On our recent weekend trip to the Estonian capital, we not only wanted to soak up the festive old-world atmosphere of the Christmas markets in Vanalinn, but also get out of the city and see an alternative side of Estonia.
We chose a day trip with the local company Traveller Tours that would take us west along the Estonian coast, stopping at waterfalls, abandoned monasteries, manors, submerged prisons and half-forgotten Soviet towns. While the countryside was beautifully covered in snow, I wouldn’t recommend going any later in winter, unless you really like the cold! Here are some of our highlights from the day.
Keila-Joa Manor house and Waterfall
This neo-gothic manor house was built in 1833 on the banks of the Keila river, amidst a picturesque countryside valley. German and Russian families comprised the majority of nobility in Estonia and Latvia for many centuries. As such, Keila-Joa Manor and many more of Estonia’s 1000+ castles and manors belonged to German aristocratic families.
The manor is just down river from a wide waterfall which is touted as Estonia’s most romantic. The waterfall often freezes over in the depths of winter, creating a beautiful icy curtain. In warmer months you could easily spend hours walking the track along the riverbed and manor complex.
As with many bridges throughout Europe, couples began to add padlocks (love locks) to the swinging bridge over the Keila river. Since the area is a popular spot for wedding photographs, the bridge soon became so heavy with locks that it collapsed (no one was hurt). After it’s reconstruction metal heart structures were erected for new locks, while the old locks were salvaged from the river and placed in a metal box beside the hearts.
Padise Abbey and Manor house
This Cistercian Monastery was founded in Padise in the 14th century by monks who had been dispossessed from their Latvian Dünamünde Abbey. Over the years it became a fortress and then a country house in the 18th century. Now all that remains are abandoned ruins. Like most places in Estonia, you have free reign to explore the site, including the musty dirt-floor cellars and high tower, reached by old wooden and stone steps.
There is also a restaurant in one of the neighbouring buildings.
Rummu sunken prison
Rummu quarry is a submerged limestone quarry, next to two now-closed prisons; Rummu and Murru. The quarry was formed in the late 1930s, with prisoners from both sites used in the excavation of limestone until the 1990s. During the quarry’s operation groundwater was pumped out, while after it’s closure the water built up to form a lake, submerging part of the utility buildings and machinery. The quarry is not accessible to the public as it is now private property and monitored by guards, since there have been numerous accidents after people jumped from the submerged buildings into the water. However, tour companies do offer diving and kayaking in the lake during summer, and land tours visit the site in colder months. Throughout the year festivals are also held on the property and several music videos have been shot there.
I’d definitely recommend this day trip by Traveler Tours and any other tour that takes you out of Tallinn to see a different side of Estonia!