Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Baltic, Estonia's Top National Park, Lahemaa near Tallinn

Estonia's Top National Park ©Solange Hando

Set up in 1971, Estonia's oldest national park runs along the coast of the Gulf of Finland and stretches into the hinterland of which two thirds are forested. It's roughly an hour's drive east of Tallinn and a fabulous place to enjoy the country's natural and cultural heritage.

Traditional Farm in Lahemaa Forest ©Solange Hando

Here, besides pine and mixed forests, you find pastures and farmland, erratic boulders, fast-flowing rivers, lakes, waterfalls, springs, canyons, and marshes and bogs in the wild scarcely inhabited southern areas.

Spruce is particularly important in the local folklore and used for making cradles and coffins, thus symbolising life's natural cycle.

Splash of Colour in Lahemaa ©Solange Hando

The flora is as diverse as the land, from bog rosemary and cotton grass to bearberry, heather and Labrador tea. There are footpaths and forest roads ideal for cycling, board walks and beavers' trails while moose, brown bear, wild boar and lynx hide in the shadows.

Great flocks of whooping cranes can be seen in autumn and if you're lucky, you might spot a rare Ural Owl or a Black Woodpecker.

Palmse Manor in Lahemaa National Park ©Solange Hando

Visitors can explore the Oandu Nature Centre or the Forest Museum in Sagadi Manor to discover the life-sustaining gifts of the Estonian forest, rich in edible mushrooms, berries, water and wood.

Along with Vihula and Palmse, Sagadi is one of the ancient manors built on the fertile Klint escarpment and now beautifully restored as an integral part of the park's cultural heritage.

Lahemaa's National Park near Tallinn ©Solange Hando

As for the shoreline, stony or sandy, it is sprinkled with islands and indented with bays and peninsulas home to myriad seabirds, including the Eurasian oystercatcher.

Once the domain of fishermen and smugglers, it's a coast of ancient legends where every boulder has a story to tell and in the shade of the rowan trees, folk festivities survive, unperturbed by the modern world.