Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Discovering Hiiumaa

Few countries in Europe can boast they have over 2,000 islands but Estonia is one of them.  Northern Europe is home to many islands, Sweden and Norway have the most (over 200,000 each) and over the centuries Coastal Swedes have had their influence in Estonia. Not all of Estonia's islands are inhabitable, but those with populations are unique in their own way and offer respite to those who want to get away from it all.

Hiiumaa is Estonia's second largest island. It has an area of 989 km2 and is 23 km from the Estonian mainland. According to the latest statistics, 9,381 people live on the island of Hiiumaa in one of its 185 settlements. 

Port of Sõru.

This year I decided to include Hiiumaa in my summer holiday to Estonia as I had never been there before and was eager to explore the island first-hand. 

Map of Hiiumaa

After I left the Estonian mainland at Rohuküla I crossed the Baltic Sea by ferry and arrived at the Port of Heltermaa. I then travelled on to Lassi where I stayed in a quaint countryhouse for the next four nights. Prior to arriving I was told that Hiiumaa's water contains high levels of iron and is unpleasant to taste, therefore I was advised to drink bottled water. Each day I explored different parts of the island.

Kärdla centre

25km from Heltermaa Harbour is Hiiumaa's largest settlement and only town - Kärdla. It was smaller than I expected; it had a supermarket, post office and a small selection of cafes, restaurants and other shops. It's a quiet place with few people around before 10am.

Tahkuna Lighthouse

But you don't visit Hiiumaa for the shops, it's all about nature. Being outdoors and exploring new places. Hiiumaa is surrounded by coastline and sometimes you might find yourself deep in a forest, then shortly afterwards near a picturesque harbour. Such beautiful contrasts. Hiiumaa is also home to many famous lighthouses, Tahkuna Lighthouse is the tallest in Estonia standing at 427m above sea level.

The memorial to the victims of the MS Estonia disaster.

Also located at Tahkuna is the memorial dedicated to the children who died onboard the 'Estonia' in 1994. The bronze bell rings out to sea during strong winds.

The incline of the monument has a visual and emotional impact, intended to call to mind the last moments of the ship.

To the west of the island is one of Hiiumaa's most famous landmarks - Kõpu Lighthouse. It was built in 1531 and is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. Kõpu Lighthouse is renown for its unique shape and impressive history. It is still an operational lighthouse to this day.

Kõpu Lighthouse 

View from the top of Kõpu Lighthouse.

I came across this memorial by chance when I took a wrong turn in search of the Hill of Crosses. This momument is dedicated to the Estonians who were murdered here during the occupation in 1941.  I felt sad when I saw this, not only for the victims but because my own great-grandfather was murdered in a forest (Albu) in 1941 along with four other men. The exact location of their executions has never been revealed therefore it is impossible for me to lay a cross in their memory.

Hill of Crosses

In the forest bordering Reigi and Puhalepa parishes lies the Hill of Crosses. In the 1700s a cruel landowner banished 500 Swedes from Hiiumaa and had them sent to Ukraine. Before they left, each placed a cross here to mark their departure. Today, people still come and leave crosses, there are hundred of them scattered throughout the forest. This forest is also full of different types of mushrooms and it was here that I found my first death cap.

Russian Orthodox Church

This is the only Russian Orthodox church on the island and is an attractive building surrounded by a stone wall. I would have liked to have gone inside but unfortunately it was closed. Very often when I visit churches and cemeteries in Estonia, I find frogs there. This time I did too.

Hiiumaa is a wonderful place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors. There are many harbours, beaches, and forests to explore that you don't have to share with too many other people. Life is very relaxed here, the perfect environment for nature lovers who enjoy hiking and camping. 

During my four days in Hiiumaa I visited every lighthouse, peninsula and key attraction. Of all the things I experienced, perhaps my favourite was the simple pleasure of watching the sunset over the water.  Regrettably I didn't take any photos of this - but there is always next time!