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Fascinating Estonia

Written by  Maxine Albert

Estonia, the size of New Hampshire and Maryland combined, with 1,500 islands along the Baltic Sea and half the country covered in forest, is truly unique. Estonians are both creative and techie; Skype was developed here. While this may be the least religious country in the world, most people regard themselves as spiritual and believe spirits inhabit the trees. Modern but traditional with a richly diverse landscape, the planet’s cleanest air, gastronomic cuisine plus a vibrant art scene, this Baltic Beauty is fast becoming the new ‘must see’ destination.

Tallinn, the lively capital, is steeped in medieval charm. The Old Town is a Unesco world heritage site with ancient gabled houses, twisty cobblestone lanes, iron street lamps, gothic spires, buildings and churches dating back to the 11th century. Life in the famed Old Town revolves around Town Hall Square, where the scent of roasted sugar almonds, made from centuries old recipes, wafts in the air. Town Hall, built in 1402, resembling the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, towers over the historic square. Raeapteek apothecary shop, Europe’s oldest pharmacy opened in the early 15th century and set in the heart of the old town deserves a visit. Check out the back room where the odd medieval remedies once sold here, are on display.
Meander the winding streets of this charming town passing bustling markets, trendy cafes and restaurants like the superb Rataskaevu 16 filled with fashionable Estonians. One euro book stores stand side by side with Balenciaga, Gucci and stylish Estonian designers. A former movie theater from the time of Stalin, now a hot nightclub, attracts an A list crowd. There’s no shortage of opera, theatre, music spots and galleries here. After touring the lower town, climb up to Toompea Hill, the upper town and seat of the government including Parliament.

Less than 4 miles from the city center in Pirita, you’ll find both Tallin’s biggest beach and tallest building, the TV Tower. This site of former KGB broadcasts with futuristic interior, interactive multimedia and restaurant on the twenty-second floor plus observation tower offering panoramic views, dazzles.

Tallin is a green city full of parks; the most famous, Kadriorg Park, was designed in the style of Versailles. The grand complex includes an elaborate Baroque palace, fountains, swan ponds, gazebo, and a lushly landscaped park. This lavish ensemble was a gift from Peter the Great of Russia to the Empress Catherine. Kadriorg Park also houses many museums, among then the estimable Kumu. Estonia’s premier museum, a world-class treasure, displays an unrivaled collection of Estonian, Soviet & contemporary art.  

No trip to Tallinn is complete without a visit to Kalamaja, its fishing harbor. This former home to fishermen with colorful old-fashioned wooden houses has taken on a Bohemian ambiance becoming a residence for young, creative types. Stroll the trendy locale peppered with cool cafes, hipster shops, hopping bars and eateries. I lunched on tasty Borscht, Baltic herring and black bread in a railroad car converted to a restaurant that once transported passengers to St. Petersburg. Afterwards I headed to the quirky antique shops and flea market with all sorts of bric-a-brac behind the train.

Where to Stay
The luxurious Savoy Boutique Hotel ideally located in the old town features stylish rooms with art deco accents, a restaurant and the Savoy bar with fireplace and terrace.

The renowned 5-star Padaste Manor on small, picturesque Muhu Island delivers the ultimate Estonian getaway. This historic 15th century Baltic estate, spectacularly converted into a hotel and spa is set in the lush, forested countryside on an unspoiled nature reserve. The luxurious resort features large deluxe rooms elegantly decorated with handsome antiques, modern classics and plush furnishings. An outdoor seawater hot tub offers sublime relaxation amid glorious views. Estonians take their spas seriously and the resort’s temple of healing is second to none. Using goat butter cream and lavender for my massage, the therapist extraordinaire worked his magic. Padaste Manor is also home to Alexander Restaurant, considered by many as Estonia’s top eatery, with Michelin star chef Matthias Diether at the helm. Here I savored delectable salmon seasoned with herbs, plus luscious vegetables and fruits fresh from the organic garden. There’s a landing pad for private jets. By special request the resort can arrange a meeting with shaman/forest-man Martin, for a walkabout to the sacred rocks and a mystical dance in the forest. It was unforgettable!
Finnair offers flights from major US cities to Tallin, Estonia with a stopover in Helsinki.

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