Estonia has become one of the top countries for weekend spa getaways, good for families or couples, or friends! Recently I had the opportunity to explore spa weekend in Estonian Hiiumaa island, away from the crowds and in the atmosphere of a private boutique hotel environment, outside of the large hotels.
If you arrive to Hiiumaa by ferry, from mainland Estonia (Rohukula-Heltermaa route) the cost for two adults and a car is 16.80 one way.
Coming from Saaremaa island (Soru-Triigi route), cost for two adults and a car is 14.40 one way.
Huusi Holiday & Spa – from 80 eur for two per night, not far from Kardla, with private spa and breakfast included.
Alternative is Hõbekala Guesthouse from 60 eur for two, with breakfast, in the furthest part of the island.
Good meals are surprisingly affordable in Hiiumaa! Second dish in Roograhu or Wabrik Pub starts from roughly 6 euros. Both of these places are open all year around, but me mindful of the closing time, Roograhu works until 18:00, Wabrik Pub 23:00.
Hiiumaa Museum entrance fee is 2.50 eur for adult.
Kõpu Lighthouse costs 2 euros for adult.
Hiiu Vill wool manufacturing is free.
Day 1 Riga-Hiiumaa
Although it was raining nearly all way through the drive from Riga, when we are nearly at the ferry, an incredible rainbow appears on the field. We get so carried away taking pictures of it that we almost miss the boat! Luckily, it wasn’t far, so we still manage to get to the port on time, and board the ferry at sunset.
Missing ferry off-season is not a good idea, as they only go once every three hours, and between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa only twice a day. In summer, of course, the connection is a bit better, but then I would recommend to book tickets online in advance, as it gets more crowded. The ferry ride takes about an hour and is very nice – the ship is brand new, and there is a cafe that serves hot meals on board.
Hotel and Dinner
When we get to our guesthouse, Huusi Holiday and Spa, we are pleasantly surprised! The first feeling is that we are visiting our good friends and not staying at a hotel, as every little detail is like at home – teapot, fancy soda, slippers, picnic basket, bathrobes and even a little note and gift basket welcoming us personally!
The owners, Kristina and Reino show us around, and we are especially impressed by the private spa with the big jacuzzi bathtub and sauna, all to be enjoyed on our own with no other visitors. You can even book a massage or mani-pedi here! We decide to enjoy the spa after the meal.
Next we head to the center of Kardla – Wabrik Pubi – one of the few locations open on the island in winter at this hour. It is possible to take brewery tour here as well, but that we leave for the next day. Our mission for the evening is eat plenty of good food and enjoy ourselves! The serving sizes are huge and are very good value – main courses start from roughly 6 euros and portions remind me of those in USA!
When we finally get back to guesthouse, we don’t have any energy left, so we decide to indulge in the spa on the next day. We agree on the breakfast time, owners wish us good night and we head to bed. The sky seems crystal clear, with so many stars around us! I don’t remember the last time being in such a remote place where sky is so clear and there are no lights from the city.
Day 2 Hiiumaa: Kardla, tourism information center, Kõpu lighthouse, Kaleste hiking trail
Breakfast at Huusi Holiday & Spa and Visiting the Information Center
We wake up and soon after hear knock at the door – breakfast in bed is here! I must admit that this is the second time ever I have had breakfast in bed, first was after our wedding in Seychelles (and we opted to have it on the terrace in the end). Here it’s the real deal, in bed, on a tray and everything we may want – a good selection of foods – eggs, bacon, nice traditional Estonian dark bread, salad, oat cookies and fruit. Plenty to get us started for the day!
After the meal we head out to Kardla tourism center, to find out more about the must-see objects on island and pick up Douglas Well’s book “Lighthouse tour”, which has all the needed information to have a self-guided tour of the island! Visiting the tourism center is a good opportunity to learn more about the place and find out interesting information tidbits. Turns out that Hiiumaa is the new “it” in Estonia, as many people are starting to move there! One of the ladies has grown up in Tallinn and moved to Hiiumaa only 10 years ago, and island provides much needed rest from the busy city life. Information center is also good place for buying souvenirs – there is an amazing selection here, and all items are made locally! Unusual jewelry (made from animal bones and feathers!), clay brooches and quite a few really tasty souvenirs too!
Officially nine thousand people live on the island, but we are told that realistically only about six thousand stay all year long. Most of the visitors (there are about hundred thousand a year) come from Finland, Germany and mainland Estonia. Even in summer your can be all by yourself on the beach! The lower part of the island, where the water is shallow, is especially good in summer for swimming, as even the cold Baltic sea warms up to 18-21C! Hiiumaa is very popular among kite surfers, as it is always windy here, and you can go stand up paddleboarding too. Turns out, our guesthouse owners provide training for these! One of the best ways to explore the island is take an “active” package too, every day trying a new type of active sports on the island! Bicycles are popular on Hiiumaa as well, and there have never been any bike related accidents!
Quiet 10 Months a Year
Hiiumaa was inhabitet as early as 5 AD, seal hunters made resting stops on the island. The territory used to be part of Sweden, known as Dago island. When Russian Empire took it over in the 18th century, Swedish people moved away, leaving the first cross and the beginning of Hill of Crosses on this island. But it has been inhabited by Estonians for the last 2-3 centuries.
The tourism season lasts only two and a half months, so during the rest of the year you can really feel peace and quiet. You are almost more likely to see a fox running by the road that another car passing! Hiiumaa is the most densely forested area in Estonia, so no wonder! It also has a lot of history remaining from the wars – bunkers, trenches and military museum deep in the forest. But what surprises me that even roads further from private houses and villages are paved! Locals drive very safely, you will rarely see someone driving 90 km/h even on the large roads. In the evening, when we stop at the largest supermarket “Selver”, there are maybe five cars in the parking lot, although there seems to be room for a hundred. We even learnt that people customarily leave the cars running in winter and don’t lock the doors on the houses! Where else in the modern day is this possible?
Our next stop is brewery at Wabrik Pubi. The tour is lead by a guy from Moscow, once more confirming the raising popularity of the island. He is learning Estonian, so for now tours are in English or Russian. He first thing he asks us is – “Have you eat any dairy this morning?” We are puzzled, as we had only some butter on bread, why does he ask? Turns out, it is not recommended to drink fermented dairy drinks before entering the brewery, as the microorganisms responsible for fermentation are very sticky and cling even to clothing. So we are all good and all we need to do is put on the shoe covers and head inside. There are no employees inside as it is break time, but our guide does check some equipment to be sure everything is running smoothly. We learn about the beer making process, including information about chemical reactions occurring! Hiiumaa is famous for right kind of mineral mixture in the water that allows for some really tasty beer. Brewery tours are getting more popular in all parts of the world and Hiiumaa is not an exception, in summer busloads of people now come to visit!
The days are short and we start getting really pressed for time, when we reach Kõpu lighthouse. So many interesting places on the island, where to go, what to see? Kõpu is the third oldest continuously running lighthouse in the world and is the main symbol of Hiiumaa! As the lighthouse is at the top of a hill, the lighthouse bulb is at 102.6 m, and is the highest around Baltic sea.
The lighthouse was built in 1531. Locals at the time were not too happy that it was built, as they used to loot the wrecked ships! You can see medieval influence in lighthouse architecture, especially the “skirt” part of it. Because of the skirt it is also very heavy, estimated to be 12 tonnes!
In 1939 the lighthouse was renovated, but someone chose the wrong kind of paint that resulted in too much moisture accumulating in the limestone structures and it nearly collapsed and had to be renovated numerous times in the last 50 years! Officially lighthouse is only open to visitors in summer time, but you can either see it from the road just passing by, or, if travelling in a group, contact the owners in advance and ask for it to be opened especially for you.
Climbing up the narrow staircase to the top (it was only cut out in the 19th century, previously only outer stairs existed), makes me wonder. Such a history building and so little people know about it! There are nice exhibits at the top about the history of Baltic sea lighthouses and how they should be protected as historic objects despite the little use in modern age. Lighthouses were such an integral part of the sea that further generations should be able to see them.
Catch of the Day
We have agreed on a lunch in advance at Hõbekala Guesthouse. While we are driving around and cramming in more sights before we eat, worrying the light will change later, we get a message on our phone – “you drove right past us, get back!” How did the owners know it was us? Soon we learn the answer! While we were eating, we don’t see a single car drive by in an hour, so this explains how our car was immediately notice! Unfamiliar car with Latvian plates is not something you see in this part of the island every other minute!
The meal is excellent – we have some really tasty potato puree with fried fish and cheesecake for dessert, a really good home cooked meal! The fish was caught the previous day by the owners husband, who is a fisherman! Apart from the guesthouse the owners also ave their own small production line of marinated herring! The fish was so good that when we opened the jar at home, we regretted not having bought more of it.
But what did we see while we were driving by and past Hõbekala? One was Ristna lighthouse nearby, but it was closed for visitors off season as well. It was still worth to drive further in, as right next to it is Surf Paradiis, a windy, broad beach just perfect for active sports! Bright sun and dark sea make us feel as we are somewhere in the Nordics!
Next we head to Kaleste hiking trail, where we see a nice campsite and a magnificent forest covered in moss. This is the location for coming back in summer with a tent! We stop for a brief moment – should we stay here for the sunset or still explore a bit more of the island, as the day is disappearing? In the end we head to Kalana port, and have a really windy, but also nice sunset near the small pine trees at the beach.
Our last object for the day is Tahkuna lighthouse, highest in Estonia, 42.7 m. This location is good for stargazing (if there is high solar activity, also Northern Lights can be seen here). This is at the top of the island, so it is again very, very windy hear, so soon we go back to the car. Good shoes and warm clothing are a must when visiting Hiiumaa off season!
Driving through the forest back, we see a raccoon dog and remember how ladies at the tourism center told us that every kind of Estonian animal lives on the island, except for bear, and they have even seen lynx! Probably lynx saw us, but we didn’t see any of them.
Finally we reach Huusi and are ready to enjoy the spa! Turns out, this is the very first spa on the island! The sauna is ready in 20 minutes, we have a really relaxing evening in the bathtub, reminiscing what we have seen and drinking the tasty berry lemonade made by the owner. It is such a bliss to get back in bed in the evening! Staying so many nights per year in hotels I can appreciate how comfortable this place is!
Day 3 – Tahkuna once more, wool manufacture, Kassari and off to Saaremaa
We decide to wake up early. As much as we want to laze around in bed, we also want to see Tahkuna lighthouse once more, for the sunrise. Now, in light we see that the fence around it is being renovated, so we also see the old “head” of the lighthouse right next to it. Wwith the light we also see the monument for the tragic “Estonia”, one of the worst 20th century maritime disasters, as this is the closest spot in the country to the location of the accident.
We drive back to Kardla taking a different route, near the coast, seeing the military structures remaining here from the war. Bunkers, trenches, soviet symbolics drawn in fresh red paint. The forest is quiet and eerie here.
Next is the Kardla museum, and we are lucky as the guide is available for a short tour! We hear more about the history of the island. Turns out, Hiiumaa is one of the “most Estonian” places in whole Estonia, as it used to be very isolated during Soviet times (back then people needed a special permit to enter the island), and there were not many settlers from mainland Russia. Even in schools were only Estonian, which was not typical for the time.
After the tour it’s time to head back the guesthouse. We have yet another hearty breakfast, say goodbye to the owners and head to the lower part of the island! If you would like to book a stay here, contact the owners on Facebook or reserve through Booking!
Hiiu Vill and Kassari
We take our drive further slowly, stopping at every field and alley to take pictures. The green fields in Hiiumaa remind me of those seen in Northern Ireland or Scotland, and sheep fit in the scenery organically! so takes us a while to get to Hiiu Vill, the wool production site of the island. We see 120 year old machines still up and running. Sheep wool is transformed into nice yarn! Inside the building it smells like wet sheep, and it is a bit loud too, but very interesting too, we get to ask questions about how the process works and see brown wool from brown sheep on the machine being transformed. You can also buy plenty of warm clothing here as a souvenir!
As we continue driving further down, we come closer to a special natural habitat, Kassari. Estonian fields have some very special alvar meadows. Those are meadows where a really thin layer of soil is settled above limestone, semi-natural in origin, having formed in the thousands of years of humans and nature coexisting. Estonia used to have a third of all worlds alvar meadows, but from 43 ha in the thirties it is down to 9 ha nowadays. Now they are protected, and some of the many juniper trees need to be cut down, otherwise biological diversity is declining. It seems so odd that junipers are proactively cut down this way! In my own country there are not that many of them, and I have heard it takes a really long time for them to grow, but now I understand where all the juniper wood souvenirs come from on the islands!
When we reach Kassari, we see what others meant by this place being bird paradise, in the shallow waters around the island (only about 50 cm deep), there can be even 10 thousand birds during migration! In late autumn-early winter we see mostly swans and herons, but binoculars is a must if you visit in spring, and do climb up the bird tower!
From Kassari, a long strip of land stretches into the sea, Saaretirp, and the legend says it was an unfinished bridge to Saaremaa built by local hero Leiger. You can walk to the very tip, and this is again a place of peace and quiet, the real signature feeling on the island. We again see a fox right next to us and it only runs away when we come up close!
We drop our last postcards in a post box near the shop, see the renovated Harju-Ratsepa windmill and soon are in Soru port, having passed by hundreds of birds at the shore.
It is so windy at the port that for a moment we are afraid ferries might not sail in such weather conditions, but more and more cars show up at the parking lot and we are hopeful. We wait in line to board the ferry, first it’s those who have a ticket, then everyone else. The salty waves are splashing on the car, and we are worried again – will there be enough space for us, as there are so many cars? But there is enough space for everyone. We buy tickets at the ferry shop and enjoy a little bit bumpy road, but feeling safe, as the ferry is new and well taken care of. Soon we learn that other people must have turned off the motion sensors in their cars, but not us, so it keeps switching on, so in the end I decide to sit in the car while Jekabs explores the ferry! But the time is good to finish a book I have started on the way there.
Two days in Hiiumaa have passed quickly, and it really seems we must return to this island to enjoy some more nature, and this time with a bicycle!