Now in its 175th year as an official resort, Pärnu’s beach has seen a lot of things and has had to endure many changes. It’s safe to say that there are probably just about as many stories as there are grains of sand. People have laughed here, loved here, started new life here, oh and yes, even swam and sunbathed here too… as they continue to do today. The beach is approximately 1km long consisting of white sand and is divided into a few sections. The majority of the beach is for a more or less ‘clothed’ everyone but there is a section towards the river just for women called ‘Naiste rand’ and just past the women’s only section is an unofficial nude area for all. We’re not sure what the women at the women only side do there all alone, but we hear rumours that they tan naked, while talking about boys. I know, we’re curious too, perhaps a reader who’s in the know can tell us, it’ll be our little secret.
The beach may have always been there but our story starts in 1837 when a petition was filed to build a bathing institution. You see, up until that point the majority of Europeans thought it was unclean to bathe, and in fact immersing oneself in water could contribute to disease. The following June saw the opening of the resort to its first visitors. Apart from the draw of the beautiful white sand beach, the bathing institution offered certain treatments such as heated seawater and peat and sea mud too. At first the visitors to the new resort were few, but as time went on and word got out about the curing effects of the treatments, an influx of tourists started flocking to Pärnu. With the rise in tourist dollars bringing money to Pärnu, further research went into finding new cures, and they did. Things started to get so crazy that the city government even appointed a bathing inspector and shower inspector. I know, sounds like a dream job for most men, doesn’t it. Walking down the beach today is a much different experience than it was back in the early days. For one, those bare bums and the occasional topless babes were unheard and it was even forbidden for men and women to bathe together at one time. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that those attitudes started to mellow out a bit.
Pärnu saw a bit of a rough time during WWI and the numbers of visitors to the baths and the beach dropped considerably. It took a few years for the town to fix the damage caused by bombs, fires and neglect, but by 1927 the facilities were up and running again. Crowds from all over Estonia and Europe started to make their way back to Pärnu for sun, fun and world class cures. Now part of an independent republic and with the ‘roaring twenties’ blowing wind in its sails, the resort was about to experience its heyday. New buildings, spas, restaurants, hotels, casinos and other amenities began to pop up everywhere and there still are a number of excellent examples of the Jugendstil and Art Deco style that can be seen to this day. The bathing costumes also got a little bit more risqué and the girls were finally allowed to play with the boys… and play they did, the resort was a booming, the jazz was a playing and Pärnu, it seemed, was here to stay.
Sadly WWII was just around the corner and the carefree life of the resort town came to a screeching halt. There were still a handful of people who came for treatments and cures but the vitality of the decade before was all but lost. After the war was determined, and the Soviet Union was forced upon Estonia, those in charge decided that Pärnu should once again become a resort. After all, the treatments were proven and the mud was still there. The focus this time, however, was on healing and the facilities were either restored or built anew, of course in the typical cold and grey Soviet fashion that was all the rage. People from all over the Soviet Union came for cures and once again the town was… well not booming, but certainly benefiting from its renewed status as a resort.
Today, Pärnu has experienced a renaissance of sorts. Apparently, somebody let the word out about the kilometre long white sand beach, its scantily clad inhabitants, relatively warm Baltic waters and the numerous cures to be had here. Add to that, all the cool 1920’s-30’s architecture and numerous parks and you’ve got a winner. Pärnu is again thriving. There are new spas opening up every year, accommodations continue to be built and the quality of restaurants and level of service even give Tallinn a run for its money.
Whether or not you’re here for the sand, the sun or the spas, you’ll have to ask yourself - where would Pärnu be without its beach?