Have you ever had a crush on a country you haven’t been to yet?
Like when you were in 6th grade and you secretly wondered if the cute boy or girl in your class knew you existed, except you were pretty sure they didn’t and so you’d just write silly love notes that you were far too embarrassed to give them?
Well, my country crush is kind of like that. I’m crushing pretty hard on a country that doesn’t know I exist. At least, not yet. The good news is I’m not in 6th grade anymore, so I think I’m finally ready to put my feelings out there instead of holding onto my secret forever.
I’ve got a country crush on Estonia.
Estonia has a mysterious quality about it that I find endlessly intriguing. Estonia is not the center of attention; it certainly doesn’t draw as much notice as other European countries. No, little Estonia just sits by quietly observing, going about its business of caring for its nature and its people. You know, working on itself first and foremost.
In this way, I feel as though this country and I are kindred spirits. I’d rather not be the life of the party, but a quiet observer. And these days especially, most of my energy goes toward taking care of myself and those close to me; no big plans for world domination here.
Estonia knows who it is and takes pride in its traditions. Take, for example, the fact that many Estonian natural landmarks are considered quite sacred and have been for centuries. Ancient forests, holy lakes, even craters left long ago by meteorites. These are more than just places of interest in Estonia; they are national treasures treated as much like a home as any man-made structure.
Not only that, but mythology has deep roots in Estonia and with each natural element comes a myth, a fable, or a fairytale. “Marsh ogre” is the protector of the marshlands, and is known to play tricks on those who show irreverence to his home. “Metsik” is an elven-like creature and a protector of the forests; she has a kind demeanor and enjoys the company of forest creatures. You can even take a quiz to find out which mythological Estonian creature best matches your personality.
The more of this precious Earth I’m able to explore, the more acutely aware I become of the dire need to protect it. It seems Estonia has known this all along and is making sustainable tourism accessible for everyone who happens across its borders. Taking a “green” holiday in Estonia has never been easier, and there has never been a more important time in history to do the responsible thing.
Whether you visit the capital of Tallinn, the wilderness of the north, or the Estonian islands of the Baltic Sea, you’ll find Green Key accommodations, eco-friendly activities, sustainable farming practices, and locally-sourced Estonian fare. If I can’t curb my travel addiction, I can certainly choose to support the destinations that keep sustainable tourism top of mind.
A Green Estonian Itinerary
VisitEstonia is the perfect resource for planning an eco-friendly holiday. Here’s what my ideal trip to Estonia would look like.
I’d begin my Estonian travels in the nation’s capital, a juxtaposition of medieval and modern. As a new vegetarian, I’d head straight to the city’s vegetarian-friendly establishments. My first stop would be Restaurant Von Krahl’s Garden for a taste of modern gourmet Estonian cuisine. For a fully vegan meal, I might head to Vegan Restaurant V, which also serves up raw and gluten-free options. For a spectacular seaside setting, I’d choose NOA Restoran.
Admiring the city’s eclectic architectural mix would my next goal. I’d begin in the meandering streets of the Old Town; I’d wander down Catherine’s Alley and watch with great curiosity as artists bring their creations to life with little more than strong, capable hands.
I’d explore Rotermann Quarter for a glimpse at Tallinn’s modernity, showcased by old industrial buildings that have been given new life and new purpose.
Finally, I’d ascend one of the city’s viewing platforms for a chance to take in this storybook city from above–Kohtuotsa platform, St. Olav’s Cathedral, or the city’s tallest structure, the Teletorn.
Lahemaa National Park
After a few days of slowly discovering what Tallinn has to offer, I’d be ready to get away from it all. Luckily, Estonia is 50% forest and home to a number of national parks and nature reserves that make communing with mother Earth a breeze.
Lahemaa National Park on Estonia’s northern coast has a little bit of everything–rocky coastline and sandy beaches, spectacular bogs, and certainly no shortage of forests. Bog walking is a uniquely Estonian adventure to try, so I’d be heading for Viru bog and donning a pair of bogshoes in no time. A few nights’ stay in Sagadi Manor (a Green Key eco-hotel) would be the perfect way to relax after each day of exploring the national park.
I’d hardly be able to say I had a true Estonian experience without a proper sauna retreat. While there are many different sauna experiences to choose from, I’d keep it traditional this time around with a smoke sauna at Mooska Farm in the southern region of Võromaa.
The smoke sauna is an important everyday ritual for the Võro people of Estonia. The structures have no chimneys, causing the smoke from burning wood to circulate around the heated room. The aroma of wood, birch boughs, and honey floats through the air. Bathers exfoliate the skin by ‘whisking’ (gently beating) their bodies with birch twigs as they sweat out toxins and melt away the day’s stresses.
Finally, the experience is rounded out with a quick dip in the nearby pond before settling in for a dinner of local foods and home-made beer. A stay at Mooska Farm would be the perfect way to end my culturally rich and eco-friendly trip through Estonia.
So tell me…what country are YOU currently crushing on? Have I convinced you to give Estonia a closer look? 🙂
This post is brought to you in partnership with VisitEstonia