From reluctant Soviet state to one of the European Union’s brightest young stars, Estonia has undergone something of a transformation in recent decades – and finally the world has woken up to its many charms.
The smallest and arguably most scenic of the three Baltic states (which also includes Latvia and Lithuania), Estonia is a wildly beautiful land of pristine forests, biodiverse wetlands and remote offshore islands; natural assets that offer a spectacular contrast to the brooding, gothic aesthetic of its medieval capital, Tallinn.
The cobbled streets of this fairy-tale city are peppered with historic churches, monuments and cosy cafés, not to mention a burgeoning restaurant scene that pays homage to the country’s Baltic and Nordic heritage. The nightlife is pretty lively too (and cheap), which has made it a popular destination for stag parties – not something everybody has welcomed.
Most adventure travellers escape the city and make for the primeval forests and lakes of rural Estonia. And who can blame them? These areas offer landscapes and ecosystems, which have, for the most part, been lost in much of Europe. More than 1,000 lakes shimmer in the Estonian countryside, while bogs and swamplands cover an astounding one-fifth of the country. These habitants are a haven for birds and birdwatchers.
Estonia’s natural wonders are on impressive display in its national parks; most notably, Soomaa, in the heart of the country, and Lahemaa, on the northern coast, which rewards visitors with challenging hikes and impressive views of the Baltic Klint, a 1,200km-long (745 mile) ridge of limestone cliffs that stretches from Sweden to Russia. Elusive wolves, bears and lynxes can also be spotted in these parts.
Estonia's history, like that of its Baltic neighbours, has been almost singly devoted to maintaining independence from its powerful neighbours, most notably Russia. Annexed by Stalin in 1940, Estonia never entirely became the Soviet republic it might have done, retaining its language and culture far more strongly than other members of the USSR. This plucky, independent spirit endures in Estonia today.