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Culture enthusiast's guide to the county of Tartu

The city of Tartu, though bursting with culture, by no means overshadows Tartu County where there are many opportunities to experience the culture of the Old Believers, visit various interesting museums, and witness the beautiful architecture of historical manors up close. Take a look at these ten exciting places that you should definitely visit on your cultural holiday.



When you have arrived in Tartu, but still wish to breathe some country air for a day and explore a somewhat mystical region, then the ideal choice would be the Onion Route that snakes along the coast of Lake Peipus and connects the cultures of Russian Old Believers, Estonian peasants and Baltic German manors. In the 17th century, the Old Believers from Russia settled in the region, befriending the local native people and bringing with them the tradition of onion farming. To appreciate the preservation of traditions, the Onion Route and the region of Lake Peipus were declared the Estonian food region of 2017. It is impossible to overlook the onion garlands hanging from fences and the dried fish. If you wish to taste them, you should stop at the stands located along the main street and trade with the friendly locals. A great spot for tasting local food is the Sepikoja (Blacksmith’s) tavern located in Alatskivi or the nearby Kivi Kõrts (Stone Tavern). The summer on the Onion Route is full of various events, both fairs as well as festivals where you will also get a taste of the local culture.


When you arrive at the Onion Route, you should try Samovar tea, Näljane Nelik



Between Estonia and Russia, at the place where Lake Peipus and Lake Lämmijärv meet, the small Piirissaar Island is located, which is predominantly inhabited by Russian Old Believers. During the regular service times and on church holidays, it is possible to visit the traditional Starovers’ (Old Believers’) prayer house in Saare Village. The cemeteries of the Old Believers, of which there are a total of three, are a local tourist attraction. The main activities of the local closed community are fishing and growing vegetables, especially onions.  On the island, you will also find Piirissaar’s museum of Old Believers with an attractive permanent exhibition which gives an overview of Old Believers’ culture. You can also drink tea from a samovar with the famous local sugar and, when ordered in advance, awaken your taste buds with local fish soup and pastries.


Ship Alfa travelling to the small Piirissaar Island



Situated in the historical Ülenurme manor in Tartu County, the Estonian Agricultural Museum introduces the development of agriculture and rural life in Estonia. The countryside and rural culture are a key component of national memory and identity, and the museum plays an important role in recording, collecting, preserving and exhibiting Estonian rural culture, agricultural production, ownership, agricultural education and science. Besides exhibitions, visitors can participate in museum classes, try blacksmithing and woodwork, restoration, baking rye bread, and many more fun activities. The first written entries about the museum’s building, Ülenurme Manor (Üllenorm), date back to the year 1646. A soldier called Bernhard Bousselberg was said to have received this manor in a barter trade from the Kingdom of Sweden, exchanging a stone building in Tartu for the manor. The creator of the park and the manor house could have been Count Cancrin who was the owner of Ülenurme Manor in the years 1856-1883. Over the course of time, the manor has been passed from owner to owner, and the main source of income has been grain farming. At the beginning of the 1970s, the buildings of the former Ülenurme manor complex were allocated to the previously founded Estonian Agricultural Museum, which has been open to visitors since 1981. If you wish to visit the museum, a ticket has to be purchased.


Estonian Agricultural Museum



One of the most beautiful manor houses in Estonia is the Neo-Gothic style Alatskivi Castle dating back to the 19th century. As a contrast next to the modest Old Believers, Baltic German landlords lived in this manor house. Modelled after the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland, the building nowadays houses a restaurant, a visitor centre, handicraft workshops, a natural centre as well as a hotel. What makes the latter special is that guests can also stay in the round suite built in the tower of the castle. While visiting the manor, you will explore the life and history of an aristocratic family and get to know the servants who worked in the manor one hundred years ago. The castle’s tour guides have many exciting stories to tell, and you can try your hand at making your own personal souvenir. Plan to spend at least an hour and a half when exploring the exposition that is located on three floors. On the first floor, you will find the Eduard Tubin Museum with exhibits that provide a good overview of the life and work of one of Estonia's most famous composers.


The Alatskivi Castle, Ahto Sooaru



A genuine example of architectural style of station buildings is the historical Elva Railway Station which has remained intact and has been renovated. The wooden building, characteristic of the 19th century, has survived to this day and is under heritage conservation as an architectural monument. The station building’s distinctive exterior, original building structures, facade details, and parts of the interior have been kept in their original form. Today, the heart of the building is the waiting lounge where information about the city as well as the recreational area of Elva is available. There is a seminar room in the building that can be used for seminars, training sessions, presentations and study days. In addition, the building houses the restaurant Waksal which values local raw materials. In 2017, the historical fountain was re-opened on the square in front of the railway station.


Elva Railway Station, Kayvo Kroon




You can imagine yourself going back in time to the era of your predecessors in the Hellenurme Watermill Museum by the millpond of Elva River. The 137-year-old watermill was built in 1880 by the Middendorff family, and the machines that date back to the 1930s still function to this day. On the four floors of the mill, which is still powered by water, you can see, touch, feel, taste what and how is made out of a grain. The museum presents the opportunity to observe the process of grains being made into flour and semolina from start to finish, and the mill-lady talks about the way of life in the old times, and offers traditional rye bread with something to drink.


The Hellenurme Watermill Museum, Ragnar Vutt




Visitors of the Chicory Museum can explore the history and tools of chicory farming in the linear villages by the shores of Lake Peipus. The museum is located on the basement floor of the Peipsimaa Visitor Centre and at the heart of the chicory drying basement is a chicory drying oven that was also built the same year as the building itself. The building, constructed in the year 1893, is a former dwelling house of Old Believers and visitors can participate in exciting workshops that introduce the traditional handicraft of Old Believers. In the surrounding area, visitors can walk between the chicory beds, listen to stories about chicory farming in the region, and have the opportunity to buy various chicory products.


The Chicory Museum, Kairi Güsson




Situated in South Estonia, Luke Manor Park is one of the best preserved parks in its original form and also the most valuable element of the manor complex. It is a beautiful place where you can hear the splashing sounds of the waterfall, admire the gardener’s house with its unique architecture, and at the same time imagine yourself being a noblewoman or nobleman. The majestic lions guarding the stone staircase and the white daisies creating a romantic ambiance add a charming value to the walk around the park. At the Gardener's House of Luke Manor, you will find a café, an information stand and an exposition introducing the manors of Nõo Parish.


Luke Manor Park, Rauno Kalda





South Estonia’s biggest country church, which received its pseudo-Gothic style redesign in 1874 can be found in Kambja. The church has repeatedly suffered damages in wars but it has retained its good acoustics. With over 600 seats, the church is a perfect place for enjoying concerts or tying the wedding knot. The church tower is designed by architect Arnold Matteus, and since the year 2003, the beautiful sounds of a 12-stop organ, received as a gift from the Träslövsläge Congregation in Sweden, can be heard ringing throughout the church. Interesting fact: the Crown Prince of Sweden Gustav Adolf visited Kambja in the year 1932, and planted an oak tree in the church garden. The tree grows next to the gate to this day.


South Estonia’s biggest country church Kambja



The ruins of an ancient free-form castle-type stronghold can be seen in the park of the Rõngu Vassal Stronghold, the construction of which is considered to have begun in the year 1340. In the Middle Ages, the stronghold belonged to the Tödwen family, and later to the Jesuits who turned it into their South-Estonian centre. The stronghold was destroyed by the army of the Order in October 1558. Nowadays, you can see the remaining part of its wall together with the main entrance.


Ruins of Rõngu Vassal Stronghold


Last updated: 08.09.2023

Tartu toidu- ja veinifestival 2022 Evelin Lumi
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Ahto Sooaru

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