Saaremaa - the largest island in Estonia
Saaremaa - the largest island in Estonia
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Baltics: Experience Estonia’s islands in autumn

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The mosquitoes of summer are gone. So are most of the visitors. In autumn, what Eveli Jürisson calls “the greatest treasure of our nature” returns: silence.

The 38-year-old biologist lives with her family on Muhu, but works on Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia. A dam road leads across, flanked by abundant reed and habitats for seabirds. Estonia in autumn, a pleasure for nature lovers.

Eveli, like all wind and weather resistant islanders, is enthusiastic about its home, a sparsely populated wilderness of forests, lakes, cliffs, beaches and sea. Only mountains do not exist. When she laces up her hiking boots on Saaremaa, she prefers the Koigi bog area. The trail is just under five kilometres long there. Bog birches, mosses and a wooden observation tower set the mood.

At the top of the viewing platform you can see the Naistejärv lake. Eveli knows a legend about it. She tells of the giantess Piret, the wife of the Great Toad, who had got into her head to build a sauna – an important part of the quality of life in Estonia.

To do so, she dragged stones, one of which fell so painfully on her foot that she cried out and tears welled up. “From Piret’s tears this lake was created”, ends Evelis story from the mythical treasure.

Just like magic, the black lake Pikkjärv also attracts you. All around, the moorland hiking trail leads partly over narrow, archaic metal planks. Blueberries grow here, then the cries of wild geese can be heard.

Filling up on energy in nature

In the Estonian autumn, the days are still long and the temperatures tolerable enough before the climate hits the inhabitants: with hard, gloomy winters, ice and snow. Then Birgit and Thomas Laleicke also flee to their second home near Lemgo and do not return until April. Saaremaa has grown dear to the hearts of the mid-sixties. They rent tree houses in the hinterland of the port of Soela.

On Saaremaa you can let yourself go, feel nature, consciously absorb it with all your senses,

enthuses retired business economist Thomas.

He talks about forest swimming and places of power.

When you walk through the woods here, you can feel the positive energy that is given to us.

It remains to be added: Not only in the primeval forests. If you look out at the Baltic Sea from the coast, your heart opens up and your soul expands.

The lonely beach Tuhkana in the north of the island is particularly suitable for this. During the short march from the car park it smells of pine trees. The trees block the view, their branches and twigs sift the light of the sun.

Then the panorama opens up under a dramatic sky full of tattered clouds: in the dunes, grass swings in the wind, the sand describes a wide arc, tiny rocks rise from the water near the shore. Greedily one sucks in the crystal-clear air, the breath of salt.

At this time of the year the water has no more swimming temperature, but that is the price of the low season.

Indian Summer in Estonian

Saaremaa is almost three times the size of Rügen, free of traffic lights and dotted with small attractions: the meteorite crater of Kaali, medieval churches and the football field of Orissaare with an ancient oak tree in the middle, around which people kick.

According to popular belief, in the Odalätsi river spring area, the Great Toad fought the devil, breaking the spear of the Prince of Hell. The windmills of Angla show how once the whole island was populated. Behind the cliffs of Panga – in times long past a place of worship for sacrificial rituals to the sea – there are crooked pine trees and on the beach Ninase many stone men.

The highest point of the island measures 52 metres and is crowned by the observation tower Rauna. In autumn the colours of the leaves all around explode into yellow, ochre and red. Indian Summer in the Baltic States.

Reed straws

The majority of the 33 000 inhabitants are concentrated in the south around the town of Kuressaare, where the medieval bishop’s castle is a landmark. Mihkel Tamm, 31, tells his story in the harbour restaurant. Because it blocked the view of the sea, he kept cutting reed in front of the house – until he and his girlfriend Grete came up with the business idea of making reusable straws from it in 2018. The prototypes were created in the kitchen and garage, other ideas were born in nature.

That’s where my mind always becomes free,

says Mihkel.

What followed was a development in fast motion: first sales after a Facebook campaign, purchase of appliances, a national design prize, boom in demand, the move of production from the garage to a hall in Kuressaare. They now employ five people and export to ten countries. The couple stands for a countermovement – because often younger people leave Saaremaa for lack of perspective or adequate salaries.

When nature becomes a casino

Not so the fisherman Martin Mai, 34, who has just landed the Sunday catch of over two hundredweight in the village of Nasva with his friend Rein. Seagulls circle greedily over the boat, but get nothing. The mates load the fish crates onto a trailer, then they go to Martin’s mother Tiina in the smokehouse. Business is good.

There is enough fish, says Martin, but “all the paperwork” of the EU bureaucracy is getting on his nerves. He also has to keep meticulous records of today’s catch. But the figures are definitely not his. He doesn’t even know how old his mother is, who filled the smoking ovens with the first loads in the morning – and is five years off the estimate. But in her favour.

I can’t be anything but a fisherman,

he apologises.

And Mama Tiina comments:

Nature is just calling him. It’s like a dependence on the casino.

In view of the miles of beaches, which are quite lonely even in summer, you can somehow understand that.

On to Hiiumaa

Hiiumaa | Source: Wikipedia

The autumnal island hopping in Estonia now leads to the second largest island, Hiiumaa. The ferry purrs quietly ahead. Sometimes the sea has a colouring as if someone had mixed sea grass with melted silver and lead. The passenger deck offers numerous sockets for mobile phones and laptops, typical for the Baltic country.

Hardly any of the locals on Hiiumaa lock their houses and cars. They know each other, they trust each other. And one reluctantly remembers the Soviet era, which ended with independence in 1990/91. There were patrols behind Törvanina beach, and the remains of houses and bunkers on the road to Tahkuna lighthouse are falling apart. The world wars have also left their mark.

At the edge of the lake near the lighthouse, which was produced in Paris in 1875 and delivered in parts, the wind cuts into the face and drives through bushes with rose hips. In the background: rain curtains.

Silence on the headland

Hiiumaa is full of firs, pines, oaks, chestnuts, mushrooms, cranberries and cranberries. In the village of Vaemla is the only family-owned sheep’s wool factory on the island. The parents of Mihkel Valdma, 44, founded the business right after the end of the Soviet era.

Mihkel was a photographer, now he is master of a prehistoric park of machines.

They come from Poland and are 120 years old,

he explains.

It rattles and vibrates. The air smells of oil. Mihkel occasionally goes outside in his T-shirt, although the thermometer only shows six degrees. That doesn’t bother a pithy Estonian.

A dam takes you south to the island of Kassari. The bay of Käina in between is a habitat for white-tailed eagles, cormorants, grey herons and marsh harriers. The small Linnuvaatlustorn tower provides a panoramic view. Next stops are the harbour dwarf Orjaku, the Kassari chapel with its thatched roof and the Sääretirp peninsula, which protrudes into the sea like a bent needle.

There, a hiking trail starts from the car park, passing grass and juniper bushes. The peaceful atmosphere is underlined by the screeching of seagulls. The visitor becomes calm in this place and feels the poetry of the moment, far from stimulus satiation.

by Andreas Drouve, dpa

The Baltic Review
The independent newspaper from the Baltics - for the World!

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