Located just south and east of Tartu and Tartu County, Põlva County (Põlvamaa) is a county that is home to a large part of the Seto homeland, borders Peipsi Lake, and Lämmijärv Lake as well as Russia to the east. Covered in farmland, agriculture and agricultural offshoot industries are very important to the livelihood of the county - especially meat farming and processing. Here you can discover surprisingly lush nature including rivers, lakes, and hiking trails as well as beautiful historic manors, – there's truly something for everyone in Põlvamaa.
Once at the crossroads between the North and South of the Livonian Empire, the largest town in the county is Põlva. Although small, with only 9,543 inhabitants, the city is both vibrant and quite picturesque. Situated at the edge of an historic artificial lake, the Lutheran Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a must-see for those interested in history, architecture or religion. There are also many concerts and special events during the warmer months, which take place at the Intsikurmu Song Festival Grounds in a forested area on the edge of town. For a good night's rest and a delicious bite to eat while in the city, the Pesa (nest) Hotel does a nice job at offering both.
A county to discover
Estonia is chequered with manors, Põlvamaa boasts a few, but one in particular stood out to us and that is the Mooste Manor, with the estate being founded in 16th century. At the start of the 20th century, the main part of the estate was expanded with a two-storey main building and a number of outbuildings overlooking a lake. The main building houses a school, there are accommodations on-site as well as various art, craftsmanship studios, a furrier, and a ceramics workshop. Another quaint and lovely little town is Räpina, also situated on a lake and here you can find the historic Räpina Paper Mill, which began operations in 1734. The Räpina Manor is worth a peep also and the town's Creative House (which serves as the city's de facto art school, workshop space and is the local products, arts and crafts seller) certainly should be visited.
Põlvamaa is also famous for its healing waters, and other than the numerous refreshing springs gushing out of sand cliffs, you can find a whole suite of them at the Värska Spa & Hotel. Here you can both drink and bathe in them – each well deeper than the next and each with their own healthful minerals. The various Värska waters are also bottled and sold around Estonia, several in supermarkets and a select few are available only by prescription. For those interested in nature and outdoor activities, take a hike or a bike in the Taevaskoja river valley. One of the other special places to visit in the county are the Piusa Sand Caves, an extraordinary experience both inside and out (in certain places you can hike over the caves and dunes) – the caves are home to the largest bat colony in the Baltic States and held a former sand mine. The cave is now only accessible by a prearranged booking and only at certain times of year, due to the bats and the fragile nature of the caves themselves.
While in the area make sure to also pay a visit to the Estonian Road Museum located in an historic postal station on The Postal Road. The museum allows visitors to take a trip back in time to the early days of road travel in Estonia and also features a rather fun and highly interactive outdoor exhibition, weather permitting. For those that feel more at home in the skies than on the ground, or just happen to have a thing for man-made objects that allow you to, literally, keep their heads in the clouds, a stop at the Ridali Flight Club is probably your cup of tea. If you're looking for another kind of 'high', you most likely won't find it in Estonia, but you certainly should pay a visit the town of Kanepi (Cannabis). In a nod to the region once having been home to a large hemp growing industry, recently the citizens (and we're sure a lot of other fun-loving Estonians) voted to adopt a cannabis leaf as a symbol on their official coat of arms, the same image appears on the flag as well. Due to international and local news coverage, it's already become a famous 'selfie' spot.
Please visit www.visitpolva.ee for more information and sightseeing tips on the area.