My first visit to Estonia in 1992 was an adventure, travelling with a suitcase of soon to be useless Russian roubles and wondering where I might next get petrol for the car.
Estonia maintains its own strong cultural identity despite a history of occupation by foreign powers – an impressive tenth of the nation’s population attended Tallinn’s famous Song Festival in July 2014. But the country has also moved forward at a breathtaking pace since regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. A quick glimpse across the border with Russia at Narva makes this all so clear. It is hard to believe, that for 45 years after WWII, Estonia was totally cut off from western Europe.
Tallinn’s state-of-the-art Seaplane Harbour and flamboyant Estonian Art Museum now stand in contrast to the its historic UNESCO-listed Old Town, while natural attractions such as Lahemaa National Park and its architectural gem, Palmse Manor, have been restored and protected. A stroll through any Estonian town highlights the changes since independence: colour has replaced the grey, and a variety of gastronomic choices now abound, in Tartu just as much as in Pärnu or on Saaremaa Island.
Come for the great cultural diversity that Estonia offers and you may just find yourself entranced. Estonia’s population may only be little over one million, but for jazz, chamber music or classical opera, it takes some beating. Come too at any time of year to Estonia. Winter offers the chance to drive across the ice to the islands, spring brings the migratory birds, summer the endless balmy evenings and autumn the colours of the changing leaves. How come Estonia still remains such an exclusive destination?