Otepää, Estonia’s Winter Capital
It’s worth a trip outside of Tallinn to Otepää and its neighbouring village, Pühajärve in the very southeastern corner of Estonia.
Otepää is a picture-postcard little village with lovely walking routes all around, and a deep, dense forest in which to be lost with your thoughts. However the attention-grabber for most tourists is Vaike Munamägi, the second tallest hill in Estonia. The tallest, Suur Manamägi is located about an hour’s drive south from Otepää. Whether you’re an experienced skier looking for some piste action in the Baltics, or a newbie wanting a hill that isn’t the Black Run on which to learn your craft, there’s a reason to visit the two Egg Hills, as they are known in English. And even if winter sports are not your thing, south Estonia’s flatness means you can see for miles all around when you’re at the top. If you want a bit of a challenge, have a go at the Kekkose Ski Trail (a 14 km run named in honour of the visit, from the then Finnish president Urho Kekkose’s visit to Kääriku to ski), one of the country’s most challenging cross-country trails.
Stay in the Pühajärve Spa Hotel, a three-star destination which overlooks the enormous lake, which of course is completely frozen in winter. The spa’s café gives truly spectacular panoramic views of the lake, the hills and surrounds. Ensconced in your forest kingdom, you’ll finally be able to forget all your daily working troubles. The food is pretty decent local fare, and certainly fills you up before or after a long day’s strolling in the gorgeous countryside. There is a pub down below for simpler tastes and an a la carte restaurant on the main floor of the former manor house.
The spa’s jewel is the outstanding swimming pool designed by one of Estonia’s master architects Andres Alver. The pool’s main structure is engineered wood glulam complemented with the use of locally produced birch plywood. Swimming there is certainly a must on any Estonian travel bucket list.
How to get there:
We recommend taking a car, although it’s perfectly possible to go there by bus - just jump on the Tallinn to Tartu express, then take a connecting service to Otepää. www.tpilet.ee
There are train connections from Tallinn-Tartu-Palupera. Palupera is about 20 km from Otepää and from there you can take a taxi which should be no more than €20. Please note: most taxis do not accept card payment.
Train tickets: www.elron.ee
Otepää Taxi: 1200
TEXT KRISTINA LUPP, STUART GARLICK, PHOTOS ANDREI CHERTKOV