South Estonia

Otepää

 - maastikIt is the most well-known winter sports centre in the Baltics and the Winter Capital of Estonia. Otepää got its name, which in Estonian means "bear's head" after the shape of the castle hill - which reminds you of a bear's head. It's also where in 1224, Bishop Hermann started building the first known brick castle in Estonia, The Stone Fort.

In summer you can hike along the paths of the Otepää Nature Park, see the landscape of rolling hills and lakes, romantic winding village roads and small rivers. Beautiful views open from observation towers on top of Tehvandi and Harimägi hills. You can also take part in different sports or simply have a good time at Lake Pühajärve, which is a jewel among Estonian lakes. Pühajärv was also the first Estonian lake to earn the Blue Flag in 2000.

Those who believe in supernatural power should pay a visit to the so-called "energy pillar" in Otepää. It is believed that when you touch it, it will give you a great shot of energy and good health.

In wintertime Otepää is a winter sports paradise for skiers, snowmobile riders and for anyone who enjoys the snow: there are slalom slopes equipped with elevators and lots of cross-country tracks.

Tehvandi Centre is recognised as an all year round training area among high level sportsmen and Kääriku has, for more than half a century, been a favourite of Estonian winter sports fans. Otepää and its surroundings are where Estonian Olympic medallists (such as Jaak Mae, Andrus Veerpalu and Kristiina Šmigun) live and train.

If you don't like crowds and sports then it's always possible to go on hiking trips to the picturesque landscape around Otepää, try an Estonian hot smoke sauna and bathing in an icy lake afterwards.

Each summer the "Saku Suverull" takes place - a summer competition for the world's best skiers. In winter, FIS World Cup Otepää Competition (cross-country skiing) and an ice-fishing competition "Golden Fish" are popular attractions.

Otepää is an ideal location for sports, hiking, swimming, fishing, skiing, skating and snowboarding. It's a perfect holiday spot for families and young people who are interested in an active holiday.

Võrumaa

 - järvDomed hills, deep valleys, large rolling plains, fast-running rivers, beautiful little lakes, great views. Unique hiking-tracks and cross-country skiing trails in the wild nature, untouched bogs and natural wetlands - this is Võrumaa. There are numerous tourist-farms which can be described as being small and nature-minded.

Võrumaa gives you the feeling of nostalgic village-life in the past, peaceful little town atmosphere and the glimpse of the progress at the same time. The outgoing people here are still having an ancient dialect and traditions.

Setomaa

 - SetomaaSetos are an ethnic and linguistic minority living in an area covering South East Estonia and North West Russia.

The original Seto culture developed from Eastern and Western cultures (katõ ilma veere pääl - "on the border of two worlds"). The estimated population of Setos in Estonia is 10,000 - 13,000, of which ca 3,000 - 4,000 lives on their indigenous land.

Their borderland status has also given Setos a chance to preserve their language, lifestyle, food and unique folk costumes.

Setos are very religious people. Every household has its own icon corner (pühäsenulk) and almost every village has its own small chapel (Tsässon). As a rule, the chapels are locked and the key is held by the village elder or chapel master/mistress. An opportunity to visit a Seto chapel may come on village holidays when it's opened for public prayer.

The chapel traditions are sacred to Orthodox Setos. During church holidays people gather to honour the souls of their ancestors. In the morning a service is held, followed by a procession around the chapel. Afterwards people go to their ancestors' graves, where they eat and drink. Some food is often left for the souls of the dead.

If you want to hear the archaic Seto language, find an opportunity to listen to a Seto Leelo choir. Leelo is the Seto folk song, where the singer improvises the words and the choir then repeats. Most famous singers were able to sing up to 10,000–20,000 rhymes and they earned the title of "Seto Mother of Songs."

You should also certainly see traditional Seto villages. Closed cluster-villages in Setomaa are built in a way that you cannot peek into a neighbour's yard. A typical Seto homestead is a closed inner courtyard surrounded by buildings, high gates and partition fences - a "castle homestead."

Setumaa will appeal to anybody interested in different cultures, religion and traditions - plus with its beautiful nature Setumaa is well worth a visit.

It is particularly memorable to visit Setomaa during the various Seto traditional holidays or festivities: Kirmask, Seto Kingdom days, Seto Leelo days, Easter, and church holidays.



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