TOP tourist attractions
There are hundreds and hundreds of exciting and interesting places in Estonia, where to go and your time. It would take several weeks, months or even years to visit all the sights. But a shorter circle around Estonia and a quick visit to bigger islands make the first impression about the little Estonia full of surprises.
Small Islands in the Gulf of Finland
Small islands in the Gulf of Finland have played an important role as both defence constructions as well as naturally beautiful destinations far away in the sea.
The islands of Aegna and Naissaar in the Gulf of Tallinn are a part of the Tallinn coastal fortifications of the fortified naval base of Peter the Great. Today both of the islands are a mixture of the military past and unspoilt nature. In the islands you can stumble across the relicts of the fortified naval base of Peter the Great, find military constructions from the last big war and the occupation period following thereto and enjoy for miles the sand and pleasant places for swimming. The flows of water coming from the open sea are cooler there than those on the side of the mainland, however these offer pleasant refreshment to the sunburnt body.
Omar's barn is a peculiar concert site also located on the island of Naissaar. The concert site was established thanks to a private initation and is a place where very extraordinary cultural events with out of the ordinary milieus are held all throughout the summer.
The islands of Pedassaar and Mohni are islands of beautiful nature leaving unforgettable impressions at every step. Time stands still in small islands - when you consider yourself to have been in an island for ages already, in reality you have been there only for a couple of hours.
The island of Vaindloo is the most northern point of Estonia that is difficult to access. Standing in the sea winds on the little island you will wonder how people can live there for days, weeks and months without getting to the mainland even for a moment.
Käsmu Captain Village and Maritime Museum
The coastal villages of Lahemaa are beautiful. In hot summer days it seems as if the life stands still there. You can admire the architecture of the beach houses in peace, give a glance at the picturesque yards and take the time off a little. Only some dogs are lying around in cooler places without bothering even to bark at strangers.
Käsmu Captain Village has received its name from the tens of sea captains who have grown up there and sailed in great oceans. The coastal village acquired its wealth and glory through the captains' hard work and quick enrichment of the smugglers, today the village reflects the genuine coastal touch and milieu.
The exhibits in Käsmu Maritime Museum present the history of Käsmu and the achievements in the sea of the men grown up there.
Be sure to visit the museum's website at www.kasmu.ee.
Kuradisaar (Devil's Island) near the Käsmu Village is a place which can be accessed on foot, but hardly reached without getting your feet wet. The zigzag journey through the waves is an exciting trial for everybody, being an extreme, but as a rule safe experience.
Industrial Landscape of North-Eastern Estonia
East Virumaa is well-known first and foremost by its industrial heritage. In the most industrialised region of Estonia there are both huge oil shale open-cast mines as well as a lot of other exciting industrial constructions.
The highest Northern European artificial hill in Kiviõli is like a symbol of oil shale mining, from whose top most of East Virumaa can be seen. The ash heaps are scattered all over the county, from the distance those in Kohtla-Järve remind downright of a mountain range buried into the clouds.
The recreational centre, located on the ash heaps of Kiviõli, has become a venue for up-hill climbing with motorcycles and motocross competitions as well as a ski resort with some of the highest slopes in Estonia during the winter.
In the recultivated open-cast mines it is possible to get an idea of the history of oil shale mining as well as to see how the nature has accepted the spoilt landscape again and how the surface soil once scrambled is now covered with forests and lakes.
In Kohtla Mining Museum everybody interested can climb under the ground and have a look at the display depicting the miners' difficult life. Those who are bolder can try themselves how decades ago oil shale was mined manually or using primitive technical equipment. Finally the mine train drives the visitors to the museum around through the dim mine passages and tunnels.
Tannenberg Line (Sinimäed)
In 1944 defence battles, which were one of the fiercest ones in Northern Europe with many victims, took place in North-Eastern Estonia. Hundreds of thousands of fighters from both sides fell on the Tannenberg Line and on the front line in marshes of Narva; all signs of life were destroyed in the surroundings in the course of the battles. A memorial in memory of all those who fell in the battles has been erected on the Tannenberg Line, around the memorial there is an attractive military park along with trenches, catacombs and battle tracks under completion.
The observation tower, which is being built on the ridge of the Tannenberg Line, offers a ten-kilometre view across the land - on sites where bloody battles once took place.
The trails of war can be seen in the forests and bogs surrounding the Tannenberg Line even today - numerous trenches, bunkers, military stuff scattered around everywhere. In the battlefields of World War II it is possible to find military stuff, which has been lying there for decades. Weapons and soldiers' outfit are quite usual findings while wandering in the bog; upon good luck, more careful hunters may even find remains of tanks or planes.
Hiiumaa's most famous sight, and indeed the symbol of the island, is Kõpu Lighthouse.
It is the oldest and one of the tallest on the shores of the Baltic, and is claimed to be the second or third-oldest lighthouse in the world with a continuously burning lamp.
It was erected in the 15th century in response to the losses caused by the number of Hanseatic League goods ships foundering in the Hiiu shallows. Its construction met with (ultimately futile) resistance from local residents who, exploiting their coastal claims, would loot and pillage any ship that had run aground in their waters. In 1900 Kõpu's outmoded fire basket was replaced with a new-style mirror lantern purchased from the Paris World Expo.
The Kaali meteorite is the last known giant meteorite to have struck a densely populated region. Its at least 4000-year old crater now holds a small lake and is surrounded by a field of smaller craters.
The collision of the meteorite has been compared to the explosion of a small atomic bomb and caused widespread destruction in the area.
Its journey across the heavens and deafening impact are recounted in the legends and folklore of many peoples - it is alleged you can even find references to it in the records of ancient Rome.
The crater is the most studied meteorite impact site in Europe, and scientists have collected large numbers of fragments.
Vilsandi Bird Sanctuary
As for a change to the steep limestone coast Saaremaa is also surrounded by a lot of small islands and islets. The best-known of these is Vilsandi along with its nature reserve. Vilsandi, which is called Bird Sanctuary, is a home and place to stay for a lot of birds, a large number of whom also nest there in summer months.
It is possible to access Vilsandi in several ways - from sailing or taking a fishing boat to splashing through the waves on foot. But the most attractive and exciting way is to break through the water while being on the rear platform of a lorry. While sitting on the platform during your ride it may seem strange when you see a man fishing in peace only a couple of metres away or people bathing in deep water. But this is the excitement of travelling to Vilsandi - driving from island to island along a narrow upland not known to strangers while there is deep water on both sides of the lorry.
During World War II an anti-tank line was established in the Sõrve Peninsula. A long uninterrupted line consisting of concrete elements which resembled a pyramid ran over the meadows and haylands. The line had to break the caterpillar chains and tear the armour of the enemy's tanks. Even today the line is visible in some parts and covered with brushwood in other parts. The row of the concrete pyramids runs almost uninterruptedly from one coast to another, being cut through only by some single forest roads and highways.
At the top of the Sõrve Peninsula quite near the road there is the Stebel command centre, only a kilometre from the same place to the east (a couple of kilometres ride along a bad forest road) there is the Stebel artillery battery, which is one of the three biggest artillery batteries in Estonia. The similar artillery batteries are also located in the Tahkuna Peninsula, Hiiumaa and in Osmussaar.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, a mighty vassal fortress was built in Kuressaare. It was not, however, constructed to ward off foreign invaders as most such castles were: it was built to protect the nobles from attacks by local citizens.
Repeatedly renovated over the course of the centuries, the building was designed to provide a meeting place for the nobles of Saaremaa as well as to defend against enemy assaults. It was also the residence of the Saare-Lääne bishopric until the outbreak of the Livonian War.
Today Kuressaare Castle is one of the very few remaining strongholds of the Middle Ages in the Baltic States not to have been extensively reworked. It was (and is) an architecturally well-ordered and fiercely guarded building which would undoubtedly have caused headaches for any enemy trying to besiege it.
The island of Kihnu is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its unique local customs and traditions, which have been handed down from generation to generation. Isolation from the outside world has left the island with its own dialect and extraordinary culture. The way the islanders dress, the textiles they use to make their clothes, their wedding practices, the songs they sing and their handicrafts are all characteristically different from those on mainland Estonia.
Kihnu's natural environment is similarly varied, with pine forests interspersed with brush, coastal meadows with heath, and higher ground with watery bogs. A round trip of the island will give you insight into the majority of its landscapes in a couple of hours, assuming you don't get lost among the pine trees on the zig-zagging pathways.
The most famous islander, Enn Uuetoa (aka Kihnu Jõnn), was one of the first Estonian captains to sail across the ocean - irrespective of his lack of both documentation and training.
Besides boats, the means of transport most commonly associated with Kihnu is the motorcycle and sidecar: they can be seen flinging up mud all over the island, and several of them are fully restored.
Estonia's largest wild bird reserve, also one of the largest in Europe, Matsalu is a beautiful stopping-off point everyone can enjoy. Its picturesque beaches, juniper meadows, fresh air and flocks of birds present both a liberating and calming scene. It's certainly worth a visit if you're interested in bird-watching, but anyone who appreciates a scenic natural setting and peaceful atmosphere will find it a rewarding destination.
Matsalu is rich in a variety of bird and animal species. Besides the bird flocks flying over, numerously wild animals are wandering around in search of game animal or they just live there. Its landscape of wooded meadows challenges even the most trained and scientific of eyes to distinguish between its rich assortment of species. The area is an artist's palette of colours and natural scents, providing something of a pleasant change for the city-dweller who comes to experience them.
A good place to start exploring Matsalu is from the nature park's centre and museum in Penijõe. Here you'll find information about which sections of the reserve are currently closed to visitors due to bird migration, where the best places to pitch your tent are, and where to find the hiking trails.
Military Constructions in Hiiumaa
Hiiumaa is the most military island in Estonia, hiding on its coasts the most powerful military constructions in Estonia. Due to its location Hiiumaa is invaluable as it protects the entrance to the Gulf of Finland from the western side. During the centuries both the eastern neighbour of Estonia as well as the German troops have taken advantage of the strategic position and established huge marine and mainland defence batteries everywhere in Hiiumaa. The oldest of these date back to the czarist time already and the newest ones to the period of the defence battles of World War II and to the later occupation period.
The forward positions in the Tahkuna Peninsula of the fortified naval base of Peter the Great built in the north-western Estonia in order to protect St Petersburg had to protect the stronghold against the attacks from the sea. During the Soviet occupation a large number of new defence positions were established there in addition - in order to keep the enemies away from the borders of the Soviet Union as well as to force the citizens to stay in the "big homeland". One of the most exciting places in Tahkuna today is the armoured tower, whose cover made of thick steel had to stand nuclear hits as well, if necessary.
Another big military centre with numerous military constructions is located in Ristna, the Kõpu Peninsula. The most attractive construction is the massive concrete fire conducting tower high above the forest. It is not easy to climb the tower, but the breathtaking view over the coastline of Hiiumaa, forests, lighthouses and military constructions on the horizon that you can enjoy from the tower deserves the effort.
The Tohvri artillery batteries near the Sõru Port are today mainly covered with brushwood. It is not easy to find the defence constructions in the forest - only a narrow path winding between nettles and wild rose bushes takes you to the constructions. However, after you have made the system of the constructions clear to yourself and if you possess a map, it is possible to discover cannon bases, remnants of the accessory structures and a lot of other constructions from beneath the trees, which are decades old.
Lahemaa was Estonia's first-ever declared national park. It incorporates beautiful coastal areas, headlands, bays and small islands of northern Estonia and is home to the northern-most point on the Estonian mainland - Purekkari Headland on Pärispea Peninsula.
Käsmu Peninsula, also part of the park, is the most densely covered area in the whole of Europe for glacial boulders: its green pine forests are strewn with these giant rocks, of all shapes and sizes, from the tiniest pebbles that manage to move themselves to giant stone hulks more reminiscent of houses than boulders.
Nearby Kolga Bay is well-known for its multitude of large and small islands. The majority of them, however, are protected and only accessible with a special permit due to their being the homes of wild birds and seals.
At the tip of Juminda Peninsula you'll find tethered to the shore several big war-time floating mines. The mines, and the monument alongside them, are symbols of a maritime catastrophe that took place in 1941 when, in the evacuation of army officers and their supplies from Tallinn to the then Leningrad, many ships sailed directly into a mine field in the Gulf of Finland and were lost. The manors of Lahemaa - Palmse, Sagadi and Vihula are places where you can enjoy the stylish milieu, beautiful architecture and calming impact of the picturesque parks of the estates. These as well as other manors of Lahemaa are places which you really have to visit - peculiar buildings and exciting history invite everybody there.
The forces of nature have worked much of the northern coast of Estonia over the millennia into a beautiful, towering cliff face, in some places up to 56 metres above sea level. It is best viewed in the Saka-Ontika-Toila area, where you can get to the impressive limestone walls from both above and below, and from which open out stunning views over the sea and along the coastline.
Every sliver of this limestone is like a museum piece encapsulating life on the sea floor millions of years ago. The forest nestled at the foot of the cliffs is verdant and quite unusual, and is the habitat of a wide variety of animals. In several places along the cliff you can find what is called a "drunk forest" due to ground slippage and erosion.
The cliffs are a great place for cyclists and hikers as there are set trails winding their way all along them. The road that hugs the cliffs was once the war and trade route of the Vikings, although more recently it was better known as the Narva-Tallinn highway. Waterfalls meet the sea in several places along the cliffs, and the beaches where they do so are popular places for swimming.
The impressive cliff-lined coasts are also located on the Pakri peninsula, the northern coast of the island of Saaremaa as well as Osmussaar - all of which offer one of a kind majestic and awe-inspiring views.
North Coast Waterfalls
Valaste Waterfall is one of the main natural symbols of Ida-Virumaa County. Its official height is 30.5 metres, or 33.8 metres if you add its cascades. This makes it one of the highest waterfalls in the country. Several viewing platforms have been constructed along the course of the waterfall, providing lovely views of the falls themselves, the coastal forest beneath and out to sea. An information point and café are located nearby.
Around the waterfall you can examine the variety of soil strata in the cliffs, which are more clearly exposed here than in other areas. Valaste is particularly attractive in winter when its water vapour rises up to give the tree branches and bushes an icy coating. Such beautiful winter scenes are straight out of a fairytale.
The waterfall has become something of a mecca for the newly married, who come here to pledge their fidelity and do so by attaching a padlock bearing their names to the side of the viewing platform.
To the west of Valaste you'll find Estonia's two other highest waterfalls - Kivisilla, at 22.8 metres, and Karjaoru, at 15.9 metres.
About 300 years ago an Estonian shepherd was said to have seen a woman in resplendent robes standing on Kuremäe Hill. Whenever he approached, however, day after day, the vision disappeared. In time, an icon of the Virgin Mary was found in the place where this mysterious woman had appeared.
Now it is the location of Pühtitsa Convent, the only active Russian Orthodox convent in Estonia, perched on picturesque Kuremäe Hill. It was built in 1891 as part of the russification of Estonia by the country's governor, Duke Sergei Shahhovskoi.
There are many buildings inside the complex's high stone walls that are worth a visit: the main church, the baptismal chapel, the cemetery chapel and the museum, as well as the haystack-shaped wood piles, the gate towers and the high walls. Most of the buildings in the complex can be found between its walls, which stress the segregation of its inhabitants from the outside world. Other popular nearby sites include the sacred spring and baths at the foot of the hill's north-western slope, and the graveyard's ancient holy oak tree.
Alam-Pedja and Endla
In Jõgeva County there is the Alam-Pedja vast bog, where those interested in wandering gain exciting experience. Upon entering the nature reserve from Puurmani, you will soon notice a solid log tower reminding you of a fortress. The journey to the tower is not simple - you have to pass the river flood meadows, climb on the suspension bridges and stagger in narrow waterside paths. However, upon reaching the tower and rushing up the stairs to higher floors, you can enjoy beautiful nature in the surroundings. A wide river is winding right below the tower and the calm flow thereof heads to Lake Võrtsjärv. Only in early spring when the ice floes are blocking the mouth of the river, it may happen that the River Pedja starts to flow in the opposite direction.
In the Endla Nature Reserve a decent network of hiking routes has been set up for the purposes of a longer walking tour. A boardwalk straight as an arrow passes through the Männikjärve bog. At the edge of the boardwalk there is a watching tower. From the tower you can enjoy the view of the tens of bog lakes and lakelets. Thereafter the hiking route heads through the swampy forest floor, over the drains and also dodging drier soil from time to time until it reaches the shore of Lake Endla. After a half-hour walk along the shoreline you'll get to another watching tower. From the top of the tower you can admire picturesque views of the lake, islands and swamp areas in the vicinity. If you are lucky, the reflection of the sunset from the lake water buries the surroundings of Lake Endla into a magic aura.
Estonia's largest bog and marshlands, Soomaa is best-known for the fact that it experiences not four, but five seasons. This fifth season is one of flooding, when the majority of the area's roads become passable only by boat or canoe and when the ceiling lamps of the low-lying houses sway to the rhythm of the waves. It really is a case of where there was dry land yesterday, today there's just a huge expanse of water; where cars were driving, they're now getting about in canoes; and where people were living, the fish have now taken up residence. At least for today - come tomorrow things will be back to normal and there'll be no sign of this watery environment.
This period of flooding usually takes place in Soomaa once or twice a year, mainly in spring and summer, sometimes with great force, and other times more modestly. The cause of this flooding is the sudden reverse motion of larger rivers directing their flow back to the flat, treeless moors.
Soomaa has a wide variety of hiking trails from which you can get a comprehensive overview of the area. Sparsely populated, its occasional old villages are the perfect destination for those seeking a more extreme experience.
Kurgja Farm Museum
Jakobson, a writer and leader of national movement, founded Kurgja Farm with the objective of promoting new agrotechnological means among Estonians. The sample farm was founded in the 19th century according to his own instructions and designs and therefore the buildings and accessory structures are unique in Estonia.
Upon the establishment of the museum, the buildings were restored in the form these were built by Carl Robert Jakobson. In addition to the museum today there is also an agricultural farm in Kurgja, where the land is farmed and animals bred in the traditional, centuries-old way.
Tori has become world-famous by the horses bred there. In the 19th century a new breed of horses, suitable for hard field work, was bred in Tori. Tori Horse Farm, established in 1856, is the oldest in the Baltic countries, operating even today and serving also as a venue for numerous horse racing competitions.
In 1854 St John's Church was completed in Tori, on the slope of the Pärnu River. The peculiarity and pride of the church was the church bell, which was more than a hundred years older than the building itself. Having been burnt down by the Germans in 1944, the church was restored in the 1990s and it became a church in commemoration of all the fallen warriors.
The tall monument next to the church depicts St John's fight with the dragon - symbolising the Estonian warriors' hard fights for the preservation of their nation and state.
The heaven and the hell meet in Tori. The Tori Hell located in the high bank wall of the Pärnu River is a source for legends and myths about devils that lived in the caves and made evil tricks. According to the legends there was a tip of the earth's axis located in Tori, the other tip had to head to the heaven from the same place. It is not a miracle in the Tori Hell if you hear strange voices or see vague figures moving around at night. But only in the dead of night you will receive an unforgettable impression about the Tori Hell as the light casts magical shadows onto the sandstone rocks and caves.
Tolkuse and Nigula Bogs
The highest dunes in Estonia protect the Tolkuse Bog against the fierce sea winds. Despite that the Tolkuse Bog is the place where the storms gather their strength in order to dash in devastating gusts all over the land. The former sea bay, now a bowl-shaped quagmire, is the place where most of the storms devastating the Western Estonia start. Like a destructive force, the storms speed therefrom to the distance as far as hundreds of kilometres away, sweeping everything they meet on their way. From the watching tower erected on the crest of a dune it is possible to see both the sea as well as the mainland, and if you are lucky enough you can also observe how the whirlwinds come into being in the bog landscapes.
The Nigula Bog is the most biodiverse bog in Estonia. In addition to the peculiarities as regards to the landscape and different types of bogs present in Nigula, the area has rich flora and exceptionally numerous fauna. In the 1950s Nigula Nature Reserve was founded, during the decades both the hiking route as well as the watching towers were added.
The hiking route, which starts by the lake and continues all over the bog and the small lakes, reaches the former sand dunes (Estonian: kriiva), which are now tens of kilometres away from the coast. From the sand dunes the route takes you back to the shores of the lake again, from the watching towers located on the route it is possible to enjoy scenic views over the bog as well as the forests in the distance.
The legends tell stories about the ogres who live in the bog and drag an animal or a human, who has fallen into a quagmire, quickly into their realm. No ogres have been seen there, but you have to be careful while walking in the bog - the deceptively solid soil often turns out to be a soft and muddy depth.
Sandstone Cliffs of Southern Estonia
One of the most popular sights in southern Estonia is the area's sandstone outcrops. Those located in the ancient valley of Piusa are the tallest in the country and are called the Härma Wall. Simply making your way to the top of them is a challenge in itself, and a pretty exhausting one at that - but they provide an unrivalled view over Piusa Valley, something you don't really get from the hiking trail at their base.
The Taevaskoda sandstone outcrop in the ancient valley of the Ahja River is one of the best-known examples of its kind in the country. Many legends are associated with the area; in the cliff wall you can find the Virgin's Cave, which a mermaid is said to visit to wash and spin yarn. Taevaskoda is also the source of the Emalätte Spring, whose waters are famous for their healing properties and ability to improve vision.
The Võhandu River Valley also has large numbers of sandstone outcrops, albeit not quite as impressive as those of the Härma Wall or Taevaskoda. The Peetri River Valley meanwhile is the location of Estonia's only white sandstone outcrops, which look like a blanket of snow in the middle of summer.
Many of these outcrops in the south of the country have formed backdrops for popular Estonia films, best-known among them being "Viimne reliikvia" and "Libahunt".
Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Hill) is Estonia's highest mountain - although in world terms, at just 318 metres, it barely qualifies for the name. At its peak is a viewing tower with sweeping views for tens of kilometres in every direction. In good weather you can even see as far as both Latvia and Russia. The journey to the top of the tower in its glass lift through the treetops and up into the clouds is sure to produce a quiver of excitement in everyone.
Paganamaa and Koiva
Right on the Latvian border is the unnervingly named Paganamaa or "Devil's Country." This undulating landscape of hills and lakes got its name from a legend telling of the hotfooted escape of Old Nick from a thunderstorm. Every step he took as he fled left an imprint behind, which filled with water and formed one of Paganamaa's many lakes.
The border river, Koiva, flows for tens of kilometres half in Estonia and half in Latvia. The pine forests that have sprung up on the sandstone outcrops on the Estonian side are perfect for camping or simply for a stroll.
The one-time Piusa sand quarries are home to 6 or 7 unique cave systems, the majority of which have been only imprecisely mapped. The area is a warren of hills burrowed through for kilometres. Most often visited are those caves closest to the shop and railway station, which are directed more at tourists.
The Piusa cave systems house Europe's largest bat colony; thousands upon thousands of the animals spend their winter here. Having spent the summer flapping about terrorising visitors, the bats fall into a deep sleep with the coming of winter from which they refuse to be roused - whether by the cajoling of passers-by or bright flashes of light. It is because of these hibernating bats that the majority of caves are closed to visitors, with access only available to the so-called museum caves.
Rocca al Mare
The Rocca al Mare open-air museum in Tallinn is an historical exhibition of centuries-old village life, folk traditions and living conditions. All manner of cultural events are organised here allowing visitors to get to know more about Estonian culture and folk customs.
Estonia is rich in different cultural and ethnic groups. One of the most interesting of those are the Old Believers on the southern side of Lake Peipsi.
The Old Believers' villages by Lake Peipsi are just like imperium in imperio. The Old Believers who fled to Estonia from Russia because of persecution as well as their descendants lead their lives respecting the traditions and religious customs. The line-villages which are several miles long give you the feeling as if you have arrived in Russia. Every now and then the road is bordered by churches, chapels and cemeteries. The people living on fishing are creative and thus it is possible to see al kinds of mystical hybrids of water and land vehicles while driving near Lake Peipsi.
Belief is closely connected with the region. Near Lake Peipsi and in its vicinity it is possible to find peculiar village houses of prayer called tsässon. The tsässon whose size is more like that of a small chapel was a place where pilgrims could stop, stay overnight and pray. Even today religious services are held in a tsässon, but unfortunately most of these are closed for tired wanderers.
The Setu Museum
Põlva County in the South-Eastern part of Estonia is the meeting place of primeval nature and different culture. During centuries the customs and lifestyle of the people living close to the border have been carried from person to person, remaining unaffected thanks to their separation from the other world.
The culture and habits of the Setus have been displayed in the Setu Museum located in Värska. If you travel in the area near the border, you can also see the genuine mode of living, the roots of which reach back to several centuries.
Only ten kilometres from Värska right by the Estonian-Russian border there is a small village called Saatse. The only road to Saatse goes through Russia and the place, where the Estonian road runs through Russia for a kilometre, is called the "Saatse boot." Those who have not visited Russia yet, the "Saatse boot" is just the place for you to visit the Big Bear.
Helme Teutonic Castle
Only ruins have remained from Helme Teutonic Castle, although it was one of the most important fortifications in the region. For centuries Helme was a stronghold which could not be demolished and which was besieged repeatedly, but without any outcomes. Until at last the enemy, making use of their slyness, unveiled the magic secret of the castle, whereafter the castle was an easy prey.
In the ridge located north to the Teutonic Castle there are the Helme caves. In old times the large halls and passages starting therefrom were a refuge from the enemies, in the course of the time human hands have extended and enlarged the caves.
Taagepera Castle and Holdre Manor
The luxurious Taagepera Castle is an important sight to visit in Valga County. The legends say that the Scandinavian trolls helped to build the castle, and really as of its architecture the castle reminds of the Nordic castles and manors.
Taagepera Castle was completed in 1912 under the leadership of nobleman Hugo von Stryk. The tower of the castle, which is 40 metres tall, is visible over the hills from a long distance; there are 75 rooms of different colour in the castle, each of the rooms has its own name. The weathercock of the castle bears a Turkish text as the lady of the manor is said to have been Turk. The park surrounding the manor is one of the most biodiverse ones in Estonia as regards to its flora.
Holdre Manor, located in the vicinity, is similar to Taagepera Castle as it was built by the same architect. Smaller and cosier Holdre is like Taagepera's little sister, who imitates her big brother, but remains still original and beautiful due to its warmth and softer shapes.
Karksi Order Castle
The most important sight of Karksi-Nuia is the ruins of Karksi Order Castle, which enthrone proudly over the lakes twinkling in the ancient valley.
Karksi was first entered in historical sources in 1248. The construction of the Order Castle on the steep slopes was started at the end of the 13th century, but it is said that previously there used to be a stronghold of ancient Estonians at the same place. The main part of the stone buildings of the castle date back to the period in between the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1708 the castle was destroyed in the Great Northern War. Since then the Karksi Castle has been in ruins.
In 1778 Karksi St Peter's Church, which was partly built on the walls of the castle, was completed. The church with its slanting bell tower is unique in Estonia.
The one-time main highway, which connects the two largest cities of Estonia, Tallinn and Tartu, has throughout the years become a second-rate road. Now, the heavy traffic runs through the arterial highway. Yet Piibe highway, with its quieter traffic, has many tourist attractions located alongside it and more are coming into existence as time progresses. Beautiful manors and nice churches hem the entire verge of Piibe highway as well as many ancient strongholds and dozens of historical culture sites. One also has the chance to enjoy beautiful views of the nature when driving down the highway. In addition, there are giant marshland ecological reserves and nature parks right nearby the road.
North-Kõrvemaa Hiking Trails
A part of Kõrve hiking trail, starting from Aegviidu and ending at Liiapeksi, is located in North-Kõrvemaa, which has many varied marshes, moorlands as wide as one's eyes can see, freshwater lakes and small hills. The trail runs through many different natural environments: it passes by ancient nature sites as well as areas, which have forcefully been reshaped by human hand, it crosses rivers, runs between lakes, climbs the small hills and descends upon the marshland moss. There are many places of accommodation one can choose from and everyone should find a place they like. North-Kõrvemaa also has many other shorter and longer hiking trails. There trails for all tastes and levels of endurance.
The Four King Road
On May 4th, 1343 - just a few days after the beginning of Jüriöö Rebellion - four Estonian kings arrived in Paide. They were chosen to represent the rural community during negotiations held with the crusaders. The aim was to achieve the best possible conditions for the preservation of the rural community.
Negotiations with the knights of the order were cut short - after a brief conservation the Estonian kings were arrested and chopped to pieces.
In order to remember the important events in Estonian history - Jüiöö Rebellion and the pilgrimage of the four kings - a thematic hiking trail was created. It runs from Padise Monastery to Paide Order Stronghold, alongside historical and Ancient-Estonian related sites.
On its itinerary the Four King Road passes by such places as Padise Monastery, Varbola Hillfort, Keava Stronghold, Kuimetsa karstic area, Vahastu city-hill - all the sites, which were important to ancient Estonians and that offered protection and shelter from invaders. Paluküla Hiiemägi, an ancient holy place, as well as Mahtra battleground, a site where peasants fought for their freedom, are also located near the Four King Road. Tuhala witch well and karstic area, which are places that offered shelter from the enemy, as well as energy columns, where one can gather energy from, are all located near the Four King Road.
The Island of Muhumaa
Muhu Island is something much more than just a place to drive past when travelling from mainland to the island of Saaremaa or vice versa. Although Muhu is very small, it has many beautiful and exciting places one could go to. It is worth spending a day there to journey around the island.
A coastal battery of cannons was established in Võiküla during World War I. A cobblestone pavement and railroad was built to provide the battery with ammunition. The dyke, which was built for the road and railway has long since disappeared in between the junipers. At the end of the cobblestone pavement one can still see the defence battery ruins.
Moving along village roads, past the coastal battery, one will find him- or herself at the edge of Pädaste Manor Park. After an enjoyable walk under the indigenous trees of the park, it is nice to have lunch at Pädaste restaurant. The food there makes even a gourmet's mouth water - the best chefs in all of Estonia are, nevertheless, responsible for the great menu and high quality.
Exciting caves and bays, the biggest ones disappearing far into the cliff face, grace the Üügu cliff-lined walls located on the northern coast of Muhu Island. There are multiple wellsprings at the bottom of the coastal cliffs. Some of the largest and most affluent ones have, in the course of centuries, become propitiatory springs.
Unfortunately, the Üügu coastal cliff is not as glorious as it once was. During World War I big chunks of dolomite were chipped off the cliff and then transported to the steelworks in Saint Petersburg.
More or less in the middle of Muhumaa, in Liiva village, is the Church of Katariina. The church, with its massive walls and narrow windows, was built in ancient times and is considered to be one of the oldest stone churches in Estonia.
The stone crosses and headstones, bearing pagan symbols, are one of the most compelling things located in the graveyard. Those types of grave markers were only carved in eastern Estonia, particularly on the islands and coastal areas. Only a few of the 12th century tombstones and stone crosses have remained and, surprisingly, the most dignified ones are located in the Muhu graveyard.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Muhumaa is the Muhu museum, located in Koguva village. It is historical fisherman's village. All farmhouses are situated near each other, the yards being separated by high stone fences and winding pathways - all of which are an effort to preserve the original and genuine inshore village environment.
Muhu hillfort, located in Linnuse village, is the place where the fate of Ancient-Estonia was decided. A bloody battle between the Knights of the Sword Order and the local habitants took place there in 1227. The knights arrived over the ice in February. They first plundered the surrounding areas and then besieged the hillfort until all of the secured sites were surrendered.