South Estonia Bucket List
Tallinn is barely three hours from Southern Estonia, but the hills are so different from the tall buildings in Tallinn. I have grown up in Võru myself and the nature there has always been home to me and close to my soul. Although during the university years in Tartu I often visited my parents’ home, I actually rarely spent time in and near Võru in the last five years. In November, however, an idea came to me while visiting my parents in Estonia that what if we would have a tour of the tourist spots in and around Võru County. A. had seen a bit while visiting Estonia this and previous autumn, but there was so much more that was unseen. And I have to say, even as a local, I was amazed at how much the region has to offer if you are only interested in receiving it yourself.
As a local you probably visit Suure-Munamäe tower once in couple of years. As a Estonian but from distance you probably have a distant memory of stepping up the stairs with your classmates to admire the fierce forest stands. As a foreign tourist, know is your chance to be able to say that you have conquered the highest peak of Baltic States.
The height of the hill is 318m from sea level and its relative height is 60m, where you can add a tower’s 29m. To the North lies Vällamägi, to the South Tsälbamägi and to the East is Lake Vaskna. However, if you are not tired of climbing, I suggest you take a nearby trail to Vällamäe.
In my opinion, the view from the tower is especially beautiful during the winter when the trees are under snow caps and stand up next to each other, competing who has the most beautiful and lush white cube.
An old pharmacy that has been closed for years, has definitely opened as one of the warmest and most interesting places to enjoy coffee in and dine in Võru. ‘From the very beginning, our desire has been to create an open space for spending time, meeting, dreaming, making plans, making new acquaintances. Naturally, it includes good coffee, clean food and a cozy atmosphere. ‘
I stepped into Stedingu for the first time in December and fell in love immediately. The way they have left the rustic walls and added elegance in the form of furniture – this is just a nice composition that makes it definitely the preferred place for me to enjoy both enjoying coffee and indulging in a meal.
The nature of southern Estonia just encourages spending time outdoors and the Haanja Ski Stadium, which seemed to be a horrendous past time in school, is no longer so unacceptable. There are also many other activities do – it doesn’t immediately mean 5km of cross-country skiing is on the schedule now.
We decided to rent snow tubes to enjoy a few dozen seconds of adrenaline in a safe environment. I remember my childhood when the snow tubs only arrived in Estonia and it was undoubtedly a walk on the paths of childhood, but this time showing Estonian winter to my dear Belgian counterpart.
I will say it right way that in general I am not the most museum-loving-person out there and even less to museums without interactive activities.
But this time I was surprised and took a lesson with me afterwards. Namely, we had the opportunity to visit the Old Võro County Museum, Kreutzwald, Saatse and Põlva Peasant Museum and it was so interesting. Why? Because we didn’t just look at the objects behind the glass, but we were told stories behind those objects. I’ve always been a typical Estonian who quietly goes to a museum and looks around and prays that nobody would come to talk to her. In fact, the guides and curators of the exhibition have so much information that you can’t find on the Internet nor on the text displayed, so if you have the courage – ask the guide. Honestly, I take this knowledge with myself, that there is no boring museum but not asking for interesting information.
For example, the virtual reality of a smoke sauna is currently in the Old-Võro County Museum with all this tradition, and you can do different activities that change every six weeks.
I still remember that old wooden lookout tower, which after taking down, caused the question, but what would come here now? An extremely awesome 30-meter nest tree, which is even more eye-catching in my opinion at night time.
Even though during the day there is also a magnificent view, especially during the autumn, when all the leaves are warm colours and the nearby lake irides in the orange sun.
The platform can be visited around the clock. And they also have a great tradition that when a girl is born in the county, the ‘egg’ in the nest is pink and, as a boy is born, it becomes blue.
The Piusa caves are anthropocentric because they were mined for sand glass production. This, however, means that Piusa has hundreds of underground caves that were open to people until 2006. At the moment, you can see the exemplary one of about half a hectare, which is an example of how the rest of the caves look. The cave is illuminated and shows the traces of the churches and how it was created.
Piusa Caves is the largest bat nesting site in northern Europe, offering a wintering site of ~ 5000 individuals.
There is also an open mine near the caves, where you can hike around and some even have some activities on their own, such a slaying down or sandboarding.
Entertainment centre in the Vastseliina Episcopal Castle is a place where the ruins of the 14th century fortress, the tavern of the castle, the house of pilgrims and the chapel and the manor park have been joined together.
The Pirita-Vana-Vastseliina pilgrimage route has become more and more popular in recent years and can be reached in 20 days on foot.
The centre itself is open only for the past few years and besides interesting exhibits it is also possible to make beeswax candles yourself and to enjoy pilgrim or a richer meal, made by local produce.
In 2015, students of the Estonian Academy of Arts were making soundpieces in a Pähni forests, thinking that what would enrich the journey of the hiker. Their goal was to provide a stopping place on the road where you can take time off, enjoy the sounds of nature, or use them as a shelter for the weather in Estonia. For schoolchildren, they are, if necessary, a classroom and a less demanding way to stay overnight for person on a way.
I heard about them a few years ago, but had not yet been able to visit them. Since my parents’ home is between forests, I always feel at home in the woods and so it’s the case in here as well. If you are near the area, I would definitely recommend that you take a break and listen to the song of the nature and birds for a moment.
When South Estonia seems too similar already, it’s time to head to Setomaa, because it is really a country in a country.
I myself have no direct connection with Setomaa, and although I have been to some of them at their event, this culture is alien to me. But there’s so much culture, I must say. They are so proud of the heritage and enthusiastic sharing about it.
We had the opportunity to get to know about dressing in national clothes at Obinitsa Museum, and of course I immediately received a notion saying that today women are mostly wearing trousers and I should be loyal to my roots and have my journey in skirts, because there’s actually nothing that can’t be done in a dress, and if there is, woman should not do it.
We also went to Serga Tsässon, a miniature ‘church’ or a holy place filled with icons, where believers can gather.
RELAX IN A SANATORIUM
Sanatorium sounds like an activity in a retirement home. Or at least I always thought it sounded that way. We went to Värska Sanatorium to take a mud bath and it changed my mind completely. When I stepped out of the door, I goggled what package to take next time because I would have nothing against spending a couple of days without worrying, without touching my computer and in the meantime charging my batteries strolling from another procedure to another.
The workers there are so friendly and seem to enjoy their work and really know their area. The woman we were dealing with was so familiarity with her attitude compared to some of the larger spas, and it just made me feel so comfortable there. As if everything was as it should and the questions were answered with a friendly conversation, not with the description of the procedure.
Our four days in South Estonia was brought to life thanks to the collaboration with Võrumaa Tourist Information Center. I have always been rather sceptical that what are still the things to do and see in South Estonia, because everything here has been part of my childhood growing up. Ever since I introduced my country to A. for the first time in the autumn of 2018, I realised that our culture is, in its own way, something extraordinary with a cleanness of nature, respect for traditions and so warm welcome for those who are interested. I am just so grateful to myself for the idea of making such a post in order to fall in love with my region and Võrumaa Tourist Information Center, who immediately agreed to go with my idea and suggested so many places that I had no idea about and which we otherwise you would not have visited.
A more in-depth travel guide from South Estonia will come soon, but until then, let me know many experiences/places from my ‘Bucket List’ you’ve been to or done.