Even today, the Baltic region is an insider tip for cyclists among insiders. It combines the comfortable advantages of Europe with the adventurous flair of the wild East. It gives the euro as a convenient means of payment, you can pay anywhere with credit cards and enjoy the virtues of democracy, for which the Baltic people have repeatedly fought very hard to the death. It was not until the beginning of the 90s that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were allowed to decouple from the Soviet Union as indepen- dent states and join the EU. In my view, Estonia today can be described as the most modern of the three Baltic EU countries. There is free Wi-Fi everywhere, Internet technologies such as Skype have been invented in Estonia, many people have the free market economy brought a clearly visible, social upswing. There are also traditional values that are actively practiced: language, clothing, food, craft, music, lifestyle, etc. ... The mix of tradition and Western values is pleasing to tourists, as overall Estonia has a fairly relaxed, Nordic people. Four years ago we were in Lithuania at the Curonian Spit and found that it looked significantly poorer.
But in turn: Our journey begins with a two-day stay in Finland's capital > Helsinki, After a two-day cruise on the Baltic Sea we arrive there with a big ferry. Helsinki has many architectural highlights from Classicism and Art Nouveau. The city is incredibly clean and looks very well organized. Good design is part of life and is culturally firmly established in society. The people here are very friendly and consider each other on the street. All highlights are within walking distance, even public rental bicycles can be borrowed after registration on the Internet for a small fee. The highlight: Estonia's capital Tallinn is only 80 km away from Helsinki, in between lies the Gulf of Finland. So you can commute via ferry comfortably between two capitals several times a day.
After two sunny summers in Helsinki at the end of May 2016 we will transfer to Estonia, spend the night on board in the port of Tallin and drive the next morning by bus and ferry south to Kuressaare on the island > Saaremaa, a green paradise for nature lovers. Here we stay for about a week and borrow bicycles. Saaremaa is the fourth largest Baltic island and the largest island in Estonia. The exposed location and only 36.000 inhabitants left the island its original charm until today. Until the beginning of the 90s, only the Russian military was allowed to enter the island in modern times.
Bike rental on the Estonian island of Saareema
Estonia by bike on Saaremaa means almost car-free roads and at least in part a very comfortable, illuminated cycle path that runs in sections over the almost deserted island. Unfortunately, nowhere is documented where the two-lane cycle path A1 on Saaremaa already exists and where you still have to drive on gravel roads, because often only the main roads are asphalted. The "Go Vista" guide therefore recommends mountain bikes, but they are all on loan. There is only one real bike shop called Kuressaare > Bivarix, Everything else is rental bikes from hotels at utopian prices of 20, - EUR per day, for which you almost get a rental car.
We learn: Rental bicycles are clearly in short supply in Saaremaa at the end of May. At Bivarix we get simple standard wheels with 5 gears for 9, - EUR per day. To discover Estonia by bike means for us to get along with "simple material", as in > RomaniaMy bike moves to the left, my partner's bike always loses some air from the rear tire overnight. But what the hell? - For the sun shines until the deep evening hours at 24 degrees and a cooling breeze. The nights at the end of May are surprisingly short. Already at 4.15 clock it gets light, sunset is only against 23.00 clock. But it is not really dark. The Estonians therefore speak of "white nights" at this time of the year. Light is not needed at the end of May on a bicycle in Estonia.
The national road 10 to Kuressaare is the main traffic artery of the island. It should therefore be avoided by bicycle. Everything else is fine for cyclists: Southwest of > Kuressaare The 77 (extension of the N10 towards Nasva) and all other side roads can be very well traveled by bike. Every few minutes comes a car, on side roads you are almost alone on the road.
Cycling in Estonia
The Estonian motorists usually overtake cyclists with due distance really considerate. On the gravel roads, there is the classic corrugated iron pavement, which is still reasonably good to drive on normal wheels (no racing bikes!). However, any car becomes a dusty business for the cyclist. Then there are the small forest roads in Estonia, which can not be driven by motor vehicles, but by bike. They lead on humpy slopes through forests in nature reserves or to the beach on Saaremaa. Here one wishes for a mountain bike. Right on the first tour I saw a very big, brown animal crossing our piste in 100 meters distance. A deer, a deer or a moose ... I'll never know, because it just went too fast in the truest sense of the word.
Estonia's flora and fauna can certainly be explored very well by bike. Alone, because as a cyclist, you can often travel alone on your own. On the road I have hardly seen any animals crossed - just a little snake. This is certainly due to the low traffic density, but also the background noise of traffic does not exist here: every single vehicle is still noticeable. However, the language is extremely difficult: You can not read Estonian or understand it in any way. For this, almost younger people speak good English. Incidentally, the somewhat older pharmacist could not speak a single word EN, FR, or ES.
In almost every village you can self-supply in small shops as cyclists or hikers. Vegetables are very reasonably priced, the water in many hotels and apartments is drinkable, Estonian beers do not taste bad, the customary cider is extremely delicious. If you want to try an Eastern European specialty, you should try the pitch-black bread drink Kali (Russian: kvass). This contains only a touch of alcohol, but many minerals and vitamins. After cycling slightly cooled just right - at least I found. It tastes like dark beer, but a bit sourer and slightly more like bread. In Russia, you can buy iconic kvass on the street from ancient tank cars.
On the Estonian bike paths you will meet a few racing cyclists who, of course, love the rare, slippery asphalt here. The normal roads are asphalted a bit rougher than in Germany. Otherwise you hardly meet people on the way. Saaremaa is one of the quietest places I've ever been in my life. Here they still exist: silence without civilization sounds, interrupted only by the song of the birds and the wind. Saaremaa is not only for cyclists a green oasis of peace in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Further tips for cycling in Estonia can be found in the > Cycling trip wiki.
Of course you can swim on Estonia's islands next to cycling or hiking very well. Swimming in the smooth, flat Baltic Sea, however, is more like swimming in a shallow lake than in a sea. The salt content of the fairly cold water is very low, as hardly any water evaporates due to the severe winters. In the brackish water only certain sea creatures feel well. The rest of the Baltic Sea is unfortunately pretty empty fished. Meanwhile, there are seasonal fishing bans with measurable success, so that the fish populations can recover. The last two days of our trip we spend in Tallinn without a bike.
The medieval capital of Estonia is a World Heritage Site. From the water from Helsinki it looks like a dreamy fairy tale castle. From the inside, Tallinn turns out to be a tourist attraction. With so many visitors I lack something in the ancient city something the authenticity. Due to the coarse cobblestone you can not go well with the bike here. In addition to the crowds, countless restaurants, pubs, stalls, far too many cars and concert stages characterize the cityscape. The city is really worth seeing, but not by bike ... and it's not like Helsinki at all!
Apart from Tallinn, cycling takes you through lush, green meadows, which are often uncultivated by the sparsely populated moor landscape. In contrast to the German Laubbläsern and Kärcher people, the Este proves all his skills in mowing extremely short green section around their own four walls with the brushcutter, which is lovingly guided for hours by hand. Nevertheless, the cyclist, for example, in Saareema with his bike is relatively bad on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Even though the forests are lower than here: nature is still untouched and wild here.
Motorcycle team on Kihnu
The fishing women on the small, Estonian island are a real celebrity > Kihnu brought: They do not cycle, but with old Russian Motorradgespannen like Ural, Dnepr or Izh over the island. With colorful headscarf and skirt instead of helmet and driver's license. But with good screwdriver skills, which require over 50 years old motorcycles. When a police patrol approaches the island, the ferryman warns the motorcyclists in good time. The old teams quickly disappear from the streets. How small the island is, you can see in this > 360 degree view.
The image of the fisher women wearing headscarves and skirts on the Ural motorcycles has been exploited so much in marketing and press that the traditional Estonian bikers are immediately annoyed by any tourist who only puts the word "motorcycle" in their mouths. The motorbikes are just an all-terrain vehicle for fishermen and farmer wives who can help their men fish or carry their children and can not afford an all-terrain car. Even in winter, they drive with studded tires over the ice sheets of the frozen lake and find this not at all spectacular, but practical. They just want it to stay that way and leave it alone. There are two very interesting Youtube videos:
Estonia cycling tours starting from Kuressaare
Kuressaare - Kaugatoma - Kuressaare about 45 km
View Estonia Bike Tour in Google Maps
The bike tour leads from Kuressaare partly over the developed bike path A1 south over the N77 to the narrowest part of the island. Driving through Estonian green forests, past a designated nature reserve, you can visit the war memorial in Tehumardi, where one of the bloodiest > Battles of the Second World War occurred (almost unimaginable in this peaceful environment) and turns into an 2 km long gravel road in Läätsa that leads to the other side of the island. Out of curiosity, we made two worthwhile detours to the beach on the outward journey. There are almost 50 km to and from Kuressaare. On the way there is only a small shop and a sidewalk café - by the way, with edible coffee. You're almost alone on this route.
Kuressaare - Upa - Mustla - Kaali meteorite crater approx. 40 km
View Estonia Bike Tour in Google Maps
From Kuressaare you drive on the bike path on the almost car-free road to Upa and then turn in Mustla on a gravel road to the Kaali craters. The main crater formed by a meteorite impact consists of an approx. 50 meter buried ground with an 16 meter high earth wall. The > Kaali crater have probably originated before 4000 years and are considered a major attraction in Estonia.
Tips for cycling in Estonia
- Estonia's best season for cyclists and hikers is from May to September, but in June it rains a lot
- The winter can be quite severe due to the northern location, in midsummer the temperature rises partly to 30 ° degree through the Russian continental climate
- There are hardly any mountains, but the wind direction is undefined and likes to turn. Round trip can therefore mean strong headwind
- Good rental bikes are scarce in Estonia (at least on Saaremaa). If you want to drive a lot, you should bring your own bike
- Saaremaa and Muhu have optimal island sizes for ambitious cyclists
- It is in Estonia, the zero per thousand limit - of course, for cyclists
- There is a small self-catering shop in almost every village
- It is best to bring the kit and universal air pump with you. Many gas stations are unoccupied and sometimes have no tire filling machines. Large supermarkets do NOT necessarily carry hose and air pump in the assortment.
- By Estonia's unpaved roads are best suited for bicycles with wide tires, pure racing bikes are almost unsuitable
- The side streets are often deserted, the main traffic arteries should be avoided as a cyclist despite considerate motorists
- Helmet, safety vest and rain gear make sense for frequent travelers
- On Saaremaa on the coast we had hardly any problems with mosquitoes at the beginning of June
- Estonia by bike is easily possible for untrained cyclists, but you should briefly test bike rental