Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Am enjoying two or three days in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where the countryside is studded with isolated manor houses, sturdy mediaeval castles and graceful Rococo churches.

We started in Tallinn, one of the gems of northern Europe, where the old town’s cobbled streets are ringed by mediaeval walls and ancient defensive towers. The fortified hill of Toompea, once the seat of the region’s bishops and nobility, is the setting for the Lutheran Toomkirik, built by the Danes in the early 13th century, and the 19th century Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a souvenir of Russian authority.

But Tartu, founded in 1632 by the Swedish king Gustav Adolf, has probably been my favourite destination. The town is the beating intellectual heart of Estionia and, although sacked and pillaged throughout history, the historic core retains an air of peace and refinement, as befits the country’s oldest university town. Tartu also boasts its very own leaning tower, a marvellous neo-Classical cobbled square and, in St John’s Church, one of northern Europe’s most imposing brick Gothic monuments.

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