Estonia’s relaxing and romantic manors
Text by the Baltic Guide Working Group - Petri Saraste, Mark Taylor, Susanna Poikela, Tapio Mäkeläinen, Antti Sarasmo, and Timo Huttunen Photos Petri Saraste, Sagadi Manor, Vihula Manor
There are hundreds of manors and castles in Estonia today. Over the centuries many have seen German, Danish, Lithuanian and Russian landowners. Today, they house museums, art galleries, spa hotels and award-winning restaurants.
Time travel through 500 years of history at Sagadi Manor
The small road leading to Sagadi manor is winding. At the end, you will find the handsome red mansion of the German von Fock family with its bell towers, whitewashed arches and tiled roofs.
The history of the Sagadi manor goes back more than 500 years. The old buildings, stables, carriage houses and barns have now been restored for other purposes. Now the manor complex, which is considered one of the most beautiful and architecturally significant in Estonia, houses a museum, a hotel, a restaurant, and a nature school.
The mansion received its current rococo style in 1796. The museum’s wall paintings are among the most beautiful in Estonia. In the hunting hall, you will find the widest selection of hunting weapons in the entire Baltic region.
It is hard to imagine that in the middle of the 19th century, when Sagadi was also one of the most prosperous manors in Estonia, only around 50 people worked there.
One of the most important tasks of the manor’s gentry was organising parties. Parties were a good way to show off one’s wealth and taste, while at the same time gathering information about the living standards of neighbours and relatives.
Weddings, anniversaries and conferences
Today, celebrations are focused on the summer period. The season starts in April and continues until the end of September. According to Sagadi’s sales and marketing director Kairi Leemets, the most common foreign guests are Finns, followed by Latvians, Germans and Swedes.
“At Christmas, the hotel is full of Finns. The most common stay is two nights,” says Leemets. Guests usually seek peace and rest. Lahemaa’s forests and nature trails are quiet and interesting, and the sea is only about seven kilometres away.
Many weddings and events are organised in the hotel and manor museum, along with workshops, meetings, seminars and conferences.
The hotel has space for a total of 100 guests. “In the summer, visitors like to spend time in the forest and pick berries and mushrooms. The hostel is popular with students, with space for around 30 guests and a Finnish sauna”, continues Leemets.
In summer, guests also enjoy the green lawns of the manor, the park’s massive trees, roses and pond. The park has one of the largest oak trees in Estonia, which is 33 meters high.
Conference visitors can enter the newly restored museum for free, for others entrance costs five euros. Today, 35 employees work in Sagadi all year round, with ten seasonal employees during the high season.
Open all year round
Sagadi is located about 80 kilometres from Tallinn. There are also many other manors in the area manors such as Vihula and Palmse. Prices are quite affordable in the winter months. A double room is 68 euros per night and a superior room 80 euros. During the high season, a basic room costs 88 euros and a superior room costs 104 euros. A night in the hostel costs 15 euros per person.
The current owner of the manor is the Estonian Forestry Authority.
Vihula Manor has been restored with love and care
The history of Vihula manor dates all the way back to the 12th century and the Danish conquests of Estonia. In total, the charming manor, which has been lovingly restored over the past decade has no less than 25 different buildings in the complex, creating an almost village-like feel.
Two of the buildings of note include the water mill, which has been converted into a small museum and café, and the vodka distillery. The latter of which gave the manor its wealth during its boom years in the 19th century. Vihula Manor Vodka, which is still made today to the original recipe, can be tried and purchased on-site.
Vihula offers services for every taste
Being located in the picturesque Lahemaa National Park, you won’t have all the trappings of the city, but you won’t miss them for a second. Vihula manor has a well-equipped, beautiful and modern spa (it was refitted during the pandemic) with multiple saunas, jacuzzis, a 15m pool, and a range of different treatments on offer.
“It’s great to come to Vihula manor during the week, the spa is cosy and private when there are not many people,” recommends events manager, Reelika Uleksin.
The spa is not all there is to offer at Vihula manor, there are a mind-blowing number of other things to do, from vodka tasting in the old vodka distillery (which also has a small museum) and soap felting workshops to tours of the manor, visiting the animals at the farm, the windmill, car museum, ice skating rink (in winter), the café and pub (open at the weekends) – and that’s just scratching the surface. Not to mention walks around the beautiful grounds and off into the national park.
In the summer months there is even more to do, such as mini golf or the possibility to rent a bicycle and visit the beach, which is just four kilometres away.
“You have to rest in the manor for several days in order to enjoy everything the manor has to offer without rushing,” says Dina Kivi, the manor’s marketing project manager.
A dining experience fit for a manor
After a long day travelling or exploring what the manor has to offer, you will certainly be in need of a well-deserved dinner, and you won’t be disappointed. Although the menu is smaller and more restrictive than a regular restaurant, the quality of the food can definitely be regarded as fine dining. A three-course dinner with wine will set you back anything from 50 to 100 euros per person (depending on your choice of wine).
It is not just the food, but a full fine dining experience in a beautiful setting. “The service was very personal and fast, and the waiter knew their job very well. The menu and wine selection was very good,” added hotel guest Ingrid Abel.
You won’t be let down by breakfast either, with a wide and classic selection available from the buffet (which is included in the price of your room). There is certainly something for all tastes and moods, something echoed by Abel, “The selection was very rich and healthy. Salmon and fresh fruit were on the menu, which for me shows the level of breakfast.”
An award-winning and affordable getaway
In 2020, Vihula manor was awarded the prestigious title of the “Best Historical Hotel in Europe”, and it’s easy to see why. Even the standard rooms have a premium feel that more than matches the price tag. In total, the hotel has four levels of rooms; standard, zen, zen deluxe, and zen suite, as well as the presidential suite which is located in the main manor building. The cost of one night ranges from 95-450 euros. The hotel also offers a number of different packages for both shorter and longer stays.
The idyllic location, matched with fantastic amenities and service make Vihula manor a popular destination with Estonian, Finnish and German guests as well as with companies and groups. With many people visiting again and again. “Several Finnish guests have stayed more than 45 nights, it’s a lot,” explains Uleksin. The hotel can often be full at weekends.
For receptionist Marika, who moved from Tallinn to work at Vihula, the best thing about the hotel is the peace and quiet, which she refers to as “Zen”.
Getting to Vihula
By far the easiest way to get to Vihula is by car. When driving from Tallinn it will take a little over 1 hour. Vihula manor has an electric vehicle charging station, so there are no worries if you have an electric car. There is also a local service bus (the 18V) that goes once a day from the Baltijaam bus station in Tallinn which takes 1h45. However, travelling back to Tallinn might mean missing breakfast because it leaves at 8 am. Another option is to take the train from Tallinn to Rakvere (about 8 euros each way), and then take a taxi (30-40 euros). Travelling this way will take a little over 1.5 hours. The hotel also offers a transfer service that can pick you up and drop you off at a location of your choice.
Tapio Mäkeläinen’s recommendations
Non-fiction writer Tapio Mäkeläinen, who has organised manor trips to Estonia every summer for about a quarter of a century shares his views on some of the manors and castles worth visiting in Estonia.
If you don’t have time to go further than Tallinn, you can visit Kadriorg Palace and Maarjamäe Castle. The first is an art museum in the middle of its own park, and the latter has three interesting museums in its grounds. There is also Glehn Castle in Tallinn’s Nõmme district.
In the Karlova district of Tartu, you will find the main building of the manor of the same name. In addition, right next to the Estonian National Museum on the edge of the city, is the park of the former Raadi manor, where you will find the manor’s magnificent outer walls and a water tower which is used as an exhibition space. There are also numerous sculptures in the grounds.
In the Haapsalu city area, you will find Uuemõisa manor, Ungru castle and Villa Friedheim, which has been renovated into an elegant boutique hotel. The main building of Viljandi manor has recently been renovated into a magnificent hotel, now known as Schloss Fellin.
In Harjumaa, close to Tallinn, there are several spectacular mansions. They include, for example, Alu manor, Harku manor, Kumna manor, Laitse castle, Maardu manor, Muraste manor, Saku manor, Saue manor and Vääna manor. However, the real mansion gems of the county are Keila-Joa manor, Kernu manor and Padise manor, located next to the monastery ruins.
For good food, you should travel to Pädaste manor on Muhu island. Alternatively, if you drive from Tallinn to Tartu, next to the highway is Põhjaka manor, which is known for its delicious and affordable cuisine.
Large weddings and birthday parties can be organised either at the Vihula manor in Lääne-Virumaa or close to the Latvian border at Taagepera castle or Schloss Wagenküll. In addition to Schloss Wagenküll, you will also find spas at, for example, Mäetaguse and Saka manor hotels in Virumaa. Alatskivi castle in Tartumaa and Sangaste castle in Valgamaa, as well as Palmse manor located in Lahemaa National Park, are must-visit additions to this list.
The knight got his own village and manor
“There have been approximately two thousand mansions in Estonia, which is a lot. Ancient Estonia was conquered in the Middle Ages by Germans who lived in feudal kingdoms. Of course, every knight in conquered Estonia got his own village and manor. Estonians were allowed to buy and own agricultural land only in the middle of the 19th century. Until then, practically all the land belonged to the manors.
Peter the Great founded the city of Saint Petersburg in 1703 as the capital of his empire. What was needed in the city was brought from Estonia, either by coastal ships or by road. The golden age of Estonian mansions began, and the money rolled in. However, the golden age of Estonian manors faded with the arrival of the railways in the second half of the 19th century. As it was now possible to bring goods from other places to St. Petersburg at a cheaper price,” says Antti Sarasmo, talking about the history of Estonian manor houses.