Tartu also makes a terrific base for exploring the surrounding countryside: crystal clear lakes, meandering rivers, thick forests, boggy wetlands and pristine nature reserves. Lahemaa National Park boasts verdant woods, lush meadows, and an abundance of trails, which are wonderful for walking, bird watching and horse riding. Haanja and Karula National Parks are also popular, while Lake Peipsi, one of Europe’s largest, draws locals for its sandy beaches, swimming, boating and fishing. South of Tartu, hilltop Otepää, which means ‘bear’s head’ – is a popular base for hiking in summer, although it’s best known as Estonia’s winter capital, with plenty of opportunities for skiing, especially cross country, snow shoeing and ice fishing.
Whatever you do, you need to do as the locals do and finish the day with a smoky Estonian sauna followed by a dip in an icy lake.