Last Updated on April 27, 2024

Tucked in the West Estonian archipelago of the Baltic Sea – a mere 30-minute ferry ride from the Estonian mainland – the serene sanctuaries of Muhu and Saaremaa islands beckon. During a bustling week in Tallinn, Estonia, my friends and I, craving serenity, escaped to explore these enchanting isles.

We discovered a tranquil retreat steeped in natural beauty and rich history—a balm for the restless soul.

Muhu Island: Estonia’s Tranquil Haven

A bluff on Muhu's coastline in Estonia.
A bluff on Muhu’s coastline in Estonia. Photo by Priidu Saart, Visit Estonia.

Muhu, Estonia’s third-largest island and the first stop from the mainland, often serves as a gateway to its larger neighbor, Saaremaa.

This small island brims with unique charms. Muhu’s rugged coastline is ideal for long, peaceful walks. Inland, iconic wooden windmills dot the landscape’s impossibly green fields, and stone farmhouses with neatly thatched roofs line country lanes.

The doors of these homes are not only a riot of colors, but are adorned with intricate paintings and symbols believed to protect against evil spirits.      

The locals also claim that the national juniper trees have healing properties. Many souvenirs here are crafted from juniper wood, and the berries are used in local recipes and even saunas.

The Charm of Koguva Village

Our Muhu adventure began at the Muhu Museum in Koguva, a quaint fishing village set among trees and lush farmland, where we delved into the island’s preserved cultural heritage.

Strolling through the village was like stepping back in time, the tranquility of the area punctuated only by the rustle of birch trees and the occasional chirp of a barn swallow, one of 200 species nesting here annually.

We enjoyed the village’s historic homes, schoolhouse, and textile room, with its traditional weaving loom, and the colorful, intricately designed knitted garments sold in the shop.

Unexpected Encounters at Muhu Ostrich Farm

Leaving the picturesque village behind, we drove to our next stop, the Muhu Ostrich Farm, a fascinating place where the vibrant hissing and grunting of ostriches filled the air. Besides ostriches, the farm also cares for emus, kangaroos, pheasants, and rabbits, creating a diverse and engaging animal sanctuary.

The owners are passionate about their menagerie, offering insights into the lives of these animals and even letting visitors pet them.

An Estonian Islanders Meal at Nami Namaste Farm

We arranged a group lunch at the rustic yet chic Nami Namaste farm in southern Muhu, owned by the renowned Finnish TV chef and writer Sikke Sumari. Our culinary adventure unfolded in a cooking class, where our eclectic group of novice cooks crafted an incredible meal together, filling the kitchen with laughter and enticing aromas.

Nami Namaste offers a range of activities to enrich an overnight stay, from rejuvenating yoga to dance and Pilates classes. Guests can explore the island’s scenic routes on bikes or unwind in a traditional Finnish sauna.

Luxury Amidst Nature at Pädaste Manor

Padaste Manor on Muhu Island in Estonia.
Padaste Manor on Muhu Island in Estonia. Photo by Priidu Saart, Visit Estonia.

­­As we approached Pädaste Manor, the grandeur of this 15th-century luxury resort and spa was immediately striking. Set among meadows and lush green forests, the estate, surrounded by centuries-old stone walls, offers breathtaking views of Pädaste Bay, its waters sparkling in the sunlight.

After spending a blissful hour on my balcony watching the hotel’s robotic lawnmowers meander across the expansive lawn, I joined my friends for an evening of exquisite Nordic dining in the manor’s elegant Alexander restaurant.

Saaremaa Island: A Journey through Time

In the morning, we drove across the bridge from Muhu to Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island, excited to take in its breathtaking landscapes.

Upon arriving, the soothing scent of ancient pine forests enveloped us, capturing the island’s timeless allure. Archaeological findings indicate that the earliest coastal settlements on Saaremaa date back to the 4th millennium BC.

From the 10th to the 13th centuries, Saaremaa was among Estonia’s most densely populated regions. Its strategic location made it a focal point during many conflicts, including World War II, when the Nazis cut off access to the island.

The echoes of these turbulent times seemed to resonate through the silent, mist-shrouded fields at dawn, reminding us of the island’s resilience through centuries of upheaval.

Legend of the Immured Knight

Upon checking into the contemporary Georg Ots Spa Hotel, we took a leisurely stroll along the scenic seaside to unwind.

Feeling refreshed, we eagerly ventured into the imposing 14th-century Kuressaare Castle, ready to uncover its secrets. As we navigated through the labyrinth of chambers during our guided tour, the cool, musty air of the ancient stone corridors hinted at centuries of history.

One chamber, steeped in legend and discovered in 1785, is said to have confined a 16th-century monk, walled in alive due to a forbidden love affair. Known as ‘the cellar of the immured knight,’ it held a chilling, faint, and eerie draft.

Dining in Medieval Kuresaare Castle

Kuressaare Castle in Saaremaa, Estonia.
Kuressaare Castle in Saaremaa, Estonia. Photo by Evolumina, Visit Estonia.

We culminated our exploration with a festive medieval banquet inside the castle. The great hall was aglow with flickering candlelight, casting shadows that danced upon the rough stone walls.

The clatter of pewter plates and the murmur of excited voices filled the air as troubadours strummed lutes and fiddles, their melodies weaving a captivating spell.

We feasted on the era’s recipes, including roasted meats and minced pies, each bite a link to the past. The rough texture of handwoven table linens and the weight of the forged cutlery in our hands brought the realities of medieval life vividly to our modern senses.

Artisanal Crafts at the Good Kaarma Soap Farm

Another highlight of our trip was the Good Kaarma Soap Farm, operated by Steve and Ea, an English-Estonian couple. Celebrated across Estonia for its high-quality organic products, the farm offers hands-on workshops on cold-process soap making.

After crafting our own bars of soap, we unwound in the farm’s serene garden café, surrounded by the soothing scents of the forest. 

In the shop, I selected a few bars of the ‘Saaremaa’ soap, each a fragrant memento of the islands, infused with the essence of juniper and local flora.

Natural Wonders of Vilsandi National Park

Vilsandi National Park, located on the west coast of Saaremaa, offers another kind of sanctuary. Known for its vibrant displays of wild orchids and the chorus of thousands of migratory birds, the park preserves the delicate coastal and island ecosystems across Vilsandi Island and about 160 smaller islets.

Birdwatchers gather each year to observe the wintering Steller’s eiders which find refuge in the park’s quiet marshes during the colder months. As spring begins, the air fills with the cacophony of white-cheeked barnacle geese arriving, their calls echoing across the landscape.

The park is the ideal place for long coastal walks, offering the fresh, salty breeze of the Baltic Sea.

Estonia’s Islands of Timeless Beauty

As we experienced these captivating islands, the rich cultural heritage and enchanting natural allure of Estonia reminded us that true beauty lies not only in the landscapes we explore, but also in the memories we create.

This journey into the heart of the Baltic left me with enduring memories and a profound yearning to return.

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