On top of Tallinn
I’d been asked this question too many times to count.
And the truth was… I didn’t really know. My mother-in-law was in town and we had an opportunity to get out of London for a couple of nights without the kids. It was Winter so we wanted to go somewhere that ‘does Winter well’. Tallinn seemed more affordable than Copenhagen and we’d heard great things about its cutting-edge food scene and traditional sauna culture.
It turns out Tallinn also boasts one of the best preserved old towns in Europe. Not only that, it’s one of the world’s emerging technology hubs, apparently dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe.
We arrived to a cloak of whiteness. Snow. Falling thick and fast. We took the obligatory tourist snaps then headed for Telliskivi Creative City, where we’d booked lunch at F-Hoone. This is an old Soviet factory that has been transformed into a series of indie shops and boutiques as well as hip cafes and arty start-ups. I ordered duck breast in a cherry red wine sauce with a parmesan-millet cake while my hubby had mutton dumplings in mushroom sauce. It was exquisite - throw in a couple of Estonian beers and the bill had us gobsmacked. A grand total of 20 GBP - about the same amount we’d spent on a crappy airport breakfast at Gatwick.
Not quite willing to 'walk off' our meal in the snow storm, we instead opted to ‘sweat it off’. We’d pre-booked a rooftop sauna where we had a room the size of our London flat all to ourselves - complete with a plunge pool, sauna, balcony - and 180 degree views of the city. After two hours of sauna-snow-swim repeat, we headed into the old town where we checked into our room at the Schlossle Hotel, an 800 year-old building where the hygge factor is next level. We ubered out of town for dinner on the Baltic coast and the most amazing beef carpaccio ever to grace my lips (Noa).
The old town is strikingly different to the typical Soviet style of its outskirts - the buildings are painted in bright colours, separated by medieval alleyways, gothic churches and cobbled streets. You can see it in all its glory from the top of Toompea Hill and after a fresh dusting of snow, the view is particularly exceptional. There’s one too many tourist shops around here though - instead we loved Allikamaja Kasitoo for its unique collection of interior design ideas and Deko for jewellery and other accessories.
After a fabulous sauerkraut soup in pork broth at Rataskaevu 16 our sweet, wonderful waitress served our coffee with a schnapps chaser on the house. Bright orange, it’s made from sea buckthorn, a super berry, rich in vitamin C, that grows in nearby forests. Dinner was a little more ex-y at Art Priori, a restaurant/art gallery serving up Estonian cheeses with house-made honey and breads, along with currant/ beetroot sorbet and porcini-flavoured ice cream. This was a fabulous find - a quirky experience made even more unique by a private tour of their art gallery upon finishing our meal.
Truly embracing the Estonian spa-in-the-snow experience, I booked myself in for a hot stone massage at the end of yet another sauna. After scrubbing off all the grime of London (plus a couple of layers of red, raw skin) with an exfoliating glove, I had huge expectations of achieving a state of absolute, total relaxation but within the first two minutes of some very vigorous pummelling, I realised pretty quickly how dangerously I'd strayed from reality. There would be no drifting off to sleep here; no drooling onto my arm or half-snoring… instead my eyes would be very much wide open, my face fixed into some kind of permanent grimace as I was bent into different positions, my joints cracked and twisted. At first, I let pride get in the way of yelping out in agony but even when I eventually succumbed to several shrieks in quick succession, the tall, blonde Nordic woman towering above me didn’t stop. ‘I know, I know’ she said, pinning my arms down firmly, “it will be worth it”. The hot stones followed. And hot is an understatement. I was absolutely convinced they’d give me third degree burns. But after a while, my Nordic friend was right - I came around… and my body was better off for it. My shoulders were actually lower than my ears for the first time in a long time and I felt like floating. If only that was possible after all the food I’d inhaled here.