TALLINN is a fairytale medieval city which transports you back to a long-lost age – with all the comforts of a modern holiday.
The walled Old Town of the Estonian capital harks back to times when feudal lords ruled the area. Nothing left northern Europe without at some point passing through old Tallinn – or Reval as it was known then.
This fortified encampment of colourful, gabled houses with secret alleyways and superb churches grew in prosperity. Now its appeal is not to the tradesmen of Europe but the tourists of the world who flock here to experience what life was like in olden times. It is the star attraction of the city.
The perfect place to stay in the Old Town – adding a touch of luxury to your exploration of Tallinn’s historic past – is the Three Sisters Hotel, Estonia’s only boutique hotel owned by the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group.
It was created in 2003, when three of Tallinn’s splendid merchant houses, all dating back to 1362, were renovated and merged into one. The sumptuous rooms provide the ideal base for your holiday.
Just inside the city boundary is a quaint little retreat which is well worth a visit. The community of Nomme was created by local landowner Nikolai von Glehn who transformed his castle shaped manor house, estate and grounds into a self-contained village.
Its unique status as a town within the city makes it a must-see for tourists. This is where Tallinn folk come to chill out. It has its own historic centre with cafes and pubs and a number of family attractions. Well worth a day out.
PALACE OF THE TSARS
Each area of Tallinn seems to hark back to a particular episode in its history. Kadriorg district reveals the influence of the Russian imperial tsars who ruled the lands in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It is home to the Estonian president’s official residence and several foreign embassies but its main attraction is the baroque palace and grounds – a huge area of parkland popular with locals – built in the early part of the 18th century as a summer palace for Tsar Peter I.
Kumu – the first purpose-built museum in Estonia – was opened in Kadriorg in 2006 and houses the biggest collection of classical and contemporary Estonian art in the world.
SHOPPING IN TALLINN
The best places to find quality fashion, shoes, perfume and the like are the elegant boutiques along Old Town’s Viru and Muurivahe streets, and the large, full-service department stores and malls that have recently been appearing all over Tallinn.
City centre malls offer an international style experience, but for boutique shopping, Old Town is your best choice.
Traditional Estonian handicrafts – beautiful, usually functional items created by hand following centuries-old methods – are available all over the city, everything from juniper wood carved items to locally-made knitwear and linen.
The Central Market is the city’s largest food market, though you can also find cheap clothes and other trinkets here. Its main rival is the newly-remodelled Nomme Market. A farmer’s market is regularly held in Rotermann Square during the summer.
EATING OUT IN TALLINN
A recent survey of international food critics of Estonia’s top 50 restaurants revealed that 27 of them are based in Tallinn itself.
They vary from upmarket classic gourmet restaurants to more affordable, artsy food spots in Kalamaja, specialising in modern Estonian cuisine.
The title of the best restaurant in Tallinn was awarded to Tchaikovsky for the third year in a row. The top 10 also included Horisont, Chedi, Ribe, Neh, Moon and Salt as a newcomer in the list.
TRAVEL BACK TO OLD TALLINN AT THE ESTONIA OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Just a few miles from the city centre is a chance to step back in time in a specially-created and preserved museum village in the popular Rocco al Mare area. This area is great for families – locals come here for picnics and fairs that are staged here regularly.
But it’s the village museum which is the real draw. A vast forested park is filled with thatched 18th-20th century farm buildings, a windmill, a wooden chapel and village school, all giving you a real sense as you tour round of what life was like in Estonia centuries ago. For further information visit www.evm.ee
Entry to the museum is €6 (about £5) but is free if you have a Tallinn Card which entitles you to free admission, discounts and special offers all over the city (http://www.tourism.tallinn.ee/eng/fpage/tallinncard)