We usually focus only on Tallinn, but in honour of Estonia’s 100th anniversary, we will be introducing the rest of Estonia to you, county by county, over our next six issues. In this issue, we will be covering the northeastern counties of Lääne -and Ida-Virumaa.
The northern coast of Estonia offers something for everyone, from the natural beauty of Lahemaa National Park and the limestone cliffs at Ontika, to the remnants of Soviet industry that are still visible in towns like Kunda, Kohtla-Järve, and Sillamäe. Those looking for a taste of Russia without the hassle of crossing the border will enjoy a visit to Narva, where the majority of the residents speak Russian. Gaze across the border to the other side from the Narva Castle grounds. And visit Narva-Jõesuu, a popular summer resort town, boasting one of the longest sandy beaches in Estonia and brilliant wooden architecture.
Lääne-Virumaa, meaning western Virumaa, is only an hour’s drive from Tallinn, heading east. Lahemaa National Park, Estonia’s largest, and some say most stunning national park, offers picturesque coastlines, lush forests, and little villages scattered in between. It is the perfect escape from the city as either a day trip from Tallinn or as part of a longer stay.
The park is home to 840 plant species, including 34 rare ones. There are also many animals, like bears, wolves, and lynx, which are best seen on a nature tour. Lahemaa is also a popular destination for birdwatchers, with over 200 species that nest there.
Lahemaa is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer, with snowy forests and frozens seas. There are plenty of places to stay, from quaint guesthouses to restored manors to campsites. Loksa is the main town within the park and is a popular beach destination in summer, as is the village of Võsu. Käsmu attracts thousands of visitors each year with their Kaunid Kontserdid Käsmus concert series. Nature lovers may also enjoy Kõrvemaa Nature Reserve, where you can explore kilometres upon kilometres of boardwalks through the bogs. It’s home to many rare bird species, especially in autumn. In winter, it’s a popular destination for cross-country skiing, with a large number of well-maintained tracks of varying degrees of difficulty.
Lääne-Virumaa is spotted with several old Baltic German manor houses, many of which have been restored to their original glory. Places like Vihula and Sagadi manors, offer gourmet cuisine with fine accommodation for those who want to indulge. The RMK Sagadi Forest Centre comprises of a manor house, forest museum, park, architectural monument, and historical sight. Sagadi’s history dates back more than 500 years. Today, the barns, dairy and other out buildings have been beautifully restored and have received new functions. Stop in to learn more. Palmse Manor houses a rustic pub where you can enjoy some local flavours in summertime, as well as other restored buildings. Be sure to make a stop in the quaint little fishing village of Altja, where you can also try local dishes at the tavern.
Rakvere, the county’s largest town and the seventh largest in the country, is home to Rakvere Castle, a majestic 14th century castle that sits proudly on the hill in the centre of town. The grounds can be visited and you can try your hand at archery and other medieval crafts. Rakvere is roughly halfway between Tallinn and Narva, making it a great place for a short stop or an overnight stay. Arvo Pärt, Estonia’s most famous composer lived here as a child. The town is also home to the Estonian Punk Song Festival, which takes place every three to four years.
For more information visit www.visitestonia.com/en.
Ida-Virumaa, or Eastern-Virumaa is Estonia’s eastern-most county. The Ontika Cliffs are certainly a sight to behold, located roughly halfway between Rakvere and Narva. The limestone escarpment is known as the Baltic Klint, forming cliffs up to 54 metres high. From the Valaste viewing platform, you can admire Estonia’s highest waterfall (up to 30 metres) from the metal stairs. Depending on the month, the waterfall can be frozen or flowing, offering great photo ops.
For a glimpse of Stalinist neoclassical architecture, a stop in the coastal town of Sillamäe is a must. The quiet town seems stuck in its Soviet past, as buildings and statues have not changed too much. After WWII, a uranium processing and nuclear chemical factory, as well as the town itself, were quickly built (by political prisoners mostly) after the discovery that oil shale contains small amounts of extractable uranium. The city was off-limits to visitors after 1946 and was often left off of Soviet-era maps. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were plans of processing nuclear reactor-ready uranium in the eery abandoned buildings that stand on the city’s western border. Production ceased in 1989 and Estonia’s environment was saved. Today, the plant in Sillamäe is the world’s main producer of niobium and tantalum, rare metals that are used in the manufacturing of medical and electronic equipment.
Narva River naturally separates Estonia’s easternmost city, Narva from Ivangorod on the Russian side. The majority of the city’s residents are of Russian descent. Narva’s main sight is the 13th century castle that houses a fascinating museum and one of the last remaining statues of Lenin in Estonia can be seen on the castle’s grounds. Most of Narva’s original architecture was destroyed in WWII, but it’s baroque Old Town Hall still stands.
Further along the Narva River sits Kreenholm Island. The famous
Kreenholm Textile Factory was built in the 19th century and was the largest factory of the Russian Empire at the time. At its peak, it employed more that ten thousand workers. In addition to the red brick factory there is a hospital, worker’s quarters, houses for the directors and Kreenholm Park.
Further north, you’ll find the resort town of Narva-Jõesuu (meaning literally, the mouth of the Narva River). In the 19th century it was a popular spa destination and was known for its long sandy beach and lush pine forests. There are several impressive examples of early 20th century wooden houses and villas, many which have been restored, along with a handful of spa hotels.
Moving back down the Narva River, you’ll find Pühtitsa Convent in Kuremäe. You’ll know it by its 5 green onion-domed towers that make up the main part of the orthodox church. Built between 1885 and 1895, it is home to a small community of self-sufficient Russian Orthodox nuns. If you are modestly dressed, you are more than welcome to take a tour of the grounds and the church.
Along with its Soviet history and stunning seaside, Ida-Virumaa is also known for adventure. Some of the retired mines have been repurposed for extreme sports, during winter for skiing and in summer, for bike trails, zip lines and more!
Kiviõli Adventure Centre is located on the slopes of an old ash hill, which has been divided into downhill ski trails, a snowboard park and snow tube run. In summer, there is a 700-metre-long zip line and tracks for mountain biking.
Alutaguse Adventure Park is located by the Kurtna Lakes. It’s packed full of exciting tracks and obstacles for every level and the tubing track is open all year round. It also boasts the longest zip line in Estonia, reaching 400 metres.
Learn what it was like to be a miner at the Estonian Mining Museum in Kohtla-Nõmme by putting on your boots, a warm coat and a lamp. Learn about oil shale, how energy is produced and what’s in store for the energy sector in the future.
For more information visit: www.visitestonia.com/en and http://idaviru.ee/en