Coming in from the cold


By Julian Allason, Financial Times
Published: Dec 01, 2007

Preserved for so long by the Iron Curtain, Estonia comes into its own as a winter retreat in which authenticity is served up with beguilingly simple luxury, says Julian Allason.

The sea eagle wheels above the frozen surface of the Baltic, its eye scanning for breaks in the ice. Far below and to the east, a couple skate hand in hand out towards the Isle of Love, at other seasons a stiff skull across the sound separating Muhu Island from its larger neighbour, Saaremaa. Then, with a dry whirr, the great bird plummets upon an ice hole cut by a fish­erman. A moment later it soars upward, quicksilver flashing from its beak.

Estonia is that rarity, a country more magi­cal in winter than high summer, a European destination in which the best of the past lies down quietly with present comforts – and nowhere more so (and for the least expected of reasons) than on Muhu, one of over 1,500 islands. In the 35 years during which Estonia languished in the shade of the Iron Curtain, the island lingered within a penumbra of its own. Designated a mili­tary zone from which visitors were barred, but the 2,000 islanders perforce trusted, its landscape of windmills and cliffs remained largely untouched by development, social or architectural. Even today, local disagree­ments are routinely settled by village elders……

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