|Country Information & Lifestyle|
My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy
Estonia is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation. Across the Baltic Sea lies Sweden in the west and Finland in the north.
Estonia is a small country with forests, beautiful lakes, 300 year old manor houses, castles, tiny fishing villages, bog walks and canoeing and so much more to tempt.
Estonia is fortunate in that there are four distinctly different seasons. Winters are crispy with snow covered meadows and forests, frozen rivers and sleepy bog landscapes. Take a snow safari, go dog-sledging or bog-shoeing, skiing or scouting for animal footprints in the snow. Christmas fairs and hot chocolate or mulled wine in front of a fireplace attract romantics. In Soomaa National Park in spring, if the snow thaws fast enough then a natural phenomenon occurs; the whole area floods and people have to travel around by boat.
Believe it or not in deep winter the Baltic Sea freezes and once the ground and the sea have frozen solid, Estonia opens ice roads to the main islands. Driving on the sea is an unforgettable and unique experience, available in only a few places around the world.
Estonia is a country of wild nature, about 50% is forest, many of which is protected or part of Natural Parks. The forest has always been an important place for Estonian people – it was believed to be a sacred place in Estonia’s primeval religion and people worshiped the wood-spirits. Rich Estonian forests such as Alutaguse, the biggest forest area in Estonia, are the home to many animals, seeing a hare, fox or deer is a common thing, and if you’re lucky you may meet a wolf, lynx, brown bear, wild bears or elk.
Living under the rule of Scandinavian kings, Russian empire and Teutonic Knights has left Estonia with unique and rich blend of historic landmarks. Estonia has around 200 manor houses under state protection and 100 in active use, and many castles, not only in Tallinn but across the country. They are there for you to enjoy.
The cuisine of Estonia has been heavily dependent on seasons and simple peasant food. The most typical foods in Estonia are black rye bread, pork, potatoes and dairy products. Traditionally in summer and spring, Estonians like to eat everything fresh – berries, herbs, vegetables and everything else that comes straight from the garden. In winter jams, preserves and pickles are brought to the table.
Estonia has been through rough times in the past and thus gathering and conserving fruits, mushrooms and vegetables for winter have always been essential. Being a country with a large coastline, fish has also been very important. Black rye bread accompanies almost every savory food in Estonia. Instead of wishing "bon appetit", Estonians are prone to say jätku leiba("may your bread last"). Marinated eel, served cold, is a true Estonian favorite, maybe takes a little getting used to. Sauerkraut stew with pork, served with boiled potatoes is very popular.
Tallinn, the capital, is a magnificent medieval Old Town, protected by UNESCO, dominated by the Gothic Town Hall, the only one of its kind in Northern Europe. Spend a day in Tallinn’s Old Town, known around the world for its well-preserved completeness, authentic Hanseatic architecture, enchanting atmosphere, rich cultural scene and beautiful surroundings. There are plenty of galleries, cafes and restaurants to choose from in this mystic and mesmerizing capital. Winter in Tallinn is very romantic with the square in Old Town turned into a Christmas market and there is also a skating rink.
Stroll through the beautiful gardens in Kadriorg Park, set up by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine during the 18th century. Located in the middle of the park is the baroque Kadriorg Palace, a summer palace surrounded by immaculate flower gardens. Take a walk towards Pirita. Once you cross over the Pirita River you’ll see the ruins of the 15th century St.Bridget’s Convent. While you wander around its stone walls and passageways, you can imagine the tales of forbidden romances between the nuns and monks who shared the convent.
As you wander the cobblestone streets you will see state buildings and churches, citizens and merchants residences, barns and warehouses with the attic doors with hooks used to pull up the cargo of salt, tea and flour, dating back as far as the 11th century, preserved in their original form. The crumbling old street of Laboritooriumi tanav with its fortification towers and little alleys, is a diamond in the rough.
The oldest continuously working pharmacy in Europe, tiny Raeapteek, is located right across Raekoja Square. According to a legend, it is a birthplace for favorite treat marzipan. Raekoja square is famous for another historic fact: this is where the first ever Christmas tree stood already in 1441.
For a true medieval feel, follow the route of the old city walls and 26 watch towers. Those magnificent watch towers have witnessed it all: virgins buried alive, priests committing crimes and brave, mysterious men engaging in heroic actions. The Old Town’s main square, Raekoja, was used for medieval torture and allegedly for executions too.
Estonia has more than its fair share of spooky places, wandering spirits and supernatural happenings. Tallinn’s Old Town is bursting with legends of intolerable cruelty, legends and magic. Almost every house in Old Town is reputed to be haunted.
If you happen to be walking home late at night through the wrong fog-laden Old Town street and you get that prickly feeling as if someone’s watching you, they probably are! Come Ghost Hunting in Tallinn with us.
Luhike Jalg Gate Tower can be considered Old Town’s most haunted spot, simply due to the number and persistence of reported incidents. Sightings have included a pair of monks, a woman in old-fashioned dress, and even a fire-spitting dog!
A small round tower next to Luhike Jalg Gate also seems infested with spooks. It served as a prison during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1626 the son of Burgomaster B.von Gerten was locked up and according to records he was so afraid of the ghosts that reputedly haunt the tower that he was given special permission to have his servant accompany him. Both were found pale and extremely shaken the next day, claiming to have been harassed by spirits. A skeptical councilman decided to debunk the case by spending the night there himself. Unfortunately, nobody knows what he saw. He was carried out the next morning in a catatonic state and died a few days later!
In medieval times the Neitsitorn tower served as a prison for prostitutes. Now its home to a café but employees have reported eerie footsteps and scratching noises for years and there have even been sightings of a monk-like figure in the cellar, who appears to be drinking wine.
Cathedral Restaurant, next to the castle, according to the staff is positively infested with spooks. Footsteps, knocking in empty rooms, feelings of being touched or bumped, and doors closing by themselves are just some of the creepy goings-on. One staff member saw ghostly figures of two women moving through the dining room, and the member who closes up has the strong feeling of being watched.
Well enough ghost hunting let’s visit Estonia and the islands.
Pärnu, known as Estonia’s Summer Capital, is a historical beautiful resort seaside city with a small harbor in the South-Western part of Estonia. Parnu is famous for its beach life and made its way to the list of Russian Imperial Resorts in 1890. Long, white sandy beaches, shallow waters, rich cultural scene and numerous cafés, restaurants and nightclubs – there is plenty to see and do.
Enjoy the Spa hotels, the beautiful parks and courtyards, or visit the numerous galleries and art centers, Parnu has something for everyone. In winter the Parnu Ice Festival has concerts, shows and displays, handicraft fair and gourmet experiences in different cafes and restaurants.
Visit the nearby town of Tori with its alluring caves in sandstone called Tori Porgu(The Hell of Tori), a place the Devil calls home. Medieval traditions are kept alive in yearly Hanseatic festivals. You can admire costumes, take part in tournaments, learn how to make handicraft and enjoy traditional food such as fire-grilled boar and lamb.
Otepaa, a small town set in the hills of south Estonia, is known as the Winter Capital and a paradise for anyone who enjoys the snow. It is the most well-known winter sports centre in the Baltics. Try an Estonian hot smoke sauna and bath in an icy lake afterwards!! In summer hike the paths of the Otepaa Nature Park, see the landscape of rolling hills and lakes, romantic winding village roads and small rivers, and visit Sangaste Castle.
Haapsalu is located along the west coast and is sometimes referred to as the Nordic Venice. The climate is temperate, but owing to its proximity to the sea, winters are severe. In the 1800s the Russian aristocracy first started visiting the town to avail of its therapeutic mud. Ever since, people from around the world have been visiting the several spas in the town. Wander the enchanting streets, purchase beautiful handicraft shawls known as the “miracle in lace”, attend the festival of The White Lady, and maybe even see her as she appears in the windows of Haapsalu Castle.
Narva is located on the border of Estonia and Russia and is surrounded by a fortified wall, one of the strongest in Europe. Summers are pleasant and the sandy beaches and clear sea are popular with tourists, but the winters are severe. Narva Castle houses a great museum, and further south. Tartu, is home to the 17th century Tartu University, the medieval Vishgorod Cathedral and the Botanical Gardens.
It may sound hard to believe but Estonia has about 1,500 islands. Most are tiny but the inhabited ones offer beautiful, peaceful and friendly atmospheres and a traditional culture that opens a window on how Estonians used to live.
Estonia’s islands offer quite a different beach experience with their mostly untouched nature and remote rustic feel. If you are looking for a new experience then try swimming in bogs where the water is surprisingly, incredibly clean.
Saaremaa is Estonia’s largest island located in the Baltic Sea and has retained its uniqueness due to its location and isolation. In the villages there are still stone fences and houses with thatched roofs. Dolomite, windmills and the famous local home-brewed beer are considered the symbols of Saaremaa.
The capital (and only city) in Saaremaa is Kuressaare which started as a market trading place. In Kuressaare town park stands the Episcopal Castle, now a museum, which is unique in being the only intact medieval fortress in the Baltic countries. Explore the well-restored interior of the castle and “enjoy” eerie details such as torture instruments and the dungeons. There are medieval fortified churches, castles, windmills, meteorite craters and the Kubassaare broad leaf forest to explore.
Hijuma is Estonia’s second largest island and is located in the Baltic Sea north of Saaremaa. It is one of the oldest islands in the world. You can reach the island by ferry or plane but the most exotic and spine-tingling way to Hiiumaa is the winter ice road.. Driving on the Hiiumaa ice road is a unique experience especially when the vehicle in the next lane is a boat!
It’s difficult to find anywhere more picturesque than Hiiumaa. Enjoy long sandy beaches, visit sleepy villages or explore the deeply forested interior. The people of Hiiumaa are peaceful and tolerant. They live close to nature and have their own language – the Hiiu dialect is not easily recognizable even to Estonians.
Vormsi is located between Hijumaa and the mainland. The cemetery is the only place in Estonia where you can see Celtic crosses from the 13th century. Vormis has juniper fields, seaside meadows, and lighthouses, and is best explored on foot or bicycle.
Muhu is small and more secluded yet easily accessible. It is linked by ferry to Virtsu on the mainland and to Saaaremmaa by a causeway, the Vainatamm. In winter, when its cold enough an ice road connects the island to the mainland. The island is home to foxes, deer, moose and lots of birds – even three couples of the rare and majestic sea eagle nest on Muhu Island. Muhu is also famous for having a working traditional wooden windmill.
Over the centuries Muhu has developed at its own pace and its traditions are well known throughout Estonia. The famous Muhu patterns are a refined expression of folk-art as are popular souvenirs made of aromatic juniper wood.
Kihnu is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and together with neighboring islands it forms the Kihnu Parish, the smallest municipality in Estonia. For many years, the men of Kihnu have frequently gone to sea while the women ran the island and became the guardians of the island’s cultural heritage which includes handicrafts, dances, games and music. Unlike men, they also wear their national costumes in everyday life. So it’s quite normal to see an old woman dressed in traditional clothing driving a motorbike or even a tractor. Kihnu will appeal anyone interested in culture and heritage, unique nature and friendly people.
Ruhnu Island is situated in the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea and is actually closer to Latvia than Estonia. Limo beach is called a beach with "singing sand" and it is considered to be the most beautiful beach in Estonia. As Ruhnu is the farthest island from the Estonian mainland, people seem to live by their own rules here and they like to keep themselves to themselves.
Ruhun’s wooden church, built in 1644, is one of the oldest wooden constructions in Estonia. On the highest point of the island, Haubjerre hill, sits a unique metal lighthouse designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. The necessary pieces were constructed in France and it was assembled on Ruhnu in 1877. You can travel to Ruhnu island either by plane or catch a regular boat to Ringsu harbour.
Naissaar, just off the coast in the Gulf of Finland, is a nature reserve and a popular day-trip destination. The island is fairly large and you can see deer, fox, sea eagle, moose and the one remaining wild pig! On the southern and eastern shore are sandy dune beaches, and the island has two lighthouses. The mine factory where mines were constructed to fill orders all over the Soviet Union is still intact. Fairy Village, which once housed the Soviet military personnel, is now something like a ghost town.
Männiku village, about 20 minutes’ walk from the port, is the tiny Soviet-style village with an old-fashioned saloon and guesthouse. A local has also fixed up the train station and a local narrow-gauge train. Sandy beaches are close by.
To finish off one last spooky tale about The Man in Black. In one apartment of the house on the corner of Uus and Olevimagi, the figure of a man appears from time to time for no apparent reason. He doesn’t say anything, seem benign, and simply observes.