited l’Escale this summer for our traditional “End of the holiday sail” dinner. Hmmmm.

Starter: Salad tailored to customer wishes.

Starter: Salad tailored to customer wishes.

Main course: Lamb liver from Westankärr Estate and mashed root vegetables.

Main course: Lamb liver from Westankärr Estate and mashed root vegetables.

Dessert: Baked apple slices with oats blanket and vanilla ice cream.

Dessert: Baked apple slices with oats blanket and vanilla ice cream.