In the south, Estonia shares a border with Latvia and here Valga town is split in half, the northern side, `Valga’, belongs to Estonia and `Valka’, on the southern side, belongs to Latvia. For years, this created a complicated situation where members of one family, even living on the same street, may have had different citizenships and had to go through customs and border guards in order to visit each other.
Fortunately, after both countries joined the Schengen zone, border points were removed and Valga-Valka is fast overcoming the separation issues. Two different currencies (Euro in Estonia and Lat's in Latvia), languages and cultures still remain, making the town an interesting holiday destination. Where else could you stand, one foot in one country, holding “jäätis” (ice cream in Estonian) in your left hand and other foot in another country, holding “saldejums” (ice cream in Latvian) in your right hand?
Recent years have strengthened the relationship between Valga and Valka, the two halves of the same town, and there are several projects to encourage Valga-Valka to evolve into a complete town again. Perhaps the best example of this kind of co-operation between the two `halves’ is the beautiful scenic 5km walking track by Pedeli river. Much loved by morning runners with a small park area, a family-friendly beach, playgrounds, rollerblading and cycling roads.
A pro-active and positive approach to sports is fast becoming a trademark of Valga: in addition to the Pedeli river tracks, the 12km Valga-Sooru track suits beginners as well as more experienced athletes. Estonia’s first lady Evelin Ilves, herself a rollerblading enthusiast, has claimed it to be the best rollerblading track in Estonia and it is also ideal for family cycling, walking and running.
Another way to be active, albeit a little less sporty, in Valga is to visit the local Permanent Exhibition of Patriotic Education – a museum dedicated to Valga’s war history. Each year in August, the museum organises an educational military festival in Valga with parades, demonstrations and re-enactments of historic was scenes.
During autumn, the main events in Valga are the St.Michael’s day fair, Mihklilaat, in October, and Art Month in November – both with workshops, exhibitions and fun events, and most of them free.
But it’s not only the sports and events that are a draw for Valga. Having been ruled by different countries, influenced by different cultures and for years, been split in half, Valga has a very interesting townscape. Here are a few of the top `must-see’ sightseeing spots :
- The Roman-Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit (Pühavaimu kirik) was built 1907 and unlike other churches, has no tower as the Tzar did not give permission to build it.
- Right by the market square, there is a remarkable sample of an historic style church: The Apostolic Orthodox Issidor main church with it’s 5 towers. It is one of the four representative apostolic orthodox churches in Estonia.
- Jaani church in the town centre represents neo-classical style and is the only oval-planning church in Estonia. The local organ is among the best organs in Europe and every midday and midnight, the bells of Jaani church play a melody composed especially for Valga.
- The wooden town hall, dating from 1865, represents the late-classical era and is a place that most tourist will want to visit, as it houses the local Tourism Information Centre.
Come and spend a pleasant holiday in Valga and experience multiple cultures and two countries in one town. The contrasts between old and new, special features of a historic border town, versatile cultural scenery and plenty of options for active sports await.
And before you head back home, don’t forget to drop by the sculpture of legendary Nipernaadi (the free spirited traveller from Estonian literature) as locals claim this is the place to wish for travelling luck and a pleasant journey for yourself as well as for your loved ones.