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Introducing Viljandi

One of Estonia’s most charming towns, Viljandi, 90km east of Pärnu, is a relaxed place to stop for a day or more or to use as a base for exploring the country’s largest floodplain and bog area (no laughing!). The town itself, settled since the 12th century, has a gentle 19th-century flow to it. The tourist information office (433 0442; Vabaduse väljak 6; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat & Sun) can help with accommodation and tours and has a computer terminal for free internet access.

A highlight is visiting Lossimäed (Castle Park), which sprawls out from behind the tourist information office. A picturesque green area with spectacular views over Lake Viljandi, here are the ruins of a 13th- to 15th-century castle founded by the German Knights of the Sword, open for all to muck about in. The excellent Kondase Keskus (433 3968; Pikk tänav 8; adult/student 15/5EEK; 10am-7pm Wed-Sun) is the country’s only art gallery devoted to art naïf.

Some 40km west of Viljandi is the Soomaa National Park (445 7164; www.soomaa.com), a rich land of bogs, marsh, crisscrossing rivers and iron-rich black pools of water, perfect for a quick summer dip. Much more interesting than what the word ‘bog’ implies, this 37,000-hectare park is full of quirky opportunities: from a walk through the unique landscape of swampland, to a single-trunk canoe trip down one of the rivers, or an unforgettable sauna atop a floating raft. Their summertime night canoe expeditions offer a mildly spooky way of exploring swampland.

One of Estonia’s most popular festivals takes place here in late July, the Viljandi Folk Festival (www.folk.ee), which brings out the flower power in everyone.