Leaving stunning Tallinn by bus and bound for the largest island in Estonia – remote Saaremaa Island – hope the Baltic Sea is feeling kind during our ferry trip…
Taking the 30-minute ferry trip on the calm Baltic Sea to the small island of Muhu, we then pick up the same bus for the last hour’s drive.
The drive over the frozen causeway is spectacular if not a little unnerving.
Reaching Kuressaare, we need to explore the island tomorrow as can’t see much from the bus although the island so far looks rural and quite flat.
A little background…
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.
Kuressaare offers loads of activities in the warmer months than in winter with many activities closed during winter or only operating on limited hours – no surprise. Still, it’s very pleasant walking around this town and soaking up the atmosphere as people are friendly and the town has a lovely welcoming feel.
The castle on Lossihoov tn 1 (€5 entry) is open from Wednesday to Sunday at 11:00-18:00hrs in the winter months (1st September-30th April) although daily suring the summer months.
Lose yourself for hours wandering around the labyrinth of gorgeous chambers, stairs, and small rooms. Imagine kings, queens, jesters, and court players in period attire banqueting or meeting to discuss current affairs or just life – quite beautiful and well preserved.
Leave yourself at least half a day to explore this aged stone castle built at the end of the 13th century. The beginning of the 20th century restored the castle as a Saaremaa Knighthood residence. Researchers suggest there may 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 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 thick.
Kuressaare Town Park
A very beautiful park even with much snow on the ground.
This park is centrally located in the town and very close to the Episcopal Castle – pleasant area to walk through 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
Buses to Angla (€2.50)
Depart: 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)
Only 2 buses return from Angla to Kuresaare daily at 16:20hrs and 20:05hrs.
The warm bus from the Kuressaare bus station takes around 55 minutes and arrives near the windmills at Angla.
Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the windmills are picturesque to photograph and are part of the Angla Heritage Culture Centre, which hosts differing workshops – but not today.
Apart from the small museum, there isn’t much else in this off the beaten path tiny village – no restaurants, shop, or even anywhere to sit except for the bus shelter.
Perhaps visiting during summer isn’t such an issue but in the winter and as it’s snowing, it’s bitterly cold. The next bus back is not for another 2 hours, so the bus shelter isn’t a great place to sit.
How to kill two and a half hours in Angla when you’ve seen the windmills and there’s nowhere for a coffee?
Walk back down the road in the snow for 2.5-kilometres to an ancient church in even tinier village of Linnaka Village in Karja, which we passed in the bus and take photos of course…
St Catherine’s Church – Linnaka Village, Karja
This unusual Medieval church is rich in carved stone sculpture and continuously active as a sanctuary for more than 700 years. Sadly, it’s closed today so can’t see the Triskelion (Celtic) mural inside.
Really just stumbled upon this church but have since read that it dates back to the 13th or 14th century.
Although a lovely spot, we now need to walk the 2.5-kilometres back to the bus stop in Angla as the bus to Kuressare takes a different road to this one.
Interesting day to this remote village and so very cold in the snow!
Tallinn St Apartments (contact Haivi) on Booking.com is a swish modern tastefully decorated Studio apartment, which includes everything you need for self-catering.
Great central heating, a small enclosed balcony, and only a 5-minute walk to the Rimi Supermarket makes this a perfect location.
Eating my body weight in scrumptious Estonian pastries and chocolate washed down with wonderful coffee…my winter coat is definitely expanding!
Pritsumaja Grill & Bar
On Tallinna tn 4, this 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, which is addictive.
The on-tap beer and cider are sold at reasonable prices and very good.
Along 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
Taking the 30-minute serene ferry trip back to Virtsu, we catch the bus back to Tartu, arriving around 14:05hrs.
The bus ticket (€18) also includes the ferry trip, a comfortable warm bus with free wi-fi – luxurious compared to SE Asia buses.
Six days ago, the causeway close to Muhu was frozen, but now it’s melted – apparently this is a warm winter so far…
About 186 kilometres southeast of Tallinn and lying along the Emajõgi (Mother river) connecting the two largest lakes of Estonia, Tartu is the centre of southern 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 built a wooden fortification on the east side of Toome Hill (Toomemägi).
As this is a university town, English is widely understood, although, the older folk are more likely to only speak Estonian and Russian.
Sadly due to being quite ill with Tonsillitis and a chest infection, I haven’t explored too much of Tartu. I’m sure a bug from Sapa (Vietnam) just kicked in as it was freezing cold there with only minimal heating. Still, this doesn’t stop me venturing out a little to break the cabin fever…
Tartu Old City
It’s wonderful to wander around this ancient city even in the bitter 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 during the summer. But for 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…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 trip
A popular skiing and trekking town in the Valga Country renown as Estonia’s “winter capital” and also holds the annual International Ski Federation (FIS) Cross-Country World Cup event.
Thought this town would be worth a look for the day.
To get to Otepää from the Tartu bus station, catch the No. 71 bus (€2.24) at 11:35hrs (more times available) for the hour journey.
Along the way, it starts snowing and by the time the bus arrives in Otepää, it’s a blizzard!
Hardly able to walk in the snow and it with bitter cold, decide to head indoors for a coffee. The only problem is that as it’s Sunday, almost everything is closed.
Only finding the Hermanni Pub open, we comfort food.venture in for warmth and comfort 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.
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.
After 18 days in Estonia, sadly need to push on to Riga in Latvia – time is hurrying along.
As Australians, we can only stay 90-days in Schengen-agreed countries before I must leave and stay out for 90 days.