Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tallinn, A Trendy Medieval City

On my recent trip to Tallinn, the medieval capital city of Estonia, I found that it straddles a fine line between quaint and trendy. Its old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with ancient wall fortifications and a multitude of steeples piercing the skyline. Yet, this city, which will be European Cultural Capital 2011, is hardly stuck in the dark ages. In fact, quite the opposite. After all, Tallinn is home to Skype, the internet-based communications program.

Trendy restaurants, cafes, wine bars, galleries and boutique emporia can be found down many a cobbled lane. Last spring, an Asian fusion restaurant, Chedi, opened. Grilled Chilean sea bass with Chinese honey and stir-fried venison are a couple of the dishes served in this intimate space. The Gloria Wine Bar with its warren of cozy stone rooms and a fourth-floor attic that's home to Veini Pooning are two of
Tallinn's most intimate bars to sample wine. One of the most curiously-named restaurants, Ö, meaning "island" in Swedish, serves up Euro cuisine that's heavy on Scandinavian and Estonian products. Diners sit among images of Rubens hung on the walls. Past tall cast iron gates, another restaurant, Egoist, is housed in a centuries-old mansion that's detailed with antiques galore.

Tallinn has no shortage of cozy cafes with fab pastries, including Chocolaterie, Kohvicum and Bonaparte. I particularly loved the tranquil outside courtyard at the former that serves creamy homemade truffles, including those filled with passion fruit and chiles. Bonaparte has a comfortable subdued interior where you enter through a rustic tall wooden door reminiscent of what you might find in a castle -- after all, the building dates to the late 13th century -- yet contemporary art hang on the walls. Here I devoured a very tasty red currant tart -- there are so many yummy pastries it's hard to choose.

The city's relatively new vanguard institution is the modernist
Kamu Museum that's built into a limestone cliff and displays contemporary and classic art. You could spend the whole afternoon wandering the sun-filled interior. The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design didn't get a lot of tourist traffic when I was there but it's definitely worth a visit to see the works (from furniture to porcelain) of Estonian designers that they promote. More locally produced works can be found at Nu Nordik, a small shop chock full of creative, whimsical items, from T-shirts and pillows to jewelry and pottery. Reet Aus is an eco designer-owned shop selling very wearable, comfortable women's clothing.

On the accommodation front, these are my two picks: Three 14th century merchant homes serve as the home of Three Sisters, a boutique hotel that mixes old and new where no room is alike. An old wooden staircase spirals up to the rooms where some have claw foot tubs, four-poster beds and centuries-old wood beams. After dinner, a visit to their cellar wine bar makes a fine way to end the evening. Another accommodation, the Hotel Telegraaf is aptly named for the 19th century telegraph building where it's housed. Their spa offers Tibetan massage as well as wraps using a Balinese recipe.


Anonymous said...

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J The Travel Authority said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. Stay tuned for more of my adventures.

Sue said...

Cracking post, thanks so much for sharing this with us!