Small peculiarities often make a travel destination and allow a deep insight into society, culture and history. The cuisine of Estonia, for example, shows how many nations have influenced the country in the course of history, as German, Russian and Scandinavian influences can be found on the menus. The many boulders on the beaches give an indication of the forces of nature that have shaped the region in the course of the earth’s history. And the song festival represents national identity and the struggle for independence – a significant aspect of Estonian history.
You can eat very well in Estonia. There are numerous first-class restaurants, but the simple, down-to-earth cuisine is also tasty. It was influenced by German and Russian, but also Scandinavian elements. Spiced sprats, smoked fish, pork, stews, potatoes, dairy products and bread can be found on the menus.
Traditional Estonian cuisine is hearty. Classic dishes are called Mulgikapsad (pork with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes), Suitsulõhe (smoked salmon), Sält (boiled pork in aspic) and Verivorst (blood sausage with barley). Kissell (sweetened juice or milk on berries) or rhubarb cake is served as dessert.
The hearty cuisine is ubiquitous in Tallinn in particular: many restaurants take up the medieval theme and serve hearty meat dishes such as roast wild boar or pork marinated in beer, accompanied by herb or honey beer.
Regional products also play a major role. Berries and forest mushrooms are collected and processed in summer. Smoked fish is sold at street stalls along the coast and Lake Peipus.
Popular alcoholic drinks are beer and vodka. The Estonian herbal brandy Vana Tallinn is a classic souvenir.
Organic food is also available in the larger supermarkets, but the price is well above the German level.
Manor houses are architectural landmarks of Estonia. They are ubiquitous, especially in the north of the country, and represent a time when many Baltic Germans still lived here. The origins of the manors go back to the Middle Ages, when the order established estates, but their true heyday did not begin until the 18th century.
Classicist and baroque buildings, as well as Art Nouveau houses, are spread all over Estonia. Often it is a large building complex, consisting of the main house and numerous farm buildings, schnapps distilleries, orangeries, cavalier houses, etc.
The decline of the manors began with the uprisings of 1905 – aristocrats were expelled and killed, some mansions were burned down – and ended with the period of the First World War and the land reform of 1919. Landowners were expropriated in the course of the state reorganization. Many of the originally more than 1,000 farms fell into disrepair.
The manors of Vihula, Palmse, Sagadi, Kolga and Pädaste on the island of Muhu are good examples of nowadays mostly beautifully restored properties, which are now often a museum, restaurant, hotel or visitor center of a national park. Especially Palmse in the Lahemaa National Park is a figurehead and definitely worth a visit. Work on preserving the building was already underway during the Soviet era – a rare and fortunate circumstance. Spending an overnight stay or an entire vacation on a manor is a stylish way of immersing yourself in Estonian history. Especially since they are often embedded in a beautiful landscape.
The song festivals (“Laulupidu” in Estonian) are an expression of national independence and identity and an integral part of Estonian culture. They have also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for some time. Ultimately, the “Singing Revolution” made the country independent from the Soviet Union in a largely peaceful manner. In 1988, more than 300,000 people gathered at the Singers’ Festival in Tallinn to stand up for their political independence. In the summer of 1990 almost half a million Estonians came together to sing and demand their independence. With success, the result is well known: in 1991 Estonia officially became independent.
The first song festival took place in the university town of Tartu in 1869, when the Estonians sang for their independence for the first time. Today there is a singer festival museum in the city, in which the history of this event is processed. A memorial stone on the Narva maantee commemorates the historic day in 1869.
Every five years since 1928, the Tallinn Singers’ Festival has been transformed into a stage for a music festival based on ancient traditions. Thousands of people maintain the tradition and thus express their national consciousness. The stage’s song shell was built in the 1950s. Around 500,000 people can listen to the choirs in the audience seats. At the last song festival in 2009, many thousands of artists were involved. The next one will take place again in 2019.
Listed on COUNTRYAAH as one of countries starting with E, Estonia was shaped by the ice ages, large parts of the northern hemisphere were under ice. Glaciers from the last Ice Age transported innumerable boulders from Scandinavia, which are scattered in abundance on the beach and in the forests of Estonia. Many of these “Scandinavian immigrants” can be found on Käsmu. The largest chunks, scattered all over the park, reach heights of seven meters and circumferences of over 30 meters!
According to legend, the boulders, which are distributed all over the country, go back to the giant Kalevipoeg. According to the Estonian myth, he shaped the landscape. The boulder fields were created because he threw the huge stones at his opponents.