Deep in the aromatic pine forests of southern Estonia are the Haanja Uplands.
This is beautiful country with a forest bird soundtrack. The people are mostly friendly and hearty. One pure Estonian smile can erase the memory of quite a few suspicious glances from these private rural people.
The Baltic States are made up of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Russia is to the east and the Baltic Sea is on the west.
Less than 20% of these three countries is more than 250 m (820 ft.) above sea level. These are flat countries.
The Haanja Uplands claim the highest point in the Baltic countries. It is Suur Munamägi at 318 m (1043 ft.). And it is an important feature that is duly publicized.
They have built a viewing tower that is quite spectacular. Towers are quite common in these flat countries. They let you view over the forest to distant horizons and are important for security and increasingly for tourism.
There is a nice cafe and a gift shop on the ground floor. But the main attraction is the viewing platform at the top of the blue spiral staircase.
It provides commanding views toward the Baltic Sea, Latvia, and Russia. The gently rolling forests stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions.
An interesting compass display on the viewing platform indicates the direction and distance to cities near and far. The imagination wanders over the forest canopy toward Tiblisi, Riga, Istanbul, Moscow, New York, Tokyo, Budapest, Kiev, and other landmarks.
If you look in another direction…well, actually, it looks pretty much the same in all directions.
The country around Suur Munamägi is at about 58 degrees north latitude so even though the elevation is not great the area provides winter recreation opportunities. There are established cross-country ski parks and sliding hills.
The winter sports that are important here go unreported in much of the world’s press, which focus on a few commercial national sports in each country. Sports fans are surprisingly narrow-minded.
So, for bonus points, can you identify what the facility below is used for?
Let me help by saying there is a nice stadium (behind me) for viewing the events that are held here.
You could wander around the Haanja Uplands for days. There are nice wide gravel roads and few people. The superb university town of Tartu lies to the north and it is an easy drive to reach Haanja Nature Park from there. There are a few villages with beautiful old churches and many farms scattered around in openings in the forest. There are also many lakes.
This part of southern Estonia was my favorite part of Estonia, but Tartu and the capital of Tallinn are great old cities. This is an area that is well worth visiting. You will feel the impact of the beauty and the relaxation long after you leave.