The smallest and arguably most scenic of the three Baltic States, Estonia is a nation famed for its enormous forests, beautiful wetlands and remote offshore islands as well as for being one of Europe's most friendly and forward-thinking nations.
The jewel in the crown is gorgeous medieval capital Tallinn, a picture-postcard of a city – particularly at Christmas – which attracts those looking for a well-balanced weekend break and daytrippers from Helsinki, although a longer visit is well worth it. A few days here can take in everything from grandiose architecture and historic churches to cozy cafés and happening nightlife. It’s been recognised for its cultural allure, as the city was recognised as European Capital of Culture for 2011. Meanwhile the foodie revolution that’s taking the Nordic countries by storm hasn’t been forgotten here either – dining here is an exercise in discovery as menus pay homage to country’s Baltic and Nordic heritage.
Estonia is an unspoilt, sparsely populated country, nearly half of which is covered with forests. For nature lovers there are primaeval forests and lakelands to thrill – the wetlands, together with primeval forests, represent preserved communities which have for the most part been destroyed in Europe. More than 1,000 lakes (5% of the Estonian territory) dot the countryside, which is relatively flat, and almost two thirds of the territory lies less than 50m (164ft) above sea level.
In the centre lies Soomaa national park, where visitors can kayak through the flooded forest in spring or do a bog hike. Alternatively, a trip to Lahemaa national park on the northern coast will reward visitors with challenging hikes, more scenic bogs (including a 7000 year old specimen in the Koljaku-Oandu Reserve), andviews of the 1200km long (755 miles) Baltic klimt (limestone cliffs). If you’re lucky, you might even spot elusive wolves, bears and lynxes. In Estonia around 7,000 rivers and streams carry rainwater to the sea, whilst bogs and wooded swamplands of different types cover over one-fifth of the country - a world index topped only by Estonia’s northern neighbour, Finland.
Estonia's history, like that of its Baltic neighbours, has been one 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 many other members of the USSR. At the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia embraced independence enthusiastically and in two decades has undergone a transformation from lumbering communist society to gleaming example of forward-thinking transitional economy. Now an EU and NATO member, the future looks increasingly bright for this little-known but much-loved Baltic gem.