Europe's Best Kept Secret
A Tale of Two Tallinns. Charmingly Medieval and Amazingly Modern
To walk along the cobbled streets of Tallinn is to discover eastern Europe's best kept secret. Welcome to Estonia-- the tiny nation that could. Conquered and occupied time and again by Swedes, Germans and Russians, Estonia revels in its new found independence. This proud and fearless country sang itself to freedom from Communist rule twenty one years ago and it's here, in the capital city, that we began our journey.
Nestled in the historic center of medieval Old Town, the Schlossle Hotel is a perfect fit. (The word "Schlossle" means castle!) Boasting 13th century vaulted ceilings, elegant tapestries and a five-star rating, the hotel and its staff exemplify the utmost in hospitality. My cozy room, complete with "his" and "hers" down comforters, included a bathtub and radiant heated tiles which are always welcome amenities for weary travelers. After a classic Estonian breakfast, I was ready to join my friends for a day of sightseeing. Room rates start at 185€:
Hi Speed WiFi
Molton Brown Designer Toiletries
Courtyard Garden Dining
Puehavaimu Street 13/15
A Dose of Fairy Tale Charm
Tallinn, the oldest capital in Northern Europe, was built by the Danes in 1229. Thanks to its perfect location on the bay of Finland, Tallinn became a major trading point between East and West during the 15th century. Today, the ancient Old Town wall is mostly intact; dotted with guard towers. Close your eyes and picture a romantic, medieval city with the perfect mix of historic ambience and trendy, high-tech culture. Easily explored on foot, Tallinn's twisting lanes, Gothic spires, iron street lamps and fourteenth century architecture were a delight to behold. We walked the length of Pikk street up to the top of Toompea Hill to marvel at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the dominating landmark built by Tzar Alexander III. We entered the cathedral just in time for service and stood there in respectful awe while Russian worshippers lit candles and prayed silently.
Tallinn is truly one of the best preserved medieval town centers in Europe. So much so that UNESCO has added it to the World Heritage List. We ducked into a charming coffee house in Town Hall Square for a cappuccino and delicious apple cake. And guess what? In this technologically advanced country, free WiFi is a human right--you'll have access to the internet almost everywhere you go. How's that for cutting edge?
Tallinn TV Tower
We opted for a morning cycling tour of Kadriorg Palace and a scenic ride along the seashore. We pedaled through peaceful woods and onward to the fully renovated and recently re-opened Tallinn TV Tower. Our guide recounted the story of a handful of radio operators whom, in 1991, risked their lives to protect the free media of the reborn Republic of Estonia. They did so by placing a matchbox between the elevator door and frame in such a manner that the elevator wouldn't work, forcing Soviet troops to climb every one of approximately 1,000 tower steps. Another great secret: 170 meters in the air, Chef Pritt Toomits, one of Estonia's most talented chefs, runs an amazing brasserie. We were seated at a table adjacent to the observation deck that overlooked the entire city. Our gourmet lunch began with a decadent slab of foie gras presented with apple chutney and a garnish of blue cornflowers. Wow...Creamy elk stew and local veggies followed so I barely managed more than two forkfuls of my warm chocolate cake. Needless to say, lunch was just as spectacular as the stunning views below.
Dinner at Nano House
After a tour of the KGB museum atop the famous Viru Hotel, we enjoyed a bottle of wine downstairs in the Schlossle's super chic lounge before walking down the street for our supper. Nano House is a quaint, adorable abode and its uber-talented owners live upstairs. The shamanistic psychedelic decor mixes seamlessly with high fashion elements in this nirvana of taste, smells and sensations. Beatrice, a blonde Estonian beauty, explained that the word "nano" means "little" in Italian. Beatrice worked in New York City's restaurant world before staking claim to her fashion career so she and hubby Priit share all the various duties of running both dining room and kitchen. Priit single-handedly tended to our table (a party of ten) pouring vodka and serving antique bowls filled with ruby red borscht. We devoured warm fresh bread and butter while we munched on an elegantly prepared salad of field greens and local veggies. Then, hand painted platters bearing chicken paprikash arrived. Sensational. Dining at Nano House is like visiting ....