Estonia Holiday – History, Baths and Nature

After I got rid of my apartment I still took a couple of days to say goodbyes and to get ready. The first leg of the tour was to Estonia. Except for some trips to Tallinn and the drive through to Riga last August, I had no other experiences of the country. This was about to change.

There’s something else that I haven’t told you yet. I met someone special, Elina and we ended up spending a lot of time together during the summer. She also came with me for the first eleven days of the trip in Estonia. Below is the approximate route we took.

Estimate on the Estonia tour
The approximate route in Estonia (Google maps image)
Rummu and the trip to Pärnu

The first stop down from Tallinn was the Rummu quarry. It has been abandoned since the early 90’s and the groundwater that used to be pumped out has now completely filled it. It was operated by the inmates of the nearby prisons but when the Soviet times ended, the quarrying of limestone stopped. I didn’t take my phone with me so I have no pictures of my own, but there’s plenty of cool underwater pictures here for example. The place was eerie in many ways… We took a paddle boat and saw old buildings and trees left underwater.

My trusted Park4Night app showed a recommended spot in the forest about half an hour south of Rummu. It was one of the free RMK (Estonian state forest management) sites that are plentiful around Estonia.

In the morning when we we’re ready to continue toward Pärnu, we noticed the likely reason for this RMK spot’s location: the Varbola stronghold. It is the remains of about 800 years old fortress. It was still easy to imagine how the ring fort had been a safe place to defend.

Beautiful snake head carved out of a tree.
A kind of trebuchet. This and other objects have been constructed during symposiums held at the fortress.

Tori was our last stop before Pärnu. It’s famous for the oldest horse breeding stables in Estonia (since 1856) and also known for local cider. We had lunch next to the stables and tasted the excellent cider too. We stopped by at the church and also climbed down to “Tori Hell” along the shore of Pärnu river. Unfortunately there’s not much more to see there, but it was easy to imagine how the stories about the devil living in a deep cave under the cemetery got started.

Tori church
Pärnu and a quick tour south

We hadn’t planned much for the trip except for a stop in Pärnu. Elina knows the city fairly well since her parents used to live there for some time and she was eager to show it to me. The first stop we made was the Viking Spa. It was a small but really pretty place that I would definitely recommend. Plenty of different saunas to try out and also relaxing hot tubs.

The next couple of days we just enjoyed the beach, good food and the city itself. Pärnu has really pretty parks and a lovely beach right in the city.

Pärnu has lovely parks and curious trees in them.
The city is really green and pretty even outside the parks.
The Pärnu beach on a windy day.
Setting sun and rain near Valgeranna (just a little west of Pärnu).

The first two nights we slept on the side of a quiet street near the Yacht club, but then we escaped the city and drove south. For a night we drove down along the coast to Kabli and spent a night at a tiny campsite there. The road was marketed as “romantic coast road”, but to be bluntly honest, it was not really that special. The highlights were the pretty coastal meadows in Kabli and Häädemeeste.

Then we returned Pärnu for some quick laundry and continued a bit northwest to Audru. We stayed a couple of nights at the nicest campsite I’ve ever been to, the Solar caravan park. Everything was exceptionally clean and well thought of there and I had good internet for working too. The location itself was nothing special, since it was buil on an old flat field, but everything else was really astounding. The owners clean the place meticulously and I’m convinced that this is why the guests also want to help keep it that way.

Road tripping

Our next goal was to head east toward Tartu but we didn’t plan it much at all. We made random stops along the way and saw some really nice things. Among the most memorable were the caves in Helme. It was too scary to go too deep inside the pitch black caves, but it still was tempting. There’s also a ruined castle on top of the caves that has been made look really pretty. I don’t know if it’s a good thing to make something old look pretty and new, but without the white new plaster between the stones we would probably not have stopped.

Helme castle walls.

We spent the first night on this tour in Vooremägi just next to the southern tip of the lake Võrtsjärv. Apparently there has been some sort of fortress on top of the hill at some point, but there weren’t many signs of it left. It was a quiet spot and I was able to work from there nicely.

From there we continued to Otepää (famous for winterports). It was a really small town but with a lot of history. It’s one of the oldest settlements in Estonia dating back at least to 1116 (first written evidence). There are castle ruins on top of a hill there too that are the oldest parts of the settlement as well. The town itself has grown around the hill. I really liked the hilly scenery there and it was also interesting to see the place where cross country skiing and biathlon events take place every winter.

Otepää sign with the old fortress hill in the background.
A view from the fortress hill.
Heading back to Pärnu – Viljandi and Soomaa

From Otepää we headed north back to the shore of Võrtsjärv to another nice campsite. We spent a couple of days there and then decided that we would skip Tartu and head back toward Pärnu. We only had a couple of days left and Pärnu was a good spot for me to continue south and for Elina to take the bus to Tallinn. But there were still things to see on the way too.

We stopped in Viljandi first without really looking into it at all. It was smaller than Pärnu, but it didn’t disappoint us! It also is one of the oldest settlements in Estonia and it also has a fortress. The view from the fortress down to lake Viljandi was really nice as were the fortress ruins themselves.

Looking down from the Viljandi fortress.
A suspension bridge crossing a moat.

From Viljandi we headed west to the Soomaa national park where we spent a night at another RMK site. The next morning we took a little hike near by and it looked a lot like Lapland: flat bogs as far as eye could see. The Ingatsi trail that we hiked also had small platforms built next to the small ponds and a lot of people were swimming there. We didn’t take our swimming gear with us so we skipped that part.

Ingatsi trail scenery from the viewing platform.
Small ponds in the swamp.

For the last night in Pärnu we decided to take a hotel room from the spa hotel Tervis. We had good dinner and then headed to the spa. It was ok too, but I think I preferred the first one we visited the first day in Pärnu. On Monday it was time for me and Elina to go our separate ways. That wasn’t easy since it will be December until we see each other again.

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