Less degrees, more excitement
SOMETIMES PUTTING A LITTLE BIT MORE EFFORT into getting somewhere is enough to make an experience more special. Fortunately, you have arrived in the northern winter of Estonia, which offers plenty of challenging and vibrant experiences, as long as you are ready to put on warm clothes and get on the road earlier than usual. After all, if you've never got out of Tallinn, you've not seen Estonia!
DON'T BE SATISFIED WITH THE VIEW FROM THE WINDOW – EXPERIENCE ESTONIA
The bigger islands of Estonia, which are hotspots for tourists in summer, are asleep during the cold winter weather. This makes it even more exciting to discover these places, because everyone you see is likely an island local and has interesting stories about the past as well as life today.
Hiiumaa is small enough, for example, to circle the island on a bike in just a few days. The climate on the islands is somewhat milder and the snow there melts faster than in the rest of Estonia, so bicycles can be taken out quite early in the spring. Whether you are travelling by bike or by car, we suggest visiting three landmarks: the unique lighthouses of Hiiumaa – Kõpu, Ristna and Tahkuna – which are all under heritage protection. The towers are officially open only during the period from 1st May to 15th September, but if you book ahead, the lighthouse doors can be opened when you like.
Before arriving on Saaremaa, you have to pass across another, smaller island, where you might plan a longer stop to get a dose of mystery and visit the sites of ancient rituals. The island of Muhu has 65 pre-Christianity holy places, and to discover these, we recommend adding a gram of exotica to the programme and begin at Tihuse Horseriding Farm, which offers tourists an opportunity to explore these ancient places on horseback, or by carriage or sleigh, all year round. You can ride a horse in many other areas as well and Google is a great help in finding these places. Alternatively however, on the mainland, there are the romantic paths of Taevaskoja. And if you decide to spend your holiday there, be sure to watch the cult film "The Last Relic", which was filmed on these paths, before your visit.
SUNRISE IN THE BOG
Hiking in the bog is something you can do again and again in the same places, but the experience you get is always new and different. Hiking in the bog is popular all year round, but just imagine a cool winter morning, fresh snow, and some hot tea waiting for you when you get back. These experiences will warm your heart again and again when you are back home and look at the pictures.
During summer you can choose any bog, and even discover it on your own on a marked trail or a boardwalk. Exciting bogs can be found almost all over Estonia, whether you are in Pärnu County (Tolkuse and Nigula bog), in the east of Estonia (Viru bog), Järva County (Kakerdaja bog) or in central Estonia, where at least four beautiful hiking trails are waiting for you in and around Rapla. For a good overview visit www.rmk.ee (website of the State Forest Management Centre) and select "For hikers".
During winter, we recommend taking these hiking trips together with experts, as the snow can be tricky. To make moving around in the snow easier and add some excitement, snowshoes or hiking skates are used for the winter hikes. You can also use some unusual hiking aids, like a kick-sled, which lets you enjoy the beautiful win - ter weather and discover hiking trails with guides, whether you are in Southern Estoni an places like Valga, Taevaskoja or Haanja, in the Aegviidu forests farther north, or to the east in Ida-Viru County.
GET OFF THE ROAD
Motor-enthusiasts can find quite exotic and exciting vehicles, with which you can make all kinds of trips away from official roads. On the island of Naissaare, which can also be seen from the aero plane window during landing at Tallinn Airport, it is possible to drive around on the back of a truck, but as an additional bonus there are rare sights, such as abandoned artillery sites 10A and 10B, the island's largest boulder, a mine storage facility, the local church and more, along the route.
Vehicles built for the Soviet army with the letters UAZ on the model are also known as Willis trucks. Using these vehicles, you can complete the specially designed adventure trail in Aegviidu, and believe me that this adventure will definitely add some adrenaline to your day, because unlike many other places, you can sit behind the wheel of this SUV yourself. If you like the extreme tracks, you can also practice your skills on Saaremaa, where there are programmes even for schoolchildren.
Somewhat different vehicles, like the KTM En duro and motorbikes, are waiting for you in Kiviõli, where the Aidu tracks offer extreme experiences. And if you want to jump on a snowmobile as soon as you step out of your door, then the Southern Estonian town of Otepää is just for you – here if there is enough snow, snowmobile tracks run through the backyards of houses, and during winter you can replace your car with a vehicle that is a bit more fun to drive.
Regardless of whichever place in Estonia you end up visiting, it is customary to finish your day with a good, hot sauna – especially one with a wood-burning oven and a birch sauna whisk. If these two conditions are fulfilled, you can be more or less sure that it is a decent sauna where Estonians themselves would go. The Old-Võro-style smoke sauna is even so special that it has found a dignified place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Mooska Farm in Võru County is one place where you can experience the heritage of Estonia, but if you look around, you can also find smoke saunas closer to the capital.
AN ADVENTUROUS VIEW OF THE CAPITAL
Estonia is like a great fairy-tale land, and even if you stay only in Tallinn you can forget that it is actually the capital of a European country. If you don't have a lot of time, then get dressed according to the weather, appropriately and comfortably, and ask a taxi driver to take you to Kadriorg Park or to Catherine's Pier. The first option is definitely recommended for all visitors to Tallinn, because the President's Castle, Swan Lake and several museums in the park are definitely worth a minimum of half a day to explore – and in the cold winter, more lively visitors will also be able to go skating on the lake.
Catherine's Pier and the whole Paljassaare peninsula where it is located, make up an area where you can really forget that you are visiting our capital. Take a stroll along Catherine's Pier and along the coast and try to find the birdwatching towers: Roostikutorn and Valge torn. This area is particularly interesting in spring when migrant birds return, as at least 229 bird species have been registered in the region.
Article was published in Nordica´s in-flight magazine Time Flies (autumn-winter 2018).