Until recently, my knowledge of Estonia was pretty much just its location on a map. Tallinn, the capital that lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, merely 70km south of Helsinki, oozes an incredibly distinct charm. A Baltic city teeming with culture and heritage, Tallinn perfectly marries the old with new, seen especially in the preserved Old Town that harks back to over 800 years ago.
A stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Tallinn’s medieval centre – a UNESCO World Heritage site – will have you gazing at the architecture and peeking into quaint cafés, chocolate boutiques and age-old apothecaries nestled in buildings washed with pastel hues. The Old Town of Tallinn is set on a hill with the medieval buildings climbing up the slopes from various directions. The lower town is still protected by the remnants of a city wall, and at the very top of the old city stands the pink painted Parliament house, the Orthodox cathedral and the medieval Lutheran cathedral, all magnificent sights and viewpoints for travellers.
While Tallinn is a picturesque city, it isn’t the sole reason why Estonia has become a trending destination over the last few years. Situated in Northern Europe, the country borders the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, and boasts some of the ‘cleanest air in the world.’ Unspoiled nature allows for a harmonious connection between the land and people, permitting travellers to walk through the woods, forage mushrooms and berries, and experience life outdoors, yearround.
It’s no surprise that expat chefs have chosen to make Estonia their home ground. With four seasons, coastlines, fields, and forests allowing for fresh produce within a radius of 200 kilometres, Estonian flavours, delicious black rye bread and remarkable, seasonal menus, are worth making a trip for.
Where to dine
Lee Restoran, headed by Canadian-Japanese chef Hiro Takeda, serves a menu highlighting local ingredients. Tucked away in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, the cosy eatery offers an impressive beverage list that pairs well with their family, sharing-style dishes. The soft Japanese style omelette with green onion sour cream and crunchy potato strings, and the Romaine lettuce ‘wrap’ with glazed eggplant topped with black bread miso are not to be missed. ‘Kohuke’ introduces diners to a traditional, nostalgic snack, presented with an indulgent twist of sour cherry jam, blackcurrant glazed cherries and cacao nibs.
Perched atop an international photo gallery, Fotografiska is the city’s most sustainable restaurant and a spectacular venue with views of the urban Telliskivi neighborhood. Chef Peeter Pihel offers everything from nose to tail, composting even minimal food waste the restaurant is left with, to supply to farmers and eateries that grow on-site herbs. Making use of the best local produce, diners can expect local Muhu lamb served as a tartare on a sour-dough miso waffle, with burnt onion mayo and Rautsi fermented chilli. Chef Pihel’s dishes also reveal protein, such as seasonal fish, paired with burnt cream sauce, black lemon, and veggies such as leeks roasted in whey or celeriac escabeche, to name a few.
A 45-minute drive from the city takes you to Restaurant Wicca, where local, organic and seasonal produce are sourced from surroundings nearby. TV chef Angelica Udeküll is at the helm of the kitchen, serving an evolving menu that spotlights one ingredient per course. The mushroom three ways stole the show, with an amalgam of fungi textures on a bed of caramelized onion cream and roasted onions.
A gastronomic journey awaits diners at Noa Chef’s Hall, where a unique grape selection and tasting menu stun diners as they enjoy views of Tallinn Bay. The menu is best kept a surprise for all senses, but the charred Fire Leek with cured elk, hollandaise and lemon butter, and the decadent Caviar brulée with lemongrass and Oscietra caviar deserve a special mention for chefs Tõnis Siigur and Orm Oja’s creative use of ingredients. We highly recommend ending your holiday with this memorable dining experience.
Things to do
The Arvo Pärt Center is a unique building in line with composer Arvo’s creative nature and is open to all music enthusiasts. With an aim to preserve and explore the creative heritage of the composer in Estonia (his home country), the building is a noteworthy attraction as it includes a personal archive, library, 150-seat auditorium, exhibition hall, video room, and classrooms. Workshops and concerts are organised here as well. Take the guided tour to explore Arvo Pärt’s manuscripts and listen to his music.
Escape to the east of Tallinn and explore Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa, an 800-year-old manor set alongside the Mustoja River. Housed within is an alcohol museum showcasing Estonian brands, a vintage car museum and a wishing tree in the backyard.
During the winter months, Kõrvemaa is the spot to make a beeline for if you want to immerse yourself in nature, and try kick-sledging in the snow followed by a cabin fire lunch. Sportland Kõrvemaa combines hiking and sports activities with sauna experiences, ranging from the large to small igloo, regular sauna with electric heater, and a farm sauna with a woodburning heater.
Iglupark offers gorgeous views of the sea and here, you can relax at an Iglusauna for an invigorating steam. During the colder months (November to March), try winter swimming at temperatures around 1 degree – a popular sport among Estonians.
Treats to take home
Tallinn’s food market (Balti Jaama Turg) offers fresh produce (fruit, vegetables, nuts and dried fruits), market stalls, cafés and a supermarket, making it a great spot to shop for local food brands to take home. Here’s a selection of Estonian brands:
Roosiku organic vegan chocolate
Produced in a factory surrounded by forests and idyllic rolling hills in Roosiku village in Võrumaa, this chocolate was created to disprove the widespread prejudice of raw chocolate being bitter in taste. Available in various flavours, the chocolate is vegan, contains unrefined sweeteners, natural healthy fats, vitamins, flavonoids and antioxidants. Try the organic blueberry and cashew varieties.
Balsnack Potato Wafer
The first product from the brand, this potato chip is available in flavours such as sour cream and herb, and wasabi, to name a few. It features a long unique shape and boasts a crisp, light texture.
These products are not only 100 per cent organic and natural, but also contain zero additives, fillers and preservatives and no GMOs or refined sugars. The brand uses a careful production cycle and freeze-drying method to preserve nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, colours and flavours found in the country’s fresh berries. Try the organic wild blueberry powder and freeze-dried berries.
Must küüslauk is a natural black garlic product native to Estonia, suitable as a delectable snack or for cooking. Try the black garlic with dark chocolate for a unique burst of umami.
Where to stay
Telegraaf Hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is perfectly placed at the heart of the historical old town. The luxury five-star hotel boasts 83 rooms with all the comforts you need for a lavish holiday in the city. Pick from the courtyard or street side view and historical or modern design, with all rooms equipped with double or twin beds and an ensuite bathroom.
Written by Nicola Monteath
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