It was a rainy morning, when we finally reached Virtsu harbour on our way to Saaremaa island. There was an hour and half until our ferry, so we got ourselves hot coffee at a local cafe. It’s going to be an awesome weekend, I thought. Already it was starting out pretty well – almost no traffic, beautiful landscapes, nice smooth roads. Ferry ride to Muhu island was going to take about 30 minutes, price: 8,40€ for the car and 3€/person. In fact it was really quick ride, just enough to have a quick walk through the small vessel. They do offer some snacks, in case somebody is hungry.
Driving to Kuressaare Saaremaa
The road from Kuivastu (Muhu island) to the dam and then through Saaremaa was surprisingly smooth and many locals exceeded speed (to our surprise). Saaremaa is quite a windy island, so you won’t find many high trees growing there. It is actually famous for it’s junipers – they even make souvenirs from them. We did see some on the way. It’s warmer too – when the rest of Estonia is covered with snow, islanders enjoy sunny moments. Also, on Muhu island there is mustard manufacturing farm called Pädaste. They are quite famous and their mustard has many different flavors – delicious!
Kuressaare aka Arensburg
We finally made it to Kuressaare – the capital and biggest town in Saaremaa. It’s very pretty, our visit was just before Christmas and the streets were nicely decorated. Even though there was no snow, it was like a fairy tale. The town itself is pretty old – first time appeared on the maps in 1154. Originally it was called Arensburg. It was built around the castle, which has been restorated and today houses the Saaremaa Regional Museum.
Walking in Kuressaare
The best way to spend time in Kuressaare is to take a walk in the old town and in the park around castle. Situated right on the Baltic Sea coast, this amazing and impressive fortress is a powerful symbol of how strong the Church once was. Today, visitors and locals have a chance to enjoy this wonderful town. SPA holidays have become popular over the last decade, most of SPA hotels can be found along the beach line.
Where to stay?
The choice of hotels is not too bad – around hundred accommodation options from budget home-stays to luxury boutique hotels. It can get a bit crowded in summer months due to high number of visitors from neighboring countries. We went in December and got a great deal at Arensburg Boutique Hotel&Spa – 60€ per night. Mentioned hotel has received some great ratings and is highly recommended by travelers (8.7/10). If visiting off-season, SPA is probably the best option, as apart from visiting the castle there isn’t much to do and the weather is unstable in winter months. Most SPA hotels have nice indoor pools, saunas and gyms. Most bigger one’s have massage possibility too and other body treatments.
Kuressaare castle has been renovated and today is a well preserved, easy to walk around and offers some really interesting exhibitions to it’s visitors. Their current exhibition displays the history of the island throughout centuries. Interesting fact – during Soviet times only locals and border patrol could visit the island. Simple folk had to acquire an invitation to visit. The island was a border zone and was therefore patrolled and protected.
Our trip was rather short this time and we only had a chance to enjoy the hotel and visit the castle. Surely, there are more attractions to visit, especially in summer. Saaremaa has some great spots for hiking. The beaches are long and sandy – and empty! We left with an impression of having been to another country – that’s how it feels to spend a day and night in this incredible place. The time just doesn’t exist here – no rush, no cars, just quiet and fresh sea breeze.
Here is a video from our trip with a famous Saaremaa valss playing in the background. Notice the dam crossing from 00:40 – this is the 3km long dam connecting Muhu and Saaremaa islands. The ferry for mainland leaves from Muhu island. There is also a bit of Kuresaare town center from 03:15
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I volunteered in Saaremaa in 2005. Wonderful Island. Nice to see some pictures again of this lovely place