Trip through the manors and castles of Estonia

 You are about to enter the birthplace of Rentalmoose! So welcome to Estonia – the country with the cleanest air, greenest forests and well, I have to mention, with Nordic temperatures. 

 This leads me saying that the best time to plan a trip to Estonia will definitely be European summer (let’s say from May to September). Although we do have some pretty awesome winters if you like loads of snow and frosty minus degrees (in Celsius). 

 But this current road trip should preferably be done during summer because only then you can explore the beauty of the Estonian manors to the fullest. 

 There are so many manors in Estonia but during this trip I am going to lead you through the most famous ones, the ones that have managed to survive the bite of time (with renovation of course) and are again working as a restaurants, spas and hotels and welcoming the guests. 

 Other than that we have 414 preserved manors that are all worth seeing but even us, Estonians, haven’t managed to see all of those (with maybe some manor-enthusiasts exceptions). 

 This road trip will take you from our capital Tallinn to the East-Estonia (almost close to the Russian border!), then to the centre of Estonia, then driving West from there and again back to North – where our capital Tallinn, the most Northern city lies. 

 The total driving distance is 612km / 380mi and duration is about 8 hours. It’s perfect for a weekend getaway! I recommend to take 4 days for this trip so you could fully enjoy all the facilities different manors have to offer. When you just want to visit the manors without using the experiences then it’s possible to finish the road trip in 2-3 days as well.  

 Estonia – country where together with Rentalmoose also Skype and TransferWise are coming from – accepts most of the driving licenses in the world. Our airport (called Lennart Meri after our very loved second president, may he rest in peace) is in the capital city – Tallinn. And this is our first stop on this trip. You can take your rental car from the airport and drop it off at the same place. Find your suitable rental car for the journey from Rentalmoose options: LINK HERE

 Just in case to avoid any future misunderstandings don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app to take photos of the condition of the car when receiving it and before starting your journey and to qualify 50% of rebate from excess coverage. 

So let’s start the exciting journey on the trails of history!

1. Tallinn & Kadriorg Palace

The capital city Tallinn is the biggest city in Estonia, yet it’s still so small compared to other countries. The population in Estonia is 1,3 million and about 426,538 people live in Tallinn. 

 If you have more time in your hands then I definitely suggest to explore Tallinn as well. The old town is very lovely but tends to get crowded from tourists during summer. 

 Still it’s a great place to have a walk and a lunch on the terraces of the amazing restaurants that we have here! For example Ore or Asian restaurant Chedi just next to it. 

 When you decide to spend a night (or few) in Tallinn then best hotel options in the old town would be The Three Sisters Boutique Hotel and Telegraaf hotel. The newest hotel we have is Hilton but this is not in the old town, more like a modern glass building in a new city. Popular modern hotel option is also Swissotel

 The route I planned will take you also to Kadriorg, a very nice area in Tallinn with cute wooden houses. It’s quite fancy area I must say – even the Presidential Palace is there and there is no wonder – The Palaces and the park with the flowers and the ponds with swans swimming around are truly really gorgeous. 

 Kadriorg Palace is a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. Both the Estonian and the German name for the palace (and the area!) means “Catherine’s valley”. It’s located just next to the President Palace. So this will be our first manor stop. Nowadays the palace is a location for the art museum. Just a little walk from the palace there is a new, huge modern art museum called KUMU. Kumu is the headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia, as well as the largest and most impressive exhibition venue in Estonia. The venue has also been used to different events and even parties.

After spending the day in the old town and Kadriorg (both are the most expensive areas to live in Tallinn), you should put a new location to the GPS and take a direction to the East.

Next: Kadriorg Palace – Vihula manor (about 1 hour drive)

2. Vihula Manor

 There are actually 3 different great manors in the very small area here. The driving distance between these three are less than 10 minutes and exactly on the way, so you don’t have to turn away from your map route.

 The first one is called Palmse manor. They have a restaurant, a manor museum (with a ticket) and a guesthouse. 

 Another one is Sagadi manor – it has been said that Sagadi looks the most like a true manor in Estonia. They offer the same experiences as Palmse does.

 The third one is elegant Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa. It is renovated but still has the steep stairs, old original wooden floors and wide stone walls from the 16th century. But it also has all the modern luxuries one can wish for. 

 Vihula’s renovation has been the latest of the three, it has everything the other two offer but also a spa – a pool, sauna, massages and beauty treatments. So for these reasons I recommend visiting the first two and stay in the third one!

 They also have many activities you can enjoy in nature – like renting a boat for a little ride in their lakes or they can help you organise a picnic in the forests or playing minigolf. 

 Then there are museums and different workshops and they also have different tours – even one with a horse carriage to make you feel like living the real old manor life. 

 After these activities you can go swimming in the pool or use the sauna or treat yourself to a really luxurious massage or beauty treatment. A perfect end to the evening would be in their most beautiful restaurant, and if you’re lucky – with a live piano music. 

Next: Vihula manor – Saka manor (about 1 hour drive)

3. Saka manor 

 Ready to drive closer to the Russian border? Our next manor Saka is located on the East of Estonia. The manor was reopened in 2010, before that it was just being forgotten and deserted (as so many manors in Estonia still are, unfortunately). 

 The manor was bought by private owner who made a full renovation to it and opened it to the public. The bright white manor works as a hotel with wellness and spa areas.

  There is quite a lot to do here – play tennis or arrow games, walk in the 19th century manor park or have a picnic there. Or go hiking – the nature here is wonderful as the manor is located on the Northern-Estonian highest cliff (up to 55 metres). 

 There are also wild forests with many waterfalls closeby. A great lighted hiking trails will get you everywhere – these are also possible to ride through with a bike (available to rent from the manor). Below the cliff there is a wonderful white sand beach. 

 Before you could only see the beach from the cliffs as there were no stairs to get there but the new owner changed that. He let built a stairway that brought a high architectural award to its architect. 

 From Saka manor it’s about about 50 minutes drive to Estonian-Russian border and Estonian last city called Narva. This roadtrip won’t take you there as it will make you turn to the South instead. The trip to Narva is optional – you can actually see Russia from Narva – it’s just across the river (river being the border). Unfortunately you can’t visit Russia without a visa. 

Next: Saka manor – Mäetaguse manor (about 30 minutes drive)

4. Mäetaguse manor

 Mäetaguse manor is on the list because of the different interesting activities they offer. To fully enjoy them all, it’s good to stay here for the night. 

 They do have a hotel rooms, restaurant and spa but they also offer the options to play disc golf, a visit to the sauna (which can be turned into an enjoyable sauna ritual, combining a pleasant sauna and hot tub experience with skin exfoliation, nutrition, and moisturization. To do that, the special instructor will teach you in the private sauna how to make body scrubs and sauna masks from expedient means.), have a picnic on the bog on the bank of the Seli lake and a course to make dumplings – which has become Mäetaguse manor hotel’s most popular activity.

 It is up to you to decide the shape of dumplings you want to get, either with beef, potatoes or mushroom stuffing. The hotel has a very conveniently located nice handicrafts workshop right across the yard, where you can engage in a number of exciting handicrafts activities – in addition to making dumplings, there is a ceramics workshop, glass-making classes, sewing, and blacksmithing and carpentry workshops. You won’t feel boredom in that place, that’s for sure!

Next: Mäetaguse manor – Alatskivi castle (about 1 hour drive)

5. Alatskivi castle

Alatskivi castle is located in a 16th century manor house. This is the true fairytale castle! I mean – Disney castle would be jealous if it saw Alatskivi one. 

 Alatskivi has very classical wooden furniture in its rooms. By the way – if you want to feel like a real princess or king then book yourself a room at their tower! In just 200 metres there is a lake Alatskivi and in 3km / 1,8mi there is Estonian biggest lake – Peipus (Peipsi in estonian). It does look like a sea from the beaches there and the Russian border goes through the lake, so half of it actually belongs to Russia. 

The Alatskivi castle is located in the middle of The Onion Route. The Onion Route is in fact a chain of meandering villages on the shore of the Lake Peipus, inhabited both by Estonians and Russians living side by side, and which is famous for its rich cultural diversity and, yes you guessed right – for its very tasty onions. Read more about the activities in The Onion Route from HERE.

Next: Alatskivi castle – Põhjaka manor (about 1,5 hours drive)

6. Põhjaka manor

  Põhjaka manor is the one together with Kadriorg Palace that does not work as a hotel. The whole building still has the rustic feel to it. But this place does work as a restaurant – and one of the greatest in Estonia! 

 What they say about themselves: “When the three chefs Märt, Ott and Joel discovered Põhjaka Manor in the early spring of 2007, the building, dating back to the year 1820, was in a rather poor condition. 

 Windows and doors had been veneered and boarded up, half of the wood flooring was stolen, the fine stoves had been plundered and carried away.

 Despite all this, the chefs were convinced that the old manor would be a perfect place to open a restaurant. It took them three years to construct and renovate the building with their own hands. Sometimes friends came to help and so the manor was given the new shape as one can see today.

 The restaurant was opened in 2010. By now the chefs have proven to everyone (themselves included) that is it possible to prepare delicious food using nothing else but local Estonian raw material, being thus wholly dependent on seasons. 

 Therefore in the winter more filling meals are prepared, during summer time we serve lighter food – all the fresh and green that our fields and forests have to offer. 

 Not to mention the vast amounts of preserves that are stored in our cellar, so that the juices, compotes and jams could be enjoyed in the winter! Much game is used in our kitchen. By now we have our own garden and farm land, as well as a chicken coop. From this spring also four piglets can be heard oinking in the yard.”

So it’s definitely worth a visit for a great lunch! Notice that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Make yourself a favour and try their Napoleon cake aka Mille feuille – one of the best in the world!

Next: Põhjaka manor – Kau manor (about 30 minutes drive)

7. Kau manor

 Kau manor is one of the most special in Estonia. It belongs to the private owners and they have done a very different interior design from the other manors, it’s even kind of exotic and eclectic because most of the furnishings have been bought from the different corners of the world where the owners have travelled. 

 Kau is at once an art center, an academy, a pristine nature preserve, and a boutique hotel and restaurant. Just so you could explore more of this place, we suggest to spend a night here. 

 Every item in this manor has a story to tell and the hosts are more than happy to share these with you. Kau is the perfect retreat to enjoy nature, gastronomy and culture in their highest forms. 

Next: Kau manor – Laitse castle (about 1 hour drive)

8. Laitse castle

Laitse castle is not just a castle – but a knight’s castle, like the ones in the wide world. The story is the same as with most manors, it used to be full of life, everyone was welcome here – travellers, merchants, artisans and dandies from the city.

  There was food and drink for everyone, and beds to let the weary ones rest. Time passed, and the land was ravaged by great floods, conflagrations and wars. 

 Rulers changed and the stones of Laitse Castle started to crumble, its beams started to rot. Then one day, a court jester with his faithful wife happened to pass by. Two lover looking for a place to dream. 

 From the very first sight they fell in love with the castle, and decided to stay there. Under the stewardship of the new proprietors the appearance of the castle began to slowly restore itself. 

 And once again the castle welcomes all travellers, merchants, lovers, and other good people. The exuding romance and allure of Laitse castle make a unique and royal experience for the visitors. 

 This fairytale old castle offers a variety of activities for families, for those in love, for gourmands, for colleagues or for thrill seekers. Yes – for thrill seekers as the place hosts an evenings of murder mysteries. The evening with 4-course dinner and role play is like travelling in time – people wearing costumes from different eras. 

 There is a dinner party and happens a murder – everyone can find their inner Poirot to solve the murder mystery. People stay in roles the whole evening. 

 How the evening takes its course depends on the contribution of each participant. The game is run by experienced and clever game hosts. If you are travelling with a group then it’s possible to order the murder mystery game night just for your group. More information on this from their website HERE.

NB! When participating in the game night it’s recommended to stay in the hotel for the night as they also offer alcoholic drinks at the dinner and the evening will end late. 

NB2! If you wish to visit then there is another manor en route from Kau to Laitse. It’s called Saue manor and it also works as a hotel. 

Next: Laitse castle – Keila-Joa castle (about 30 minutes drive)

9. Keila-Joa castle

 Keila-Joa manor is the last manor on the road trip list and it’s one of the newest and trendiest of Estonian manors.  

 It’s name is Keila-Joa Schloss Fall and it’s also actually more like a castle. The extensive renovation on the Neo Gothic castle ended in 2013 and then it opened its doors to the public. 

The boutique hotel was opened just in 2016 – offering time-true and stylishly furnished luxury suites, an excellent restaurant and a winery with well-chosen wines. It also includes a fascinating museum where different exhibitions are displayed and many concerts and theatres are held. 

 Of course there is an elegant fine dining restaurant Cher Ami. “Cher Ami” aka “Dear Friend” – that is how all the letters between Tsar Nikolai I and the manor owner Alexander von Benckendorff begun and that is how the Keila-Joa Castle restaurant’s head chef invites the visitors to enjoy the exquisite flavours.

There are both guided tours or possibility to visit the manor or its museum separately. Of course for a small ticket price. But do check their website because on some dates the castle might be booked for events and be closed – the venue is popular for weddings and other big festivities. 

From Keila-Joa it’s only about 30 minutes drive to get back to Tallinn. 

Drop off

Arrived back in Tallinn you can drop your rental car off to Tallinn Airport. Tallinn doesn’t have many direct flights but there are good connecting flights through Helsinki and Riga. For best flight options I suggest to take a look at Skyscanner or Kayak

Conclusion

This route is great for history lovers as Estonian old town and all the manors and castles have so many different stories to tell as the walls of these buildings have seen a lot. It’s also great for people who enjoy different spa procedures and culinary experiences. This trip is good with kids as well as many manors offer lots of things to do in nature. 

For your perfect rental car for this trip look no further than Rentalmoose webpage: LINK HERE 

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