Tallinn, Estonia: a very Baltic Christmas

Tallinn, Estonia: a very Baltic Christmas. Snow is falling in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square and at its dinky Christmas market a blonde woman in furs sits beneath a food stand, tucking into black pudding and fried potatoes. Dean Martin’s White Christmas echoes over the wooden chalets, and at the grog hut there’s a queue for hot, rum-based Vana Tallinn liqueur.

Christmas market season is here, and for authenticity Tallinn pips its European rivals. Added to that, tourists are thin on the ground – though maybe not for long: Lonely Planet recently tipped Tallinn as the best-value destination for 2018. Then there’s the appeal of its impressive Christmas tree – a tradition that goes back to 1441 when the city’s was one of the first trees to be displayed in Europe. The setting is fabulous, too: a pastel-toned wrap-around of gabled houses dominated by an impressive town hall.

Tallinn, Estonia: a very Baltic Christmas

Tallinn, Estonia: a very Baltic Christmas

Tallinn is among the oldest capitals in northern Europe with one of the best-preserved medieval town centres in the world. Even the Town Hall pharmacy is wonderfully intact. Wood-beamed and low-ceilinged, it was opened in 1422 and is full of old-fashioned dispensary drawers and medicine bottles. In an adjoining room, bell jars chart the pharmacy’s history: a horror movie collection of preparations spanning woodlouse infusions and dried deer penises.

The city’s reputation for good value extends to boutique hotels and cocktails, too (in hip bars, they cost around €4), while in a clutch of great restaurants young chefs are producing innovative and surprisingly affordable menus. But right now, I’m after some unusual gifts, and reindeer jumpers don’t quite cut it. For Estonian stuff that reflects their Nordic eye for design, try Rode on Pikk Street, where you can find anything from bright, felted slippers and exquisite pine bowls to bow ties fashioned from leather. Pikk, or “Long Leg”, Street runs downhill from Toompea castle, where guild houses with steep gables recall a miniature Stockholm – remnants, our guide explains, of Estonia’s time under Swedish rule. “Everyone’s invaded us,” she tells us. “Danes, Germans, Russians, the Soviets… It’s because we’re basically lazy. Even on Independence Day [which next year marks its centenary] it is too cold to turn out and watch soldiers parade.”

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