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Introducing Lake Peipsi

In the 18th and 19th centuries Russian Old Believers, a sect of the Orthodox Church persecuted for refusing to accept liturgical reforms carried out in 1666, took refuge on the western shores of Lake Peipsi (Chudkoye Ozero in Russian), particularly in Kallaste. They founded several coastal villages, namely Kolkja, Kasepää and Varnja, and settled the island of Piirissaar.

About 37km north of Tartu lies the spectacular Alatskivi Castle(Alatskivi loss; 528 6598; info@muusa.ee; adult/concession 15/5Kr; 9am-7pm Wed-Sun), which was built in the late 1500s, though its neo-Gothic centrepiece dates from the 19th century. It's on the main road, easily spotted once you reach Alatskivi.

Four kilometres south of Alatskivi, in the hamlet of Rupsi, is the Liiv Museum (745 3846; info@muusa.ee; adult/concession 15/5Kr; 9am-7pm Wed- Sun), another worthwhile stop. It houses exhibitions on both Juhan Liiv, a celebrated writer and poet who died in 1913, and Eduard Tubin, a composer of some of Estonia's best-known songs and symphonies (No 5 is highly regarded). Both were born in the area. Occasional concerts and poetry competitions are held at the museum, which also doubles as the region's tourist office.

From Alatskivi, it's 6km southeast to Kolkja, a village of Russian Old Believers with a dainty, green wooden Orthodox church, an Old Believers' Museum (745 3431; 25Kr; by appt) in the new schoolhouse, and some of the most charming village architecture in the country. Unlike most of Estonia's Russian population, the people and their descendants have been living here for centuries, and most also speak Estonian. Few tourists make it out here, and even the dogs stop and stare at strangers.

Kallaste (pop 1285), 8km north of Alatskivi, is where a settlement of Old Believers has existed since 1720, when the area was known as Red Mountains (Krasniye Gori) because of the red sandstone cliffs, up to 11m high, that surround this town. Nearly all the villagers are Russian-speaking. There's a large Old Believers' cemetery at the southern end of town, a sandy beach with small caves, and a lakeside café.