Naissaar, Estonia

Photo: Ingvar Pärnamäe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ingvar Pärnamäe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Estonia is full of secrets. It may be part of the Baltic, along with Latvia and Lithuania, but it has more in common with Finland, across the Gulf of Finland. It was ruled by Russia, sometimes the Soviet Union, more times than you count. While Tallinn somehow survived being destroyed many times over. After falling in love with the medieval capital, you’re ready to start waking a Baltic Tiger.

Naissaar is an easy day trip from Tallinn. The Island of Women may be small—it’s only about seven square miles—but it’s been known as the capital’s first line of defense since the Great Northern War, when the Swedes built a fortress. Peter the Great, the Red Army, and eventually the Estonian Navy enlarged the fortifications. It’s been quiet since the Soviets last departed in 1993.

Today Naissaar looks like the fishing island it once was. A coniferous forest covers most of the land. Large boulders stand between the trees and the sea. The population of its three small villages swells with summer residents. A lone lighthouse has been rebuilt many times over. Empty mines, gun batteries, and a cemetery have become historic sites. Windswept beaches are truly deserted. While the island is now protected as a nature park.

You arrive on the island’s east coast. A visitor’s center, which serves food, and a campsite are just up the hill from the dock. Three trails radiate from there. The central trail passes the Danish King’s Garden and the village of Põhjaküla, goes into the forest, and climbs to Kunilamagi, the island’s highest point. The northern trail follows old military sites en route to the red-and-white lighthouse on the northern tip. Plus the southern trail, known as the cultural trail, goes through the villages of Männiku and Lõunaküla, passes the Naissaare Church and cemetery, and crosses quiet farmland.

You follow the blue-and-white markers, stop often for pictures, and imagine what happened on the island so many years ago. Despite the silence, you’re surely not alone on Naissaar.

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