Estonia’s Saaremaa Island and south to Tartu

January-February, 2015

Left stunning Tallinn bound for the largest island in Estonia – Saaremaa Island. Travelling by bus and ferry today so hopefully the Baltic Sea is feeling kind.

Baltic sea ice

Ferry trip across the iced Baltic Sea

 

Saaremaa’s territory has been inhabited for about eight thousand years. In the past, the people of Saaremaa have been ruled by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia; thus, have seen many battles.

Because of its location and isolation, Saaremaa retained its uniqueness, which can be seen in the stone fences and houses with thatched roofs.

Travel

Travelled on a comfy and warm 2-hour bus (€15.80 includes ferry trip) from Tallinn to the ferry stop in Virtsu, then took a 30-minute ferry trip in the calm Baltic Sea to the small island of Muhu. Picked up the same bus again for the last hour, which drove over the frozen causeway and on to Kuressaare. Need to explore the island tomorrow as couldn’t see much from the bus – looks rural and quite flat.

 

 

 

Sights

Kuressaare has loads more to offer in the warmer months than in winter and many activities seemed to be closed during winter or only operating on limited hours; no surprise. It’s still very pleasant walking around this town and soaking up the atmosphere as people are friendly and the town has a lovely welcoming feel.

Episcopal Castle

The castle (Lossihoov tn 1 – €5 entry fee) is open from Wednesday to Sunday at 11:00-18:00hrs in the winter months (1st September-30th April) but daily in the summer months.

You can lose yourself for hours here wandering around the labyrinth of chambers, stairs, and small rooms. Just imagine kings, queens, jesters, and other court players in period attire banqueting or meeting to discuss current affairs – quite beautiful and well preserved.

Saaremaa Island: Episcopal Castle

Episcopal Castle

Leave yourself at least half a day to explore this stone castle, which was built at the end of the 13th century, with the beginning of 20th century seeing the castle restored as a Saaremaa knighthood residence. Researchers suggest there could have been a wooden castle dating back to the 11th century in place of the existing stone castle.

The exhibition throughout the castle is tastefully presented and very informative; there’s something here for everyone.

Loved this wonderful castle and amazing to see the stone thickness of the walls, which at a guess, would be at least one metre or more in thickness.

Saaremaa Island: hotel across Episcopal Castle

Hotel opposite the castle

Saaremaa Island: Episcopal Castle

Within the walls of the Episcopal Castle

Kuressaare Town Park

Although there is much snow on the ground, it is still very beautiful. This park is centrally located in the town and very close to the Episcopal Castle; and nice to walk around and take winter photos. There’s also a monument to the islanders that fell in the War of Independence in 1918-1920. This monument is a replica as Stalinist military forces destroyed the original.

Angla day trip

Visited the tourist office in Kuressaare and was advised that we could catch a bus or hire a car to Angla…it’s best to hire a car. Unfortunately, the tourist advisor didn’t mention what Angla is like this time of year.

Buses to Angla (€2.50) – Departs at 07:10hrs (M, W, TH, F); 13:00, 14:10, 18:20 (daily); and 17:45hrs (T, TH, S, S).

Buses from Angla (€2.45) – There are only 2 buses returning from Angla to Kuresaare daily at 16:20hrs and 20:05hrs.

The bus from the Kuressaare bus station takes about 55 minutes and arrives near the windmills at Angla. The windmills are great to photograph and apart from the small museum, there is nothing much else as it’s a small village, no restaurants, shop, or even anywhere to sit except for the bus shelter. Had we visited during summer, then it would not have been such an issue but in the winter, snowing, bitterly cold, and the next bus back not for another 2 hours, then the bus shelter wasn’t the place to sit.

Angla windmills Saaremaa Island

Angla Windmills

St Catherine's - Linnaka Village Karja

St Catherine’s – Linnaka Village, Karja

 

So how do you kill two and a half hours in Angla when you’ve seen the windmills and there’s nowhere for a coffee, snack, or anything? You walk back down the road in the snow for 2.5 kms to an ancient church (Karja Church – Linnaka Village, Karja) that we passed in the bus and take photos of course!

This unusual Medieval church is rich in carved stone sculpture and has been continuously active as a sanctuary for more than 700 years but sadly, it was closed so couldn’t see the Triskelion (Celtic) mural inside. Just stumbled upon this church really but have since read that it dates back to the 13th or 14th century.

Lovely spot but then we had to walk the 2.5kms back to the bus stop in Angla as the bus to Kuressare takes a different road to the one we arrived on…interesting day and so very cold in the snow!

Saaremaa Island winter landscape

The long and winding road

Accommodation

Tallinn St Apartments (contact: Haivi) on Booking.com – this swish modern Studio apartment is tastefully decorated, has everything you need for self-catering, central heating, small enclosed balcony; and a 5-minute walk to the Rimi Supermarket; perfect.

Episcopal Castle cloister Saaremaa Island

Episcopal Castle cloister

Food

Eating my body weight in scrumptious Estonian pastries and chocolate, washed down with wonderful coffee…my winter coat is definitely expanding!

Pritsumaja Grill & Bar (Tallinna tn 4)

A gorgeous old building with loads of atmosphere. This cosy bar makes the best hamburgers (€7.95-€8.95 with fries) in town! They’re scrumptious and with good quality fresh ingredients. The chips are served with a type of homemade seasoned sour cream – very moor’ish. The on-tap beer and cider are sold at reasonable prices and very good.

Rimi Supermarket (Tallinna mnt 88)

This well-stocked supermarket chain is fast becoming the daily haunt for everything but especially freshly baked gourmet breads and pastries at reasonable prices.

 

 

Kuressaare to Tartu

The AS Sarbuss company leaves Kuressaare bus station at 08:20hrs for the hour’s drive to the ferry terminal at the small island of Muhu, then there’s a 30-minute ferry trip back to Virtsu and onto Tartu, arriving around 14:05hrs. The bus ticket for €18 also included the ferry trip. A comfortable bus with free wi-fi; luxurious compared to SE Asia buses.

The causeway close to Muhu was frozen on arriving 6 days ago, but now it’s melted; apparently, it’s been a warm winter so far…

Tartu

About 186 kilometres southeast of Tallinn, Tartu is the centre of southern Estonia, which lies on the Emajõgi (Mother river), connecting the two largest lakes of Estonia.

The first permanent settlement on the site of modern Tartu dates to as early as the 5th century. By the 7th century, local inhabitants had built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi).

As this is a university town, English is widely understood. However, the older folk are more likely to only speak Estonian and Russian.

Tartu winter view

View from the Tartu apartment window – too sick to venture outside

Sights

Didn’t see too much of Tartu as I was still pretty sick with Tonsilitis and a chest infection. I’m sure I picked something up in Sapa (Vietnam) as it was freezing cold and only minimal heating. Still, this didn’t stop me venturing out a little to break the cabin fever!

Tartu Old City

It’s wonderful to walk around this ancient city although it was bitterly cold and under snow. The architecture is gorgeous and a lot smaller than Tallinn Old Town. The great thing about visiting in the winter is that there’s hardly any tourists, apparently, the population in the summer swells to double. I think it would be a very different place then, now it’s quiet and there are loads of photo opportunities without a tourist head peering back at you in your photo of a grand castle!
Restaurants and cafes are quiet so no lining up and quick service…think we’re very spoilt seeing this part of Europe in the winter.
There are loads of restaurants around so you can taste many different local dishes at reasonable prices.

Otepää day traip

A popular skiing and trekking town in the Valga Country renown as Estonia’s “winter capital” and also where the annual International Ski Federation (FIS) Cross-Country World Cup event takes place. Thought this town would be worth a look for the day. To get to the town from the Tartu bus station, catch the No. 71 bus (€2.24) at 11:35hrs (other times available), which takes an hour.
Along the way, it started to snow and by the time the bus arrived in town, it decided to blizzard! As we could hardly walk in the snow and it was bitterly cold, decided to head indoors for a coffee. The only problem is that being a Sunday, almost everything was closed and we could only find one open pub: Hermanni Pub

Estonia travel route before crossing border to Latvia

Travelling through Estonia for 18 days before crossing the border into Latvia

Accommodation

Stayed at Kulli’s apartment booked on airbnb.com, which is her own apartment with personal belongings so very cosy; contained everything you need and about one kilometre from the city centre.

Food

Hermanni Pub (Lipuväljak 10, Otepää) – From the moment you come in from the snow, a warm open fire welcomes you in this quaint cosy pub and invitingly easy to stay for a couple of hours. The local food is good, reasonably priced, and the service is also good.

 

 

 

Tartu to Riga

After 18 days in Estonia, decided to push onto Riga (Latvia) as time is hurrying along. As Australians, we can only stay 90-days in Schengen-agreed countries before we have to leave and stay out for 90 days.

Visit my Nilla’s Photography Baltic States gallery for more images. More posts on Estonia at my Image Earth Travel.

4 thoughts on “Estonia’s Saaremaa Island and south to Tartu

    • Hi Jackie, thanks for taking the time to comment and sharing your posts also. In Spain at the moment and taking Reg (motor home) on a ferry from Barcelona to Genoa on Friday, so should be excellent. I have so many posts to upload yet and still about 7 countries behind from this years’ travel!
      Just noticed the sky in my photos look weird, not sure if this is from reducing the RAW files down so much. I don’t like (and not good at) post-processing. Nilla

      Like

Would love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s