Four-day dream trip to fall in love with Estonia (Days 1&2)
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
This is one of those experiences, when less is more and it's the little things that matter, and that there is beauty in simplicity. I think you got me there. But I still keep wondering why is that we quite often dream and admire places that are somewhere far away from us, that are exotic and breathtaking, and why we don't appreciate what is given to us and what is right next to us or in front of our eyes. OK, maybe that's only me who does that, not everyone ;)
In that case this is a reminder for myself to be thankful for every little thing and learn to see the beauty that is hiding everywhere I go. I have been to Estonia numerous times before, and, of course, mostly to Tallinn, but somehow I had the impression, that there isn't much to do and see in Estonia. Oh, well, I was mistaken. Because now I love Estonia! :))
Celebrating Midsummer festival is not our jam, so, not surprisingly, we decided to skip all festivities and go for a car trip all around our neighbour country - Estonia. Although this was the first time we slept in a car for four nights in a row, all I remember of this trip is being very calm, fulfilled and rested. Here is what we saw there!
Saturday, 22 June (Day 1)
We started our trip from a border city Valka/Valga, and our first stop of the day was Võru town, which was very quiet and empty. Maybe because we arrived there very early in the morning - just after 8 AM and people were still sleeping :) Anyway, the town gave us very welcoming impression - it was easy to notice that they care about clean streets and pleasing surroundings. It was also nice to take a stroll along the lake.
Then we continued our trip to the highest peak in the Baltic states (318 meters) - hill Suur Munamägi. The climb was not that hard at all, and we also visited the tower built on the top of the hill. A ticket costs 4 EUR, if you climb the stairs, but 6 EUR for using elevator. Of course, we happily chose to use the stairs.
Just some 40 km further away from Suur Munamägi and for just 5 EUR you can hear an interesting story at Piusa sand caves. People used to collect sand for glass production and here is the result of a few decades' work. The sand was actually mined by hand work and transported by train. Recently sand caves were open to public and you could walk around there, but, as per usual, where people are - problems are. Because of people scratching in the walls, the sand became loose and some arches broke down, so no more walking around. We were told that this place is the biggest wintering colony for bats in Eastern Europe, and they like it here because of the constant temperature throughout the winter. Yes, the place was cold, but cool! ;)
Our next nature adventure lead us to a place where, it is believed, every Estonian must visit during his lifetime - Taevaskoda outcrops. Do not know about that, but there were a lot of people, so there might be some truth in that. There were springs, there were sandstone outcrops, there was a river, a cave and different paths through forest. It was a pleasant and peaceful ~3km hike!
Our next stops were two beautiful places - Otepää town and Tartu city. Otepää town is very famous for winter sports and known as winter capital of Estonia. There are many facilities that make this place a decent training place for even Olympic medallists. We saw a few athletes training and wearing national colours. Also, we tried a little scary experience and climbed up to a viewing platform on a ski-jump tower of Tehvandi. It cost us 3 EUR each to use the stairs. It is crazy that people actually jump with skis there. Not for me definitely!
Tartu - a magical mix of modern and old times. Kissing students' fountain, Devil's and Angel's bridges, Old Observatory are a few places we saw during our 6.5km walk through and around Tartu city, which, by the way, is the second biggest city in Estonia and the oldest city in the Baltic states. There was something appealing about this place. I even had a brief chat with Oscar Wilde *cough*, he did not talk to me tho.
Our first day ended at the beach of lake Peipus - the fifth-largest lake in Europe and the largest trans-boundary lake in Europe. Oh, boy, the lake is really huge - can't see over it, it looked just like sea, and the coast was even full of seashells. Another interesting thing we noticed - the cliffs next to the beach had many little caves or actually holes in them - cool nesting and living place for birds. After visiting lake Peipus we hit the road and headed to the Gulf of Finland, found a beautiful place there and watched sunset before going to sleep in our car.
Sunday, 23 June (Day 2)
Our second day started in the most Eastern point in Estonia - Narva town. Nearly all of the population in Narva speak Russian language, which is a legacy of the World War II, when 98% of the city was destroyed and later inhabited by immigrant Russian-speaking workers from all over the USSR. Although the past sounds sad, it is said that residents of the city are now happy to be a part of Estonia and European Union. So good for them.
We took a morning walk around the city and visited some of the top spots - Hermann Castle (also called Narva Castle), saw Narva (almost dried-out) river, that is a borderline between Estonia and Russia, Conference Centre and Narva Town hall as well as Narva Alexander’s Cathedral. Overall, the city left us a big Soviet-era impression, as it should have been, taking into account its' recent history.
After leaving Narva city, we stopped 30km further to the West at Sillamäe town and walked around the town hall and an attractive avenue, that leads you to the seaside. This town has also suffered its part of the 20th century, when it was basically closed off and turned into an industrial town that produced and supplied nuclear materials for Soviet power plants and weapon facilities. Today, the vast majority of town's inhabitants are of Russian ethnicity, just like in Narva - a legacy of long Soviet years. But some parts of the town looked very beautiful.
After visiting the town, we continued our way to the West and the next stop was Valaste Waterfall - the highest waterfall in Estonia (over 30m high), but, unfortunately, not today - because of drought and not-so-typical and hot summer in the Baltic States, there was no water falling from the cliff, but we used the opportunity to climb down the stairs with hundreds of steps to the beach and then hundreds of steps up again. At least it was a good workout for us ;)
Our day continued to the West, and we managed to stop at Rakvere and check out Rakvere castle and the Bull statue. It seemed to be a nice place to go with kids as they offered many interesting activities in the castle. Interesting for kids, not us, so off we went!
Next up was a true joy for our souls. Lahemaa National Park was a must-visit for us, and we decided to enjoy it by choosing one of many hiking trails and going for a run. We parked near Oandu Nature Centre, found an information desk with a map of the area and just chose one of trails that the area offered. It was 3.6km long and we enjoyed the forest and silence very much.
After that we left for the next adventure and one of my favourites of the trip - Viru bog nature trail. Of course, we left our running shoes on and went for a run again. I mean, the bog is a special place - remote, captivating, beautiful. No wonder Estonians loved it too - there were many groups of people who had picnics there, kids were jumping in the bog lakes and ladies were sunbathing far from the cites and usually overcrowded sandy beaches. I loved the place. It has an observation tower and a big part of the trail is a nice broadwalk.
Pumped up by the experience we continued the trip to another special place - Jägala Waterfall! With 8 meters of height and 50 meters in width it is the widest natural waterfall in Estonia. At least they say so. And, oh boy, a beautiful one! Low water level in the river let us walk right through it and enjoy the splashes, which was very refreshing after having run 9 kilometres through forests and bogs. It was a special place and based on the amount of visitors we saw there, we know that Estonians think that too!
The second day ended with a visit through empty streets of Old Tallinn (well, yes, they celebrate Midsummer too, and, yes, most people celebrate it outside in the nature and countryside!). We have been to Tallinn many, many times, so it was nothing new to us. But I truly suggest visiting old town and just walking around cobbled streets and paths - it is small, but special. We visited Viru Gate, Town Hall square and Town Hall, Town Wall and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Always a good idea is to check out the view from Kohtuotsa viewing platform where you can see the view over the roofs of the Old Town.
We ended our day at the seaside - parked on the top of the Türisalu cliff and watched sunset with countless other sunset lovers who were non-stop coming, taking photos and going away over a period of 1.5 hours until the sun was completely gone and we finally could go to sleep without the sound of cars coming and going all the time.
All places we visited by date HERE and in the map below: