Estonia’s largest island Saaremaa is a beloved destination for hiking, holiday-making or for just enjoying sea breeze and beautiful sights. After taking a ferry from Virtsu you arrive first in Muhumaa. There is Muhu Vhurch in the Gothic style (1267), Koguva Village with its old farm buildings, stone fences and draw wells, and Pädaste Manor which offers luxury accommodations and top-of-the-line cuisine. A working windmill can be found in Linnuse Village and an ostrich farm nearby. The atmosphere and nature on islets such as Kõinastu, Võilaid and Suurelaid are also worth discovering.
The sea dam across the Strait of Väike Väin takes you to Saaremaa where you will probably want to see Kuressaare, the island’s capital first. Short detours along the way are certainly rewarding. In Pöide towers a massive 13th century fortified church and not far away you will find Kahutsi earthen stronghold and a boarded trail in the Koigi Bog. As imposing as Pöide is Valjala Church, the oldest one in Saaremaa with its unique frescos. Close by are the remains of Valjala Stronghold that was the last in Estonia to surrender to the German Teutonic Knights in 1227.
Windmills in Angla on Saarema Island
Near Kõljala you will find the round-shaped Kaali Lake, set in a meteorite crater and, a rare natural object in the context of the whole world. The “space rock” that hit the Kaali area only a few thousand years ago is the last known meteorite to hit a densely populated area. This is why it has shaped not only the local landscape but the mythology as well. The “Kaali catastrophy”, comparable to a nuclear blast, has inspired writers and historians (including Lennart Meri, President of Estonia in 1992–2001) to link the local “big bang” to the roots of Fenno-Ugric mythology or the Phaethon’s flight and fall in Greek mythology.
The “brand” of Kuressaare is a very well preserved 14th century episcopal castle which houses the Museum of Saaremaa. Visitors of the castle can order medieval dinner and enjoy the view over the town and the sea opening from the tower café. The old town, built between the 17th and 19th centuries, abounds in dining and entertainment spots, several high-standard health spas, and a yachting harbour. South of Kuressaare lies the protected Loode oak wood, and further down the Sõrve Peninsula where in World War II some of the heaviest battles in Estonia took place.
In northwest Saaremaa near Kihelkonna you will find the Mihkli Farm Museum. What makes it unique is the fact that the items on display in this fully preserved farmhouse complex have been made on the farm over six generations. Loona manor houses the centre of Vilsandi National Park which encompasses around 100 small islands. Tens of thousands of waterfowl migrate through or nest in the national park, and most of the Baltic grey seals come to breed in Innarahu Reserve. Vilsandi Island can be reached by boat from the harbour of Papisaare or if the sea level is low, by walking across through the water. Access to the nesting areas of birds and animals is limited to tourists. A beautiful view on the islands opens also from the peninsula of Harilaid, whose tip is adorned with a tilted lighthouse. Nature-lovers will enjoy a visit to Viidumäe Nature Protection Area, the centre of which is in Audaku. There is a museum that has an exhibition of rare and protected plants.
One of the attractions in Saaremaa is the steep and impressive limestone cliff on the northern coast at Ninase and Panga where it rises 21 metres above the sea level. Culturally and historically interesting are the windmills at Angla ; the medieval, rustic Karja church without a steeple is rich in unique hewn sculptures and frescos. In Laugu Village there is a glassblower’s workshop where you can watch masters at work and even try out their craft. Near Triigi Harbour you will find the arboretum and spelling and ritual grounds of a famous Estonian healer Vigala Sass. From Triigi you can take a ferry to Hiiumaa; boat trips in the Strait of Väike Väin start from Orissaare Harbour. The interesting ruins of Maasi Order Castle are also worth a visit.
One of the popular holiday spots is Lake Karujärv. There are several beaches by the seaside and even more places with a sea-view for walking and camping in Saaremaa. Those looking for an “island of their own” can take a boat from Kuressaare to Abruka Island
(Sources: Estonia Tourist Office, MarvaoGuide.com)