For nature lovers, the northern European country of Estonia is a dreamland. Estonia is astonishing for such a small nation with its diverse and untouched nature.
This is a place where the land meets the sea, and bogs are interspersed with natural forests, fields, and fish-rich rivers and lakes. Add to this four seasons of immense variety: a crisp spring, a warm summer of white nights, an autumn abundant in color, and a winter of deep, soft snows.
The aquatic world – the sea, islands, rivers, lakes
The Baltic Sea borders Estonia on the north and west. This expanse bulges with large and small islands, which number as many as 1.500. Few countries in the world boast such an abundance of islands. The biggest islands are Saaremaa, Hilumaa, Muhu, and Vormsi.
Jagged coastlines and an abundance of peninsulas mark Estonian islands.
The peninsula offering the most impressive sea views is undoubtedly Sääretirp, the long and narrow rocky strip of land which runs to the sea in southern Hiiumaa. It is an esker, heavily worked by the sea, full of vegetation in higher places. Junipers, guelder rose, buckthorn, and sea kale stand side by side, tenaciously defying storms.
An islet preserve is located in the sea near Sääretirp consisting of ten Nordic paradise islands. The larger islets, which contain broadleaf forests and impenetrable juniper thickets, are Saarnaki, Hanikatsi, Vareslaid, Körgelaid, and Ahelaid.
Scientists have registered over 600 different plant species on these extremely rich lands, the rarest being the shining geranium, fly orchid, and male orchid. When between the islets in a boat or kayak, it is not unusual to happen upon protected species, such as a grey or ringed seal poking his head out of the water to survey the situation.
In addition to the Hiiumaa islets in the national preserve, on Saaremaa’s western coast is Vilsandi National Park, where many rare plant species grow, and Europe’s oldest bird-watching tower may be found.
Without the sea, western Estonia would not have Estonia’s natural crown jewels, the species-rich beach and meadow grasses, which are not found elsewhere in Europe. These meadows are the result of centuries of mowing and shepherding. In addition to rare orchids, the meadows are home to great snipes, Baltic dunlins, and the rare natterjack toad.
In northern Estonia, there’s another place whose diverse nature is related to the sea – Lahemaa National Park. One can only escape Lahemaa by witnessing its beautiful sand beaches, seaside villages enclosed in pine forests, peninsulas, and islands.
Estonia is rich in rivers and lakes: lakes, at least a hectare in size, number roughly 1,200. There are more than 7,000 rivers and streams.
On Estonia’s eastern border is Europe’s fifth-largest lake, Peipsi-Pihkva. But what is considered Estonia’s most beautiful body of water, Pühajärv (literally “Holy Lake”), with its forested islands and jagged shoreline, is found in the hill country of southern Estonia. Most Estonia’s lakes are rich in fish; fishermen catch pike, bass, pikeperch, and bream.
In summer, warm-water lakes attract sunbathers. In winter, frozen lakes are magnets for skaters. Peipsi Lake has traditionally been the setting for an annual skating marathon. Rivers with regular flows are popular with canoeists, the best considered to be south Estonia’s Võhandu River, which at 162 kilometers is Estonia’s longest.