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Estonia Travel Guide

flights to Estonia

It may be the smallest of the Baltic States but Estonia has so much to offer that, after paying her a visit you would swear to have travelled through a vast continent. Since it's re-emergence as an independent nation in 1991, Estonia has striven to rebuild itself and is gradually establishing itself as a European traveller destination to be reckoned with. The renovation of medieval Tallinn, the establishment of vast National Parks with specific tourist areas, the creation of bona fide beach resorts and a commitment to developing sports and leisure facilities throughout the country has certainly put Estonia firmly back on the map. Despite the boom, it remains a country of strong ethnic cultures, which date back to the earliest settlers who came to Estonia around 2500BC. Other cultural influences include it's proximity to Finland (Helsinki is only 40 miles away) and past Germanic, Swedish and Russian rule which have all left their mark. Estonia boasts mile after mile of coastline and white sandy beaches, huge eerie bogs, countless ruined castles built by the Teutonic Knights, beautiful island wildernesses, snow-capped highlands and breathtakingly picturesque cities.

Nowhere else is the country's regeneration more apparent than in the glorious capital city of Tallinn. In 1997, the city was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and has gone to great lengths to restore much of it's former glory, with many of the principal attractions and monuments having a total make over. Today the fascinating medieval Old Town is amongst the best preserved of it's kind in Europe. Tartu

was once a no-go area for visitors due to the massive military aerodrome that was based there. Today, it is Estonia's leading artistic and cultural centre, which is aided in no small part by it being the locale for one of Europe's oldest Universities. There are numerous museums, theatres and galleries as well as several up-market restaurants, a great bar and café scene, and burgeoning nightclub scene. Parnu is a small and pretty resort town on the Baltic coast. Here, lovely, flat, white-sand beaches are backed by high sand dunes giving the illusion of seclusion. Watersports are well catered for but the main attractions are the famous mud baths and health spas - the very reason why the town was here in the first place.

Estonia's islands each have their own virtues with Hiiumaa fast becoming the most popular, so much so that there is now an established group actively fighting it's over-development. The main attractions on the island are it's 19th century lighthouse and the Hill of Crosses where, in 1781 1200 Swedes performed their last act of worship before being expelled from the country. The largest island is Saaremaa; sparsely populated, rural and roughly 50% forested, it remains virtually unspoilt. It's capital, Kuressaare, is home to a wonderful 13th century castle and botanical reserve with numerous rare plant species.

Estonia also boasts several impressive national parks, the largest of which is Lahemaa in the north. Here, dense forest runs down to coastal bluffs and the landscape is strewn with lakes, rivers, waterfalls and rolling limestone plains, home to bears and lynxes. Areas open to the public include the sea forest of the Koljaku-Oandu Reserve, a huge 7000 year old bog and the wonderful 18th century baroque manor house filled with period furniture and surrounded by superbly landscaped gardens. Soomaa National Park is steeped in traditional folklore. Still believed to be a hideaway for witches, you can explore it's vast bogs in canoes, nerves permitting.

In many ways Estonia's new found independence is a curse, and although most of the population understandly do not welcome the problems brought by tourism, Estonians are seeing the benefits in their greatly improved economy. What one has to remember is that, of the last 500 years of Estonia's long history only 30 have been spent as an independent nation. Amazingly however, their culture remains more or less intact - women still dress in colourful traditional dress, pagan festivals are still recognised, folklore remains strong and ancient arts and crafts are widely practiced. For the tourist, the benefits of European funding are blatantly apparent - cities have been fully restored to their former glory, transport is simple, efficient and inexpensive, accommodation is great value for money, food and drink are incredibly cheap and very good. Estonia's size also means it is easy to travel around, with a more diverse range of sights and attractions than you could wish to enjoy in one trip. Estonia is back and once you've seen her you'll want to come back yourself.

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