With rolling hills, picturesque lakes and vast woodlands, the southeast boasts some of Estonia’s most attractive countryside. It also contains one of Estonia’s most important cities, the vibrant university centre of Tartu.
No matter which direction you head from Tartu, you’ll find resplendent natural settings. In the south lie the towns of Otepää and Võru, the gateway to outdoor adventuring: hiking and lake-swimming in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. Quaint towns set on wandering rivers or in picturesque valleys add to the allure. For a serious dose of woodland, head to the crisp lakes and gently rolling hills of Haanja Nature Park or Karula National Park.
To the east stretches Lake Peipsi, one of Europe’s largest lakes. Along its shores are beautiful sandy beaches and a surprisingly undeveloped coastline. Aside from swimming, boating, fishing and soaking up the scenery, you can travel up its western rim stopping at roadside food stands and in tiny villages.
One of Estonia’s most intriguing regions is also among its least visited. In the far southeast, clustered in villages near Lake Pihkva, live the Setos, descendents of Balto-Finnic tribes who settled here in the first millennium.
If you plan only to dip into the region, then you’ll be fine getting around by bus. For more in-depth exploring – particularly around Haanja Nature Park, Setomaa and Lake Peipsi – services are infrequent and you’ll save loads of time by renting a car.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern Estonia.