A medieval fairytale city, friendly people, infinite forests and a wonderful sea are only a few of the charms offered by this small country on the Baltic Sea.
Last summer, on a friend’s advice, we decided to get away from the usual beach destinations and head to the Baltic. After a flight of almost three hours from London, we arrived to this country of kind people, where history is in the air and nature is an integral part of people’s lives.
Tallinn, medieval city
The most outstanding feature of this city is the perfect conservation of its Historical Centre or Old City. The capital of Estonia is a small, but perfect, example of medieval architecture, German baroque and Czarist Russia.
The children felt as if they were in a fairytale while walking through the cobbled streets and medieval buildings of the lower part of the Old City. We chose to eat at the Olde Hansa, a great restaurant that recreates a fifteenth century tavern, with a somewhat different menu, as the recipes are ancient. The children, in awe, had no complaints. The problem was that I had to make a tremendous effort to climb the Short Leg of the Toompea hill to the top of the city with an overloaded stomach thanks to the restaurant’s generous portions! My wife went into every shop, fascinated with the hand-painted silk scarves, the amber jewellery and ceramic objects. I am not a great shopper, but I couldn’t help but admire that the Estonian souvenirs were exquisitely made. The top is adorned by the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a magnificent example of Orthodox cathedral, with rounded domes. The inside is richly decorated with icons and it also boasts the largest bell of Tallin. The hill has outlooks from which to enjoy superb views of the city, the harbour and the sea.
The following morning flew by visiting the Saint Bridget convent and the Kumu Art Museum, an avant-garde building that does not clash with the natural environs of the Kardriorg park. This park contains the Kardriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great and today presidential residence. The park is an ideal place for strolling and breathing in fresh clean air. What we were deeply impressed with was the cheerfulness shown on the Tallin people’s faces. The Estonians are not boisterous, but they are very friendly.
Tartu, playful like a toy
The evening saw us driving towards Tartu, a small city in Southern Estonia, where we arrived at nightfall. This city is like a beautiful toy, and the fact that it is home to the country’s main university gives it a happy and light-hearted character. We went for a short walk in the environs of the hotel and had dinner in a cheerful tavern with a somewhat baffling menu, but ideal for the kids: breaded chicken strips, chips, chicken fajitas, hamburgers and other Tex-Mex dishes. The following day we visited the Tartu Toy Museum, a house full of antique toys, puppets from many different countries and models that were used for filming children’s series. Afterwards, we went to the Craft Guild, where my wife took pleasure in purchasing small gifts for everyone: ceramic, glass objects, hats, handmade notebooks. This association holds a festival in December every year, selling items like in a medieval market. The craftspeople wear the typical dress that has barely changed since medieval times and they hold big celebrations throughout the streets of Tartu.
Over midday, we were invited to go for a cruise in a traditional boat on the river. Unfortunately, one cannot do this privately, as it can only be hired if there is a group of twenty. On our cruise we saw bathers basking in the sun on the small sandy beaches on the river banks, and people rowing. Estonians love the sun and they take every chance they can to enjoy it.
Our itinerary took us further south and we headed to Otepää, a small village situated in one of the areas of the country most visited by tourists. Snow is anxiously awaited here, as this is an important centre for winter sports, such as cross-country skiing and ski ramp jumping. Slope ski is not practised here, as the land is quite flat. The Otepää Adventure Park, next to the sports complex, is open during good weather months. This park’s five routes are suspended amongst the trees, with different levels of difficulty. Suspended logs, bridges and rope ladders are some of the obstacles to be overcome, but the most impressive is a long and very tall zip line which to me seemed endless but which my twelve year old and fourteen year old enjoyed immensely. Having overcome the obstacles and still with a thumping heart, we set off for the hotel, a lovely building on the lakeshore. The landscape in this area is dotted with lakes and its forests attract many families for trekking. We felt as if we were in a dream. The hotel network is perfectly prepared for receiving guests in the area year round. In summer, trekking, and in winter snow sports are practised.
Once back in Tallinn, we decided to have another walk through the Old City before catching our flight back to London. This country has a peculiar charm, and although we did a lot in a short period of time, we left with the feeling that in order to truly enjoy it a longer visit is required.
Visa: EU citizens do not need a visa
Time zone: GMT -2hrs.
How to get there: Estonian Air has direct flights from London, and flights with stopovers from Manchester and Birmingham.
Currency: Estonian Kroon / EEK. £1 is approximately 17 EEK.
Restaurants: In Tallinn, open from 12:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.. Kitchens close at 11:00 p.m. It is always possible to find something that the kids will like, as food is varied.
Hotels: Estonia has a good hotel structure, both in Tallinn and inland.
Shops: 10:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, 1000 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekends. Most shops in the Old City open on Sundays.
Shopping centres: open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day
Tallinn Tourist Information Centre
Kullassepa 4/Nuguliste 2,
Interesting places and activities
Otepää Adventure Park: Open from the 1st of May to the 31st October. Adults £18, children £7 approx. Anyone taller than 1.15 metres can do the first two routes. You must be 1.40 metres or over to go on the Blue, Red and Black routes. Children under fifteen must be accompanied at all times by a participating adult. It is essential to respect the safety rules and always watch over the smaller children. www.seikluspark.ee
Tallinn Zoo: www.loomaaed.ee
Tallinn Botanical Garden: www.tba.ee
Barge Society (Tartu): Cruises along the Emajõgi river on a traditional boat. Info and bookings +372 55 18 386, firstname.lastname@example.org