Vastseliina Episcopal Castle

Castle in Setomaa

With a pretty setting high on a bluff above the gurgling Piusa River, right on the edge of Setomaa, these evocative ruins maintain a state of picturesque decrepitude. Only a section of wall and three crumbling towers remain standing, all of which are popular nesting sights for oversized storks. A neighbouring 17th-century tavern has been converted into a museum devoted to the castle's history and general medieval concerns (pilgrimages, torture, executions, alchemy, surgery, death etc).

Founded in 1342 by the German Livonian knights on the then border with Russia, Vastseliina (or Neuhausen, as it was then known) was once the strongest castle in Old Livonia. It prospered from its position on the Pihkva–Rīga trade route and as an important pilgrimage site due to the presence of a miraculous white cross which conveniently materialised in the chapel. The castle was finally destroyed after falling to the Russians in 1700, early in the Great Northern War.

Museum admission includes entry to the castle grounds where you can clamber over the fallen masonry and climb one of the towers. You can also visit a small chapel, just outside the castle walls. Opposite the museum a handicrafts store shares an old stone building with a small cafe which only serves soup, cake and pancakes.

The castle is also the starting point for a 15km hiking trail which heads across country to the village of Lindora.

Buses head to Vana-Vastseliina from Võru (€1.70, one hour, four daily) and Obinitsa (€0.80, 20 minutes, three daily).

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