Welcome to Lahemaa National Park
Estonia’s largest rahvuspark (national park), the 'Land of Bays' is 725 sq km of unspoiled, rural Estonia, making it the perfect country retreat from the nearby capital. A microcosm of Estonia’s natural charms, the park takes in a stretch of deeply indented coast with several peninsulas and bays, plus 475 sq km of pine-fresh hinterland encompassing forest, lakes, rivers and peat bogs, and areas of historical and cultural interest.
The landscape is mostly flat or gently rolling, with the highest point just 115m above sea level. Stone fields, areas of very thin topsoil called alvars and large rocks called erratic boulders (brought from Scandinavia by glacial action) are all typically Estonian.
Almost 840 plant species have been found in the park, including 34 rare ones. There are 50 mammal species, among them brown bear, lynx and wolf (none of which you’re likely to see without specialist help). Some 222 types of birds nest here – including mute swans, black storks, black-throated divers and cranes – and 24 species of fish have been sighted. Salmon and trout spawn in the rivers, feasting on the multitude of mosquitos that are ever-present in summertime (pack insect repellent).
In winter the park is transformed into a magical wonderland of snowy shores, frozen seas and sparkling black trees.
Visitors are well looked after: there are cosy guesthouses, restored manors and remote camp sites to stay in, and an extensive network of forest trails for walkers, cyclists and even neo-knights on horseback.
Nowadays the main attraction is the water, but from 1945 to 1991 the entire national park’s coastline was a military-controlled frontier, with a 2m-high barbed-wire fence ensuring villagers couldn’t access the sea.
Loksa, the main town within the park, has a popular sandy beach but is otherwise rather down-at-heel. Võsu, the next largest settlement, is much nicer, with its long sandy beach and summertime bars. It fills up with young revellers in peak season, depite being just a somewhat overgrown village.