Why Estonia has become one of the coolest holiday destinations in Europe
I’m standing in a disused Eastern Bloc submarine base – a little like the set of a Bond movie – and I really, really wish you were here.
The stark, steel framework is now a backdrop to food markets, live music and street arts, and it’s swarming with young people drawn to this bustling hive of arts and crafts.
Welcome to the new-look Estonia, where an £83 flight whisks you to a travel experience different from any other.
A few days earlier, I started my break not in the capital of Tallinn but in the forest nearby. Estonians have always enjoyed a historical connection to the land and, indeed, 60% of their country is still covered in pine and birch. So, fittingly, my trip begins among the trees.
Ninety minutes outside Tallinn lie the forest and empty beaches of west Estonia. Lodgings for the night are at ÖÖD Hötels Rooslepa (from £152pn), a series of mirrored cubes that won an Estonian Design Award a few years ago, nestled amid the trees but backing on to the Baltic and offering stunning floor-to-ceiling sylvan views from your bed.
It’s totally deserted – this is a break for those who love true solitude – but inside the cubes there’s a shower and comfy double bed, a little bathroom and sink and a small dining table. It’s cold outside but I wade into the Baltic and feel my whole body freeze.
No problem, though, because my cube includes a separate sauna hut, and they’ve left wood and matches so I can fire it up and feel my feet once more. My surroundings are grey and dystopian but the magical smell of essential oils from the pine trees creates an incredibly calming effect.
Back in Tallinn, the first place I visit is Telliskivi, its creative nexus. Once a loveless Soviet train yard, this collection of stark factory buildings is now a hub for 1,500 creatives. Up to 800 events are hosted a year, and in the summer its squares are taken over with street-food trucks and live music.
Also here is Fotografiska, a fine-art photography museum showcasing memorable work by big-name artists and rising stars (tickets £9.20). Don’t miss the street art around the neighbourhood too.
Once you’re done in the Baltic Manufactory, head to Noblessner, an old submarine shipyard repurposed as a cultural hub. I visit Kai Art Centre, which has exhibitions promoting current Estonian artists (entry £6.75).
Also here is Iglupark, with its award-winning saunas and accommodation pods, positioned on what was once a Soviet submarine launch. I’m told David Beckham owns one of the saunas – a fact that’s repeated by proud locals – as I enjoy the hot-cold therapy of a steam followed by a dip in biting Tallinn Bay (sauna from £55 per hour).
I stay the night in a wooden iglu, and discover the arched roof is designed to circulate heat more effectively. Through the domed window at the end of my bed, I see the Baltic once more – icy, but oddly inviting. Estonia is cool, in every way.
Three of the best things to do in Estonia
The most ancient of the bogs that cover one-fifth of the Estonian landscape date back more than 10,000 years. Visit at sunrise or sunset, when the dwindling light makes the mystifying area enticing.
Skating on frozen lakes
There are ice rinks across the country through winter when you can hire skates. You can also skate along lakes that have turned into iced roads.
Find out more with Visit Estonia.
Hail the revolution
Founded in 1935, the Kuku bar, a boho hotspot, became a refuge for creatives and activists during the USSR era, with staff and patrons key players in winning the country’s independence. Now it’s the place for live music.
Flights from London to Tallinn are from £83 return, via Ryanair; rooms at Hektor Container Hotel, from £55pn. For more info, head to Visit Estonia.
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