Source: Taavi Bergmann


The area of southern Estonia known as Mulgimaa has its own unique mix of different languages, dialects, cultural traditions, folk customs, dress, and cuisine. Visitors can discover a rich cultural life, an exciting history, stunning scenery, and the strong identity of the Mulks. Additionally, Mulgimaa has been named the Finno-Ugric Capital of Culture of 2021 giving travellers some great reason to visit.

Mulgimaa is a cultural and historical region, rather than a specific parish or county of Estonia. Geographically, it includes Viljandi County and the northwest part of Valga County. The core of historic Mulgimaa and the area where the Mulgi dialect is spoken consists of the parishes of Halliste, Paistu, Karksi, Helme, and Tarvastu. In addition to a unique culture, in Mulgimaa you can hear the distinct dialect used there. So even if you do speak a bit of Estonian, the further south you go the more difficult it is to make out the local language. 

Without any county or parish boundaries, how do you when you've arrived in Mulgimaa? Just take a look around. As soon as you start noticing the wooden sculptures with traditional clothing of a black caftan with a red border, you'll know you're in Mulgimaa.

A Bit of Mulgimaa History

The Mulks (called mulgid in Estonia) have a history in the region going back centuries. In fact, the people have been there so long that no one is certain where the name mulk/mulgi comes from, although linguists' theories including tracing the origin to Latvian and even Arabic.

Located in the south of Estonia, the Mulgimaa region has some of the most fertile land in the country. As a result, farmers in the region have been well-off for a while. This also led to an economic boom during the US Civil War when exported linens became rare and the Mulks could fill in the gap. Due to this huge rise in trade, people from Mulgimaa were often able to provide their children with a better education. With higher education, the Mulks were often included in the nation's intellectual class that actively took part in shaping Estonian culture.

The Rolling Hills of Mulgimaa's Landscape

Photo by: Sven Zacek

A Unique Way of Speaking

The people of Mulgimaa has their own unique way of speaking which the Mulgi dialect. In fact, the dialect is much older than Estonia although they are quite closely related and both belong to the Balto-Finnic branch on the Finno-Ugric language tree. According to the 2011 census, the Mulgi dialect is spoken by 9,698 people. Efforts are being made to preserve the language including a dictionary produced by the Estonian Language Institute. And In order to introduce and teach Mulgi dialect, there are dialect speaking groups (keelepesä) at day-cares in Mulgimaa, the teachers in Mulgimaa can take courses of Mulgi dialect, and there are Mulgi dialect hobby groups in Tarvastu, Lillis, Karksi, Viljandi, Tartu and Tõrva.

The Flag and Dress of Mulgimaa

The region of Mulgimaa has its own official flag, which was consecrated on 12 October 2013 in Tarvastu Church. The flag's blue colour is said to symbolise the region's blooming flax fields, the black stripe and the red pattern are reminiscent of the traditional men's caftans of the region, and the five knots represent the different Mulgimaa communities.

Men in Traditional Mulgi Dress Holding the Flag

Photo by: Ave Grenberg, Mulgi Kultuuri Instituut

Visiting, you'll quickly notice that the clothing of Mulgimaa can be noticeably different from other regions of Estonia. Traditionally men in the region wore a long black wool caftan embroidered with patterns of red wool, while in other parts of Estonia, short jackets predominated. It was believed that red embroidery protects against black magic. And for those curious to learn about these beliefs and traditions, you should come visit any of the museums in Mulgimaa.


For those who want to learn more, Mulgimaa has plenty of museums. The Heimtali Museum is located in the village of Heimtali and has a permanent exhibition curated and designed by Anu Raud, one of Estonia's most famous textile artists. The museum sits in an old village school built in 1864 where visitors can experience a journey into the past through several generations. Visitors will gain insight on local textiles, culture, and folk art.

Other museums in the region include the Abja Municipal Musem, the Museum of Tuglas, and the Mulgi Village Museum.

The Heimtali Museum in Viljandi

Photo by: Mulgi Kultuuri Instituut

A Taste of Mulgimaa  

The region has contributed to Estonian cuisine. As its name suggests, the traditional Christmas meal of Estonia, mulgikapsad comes from the Mulgimaa region. Made of stewed sauerkraut with oats and pork, the dish is ideal for providing lasting energy.

Mulgimaa cuisine is also known for kama. A kind of flour made from a mixture of pre-fried grains of rye, oats, barley, peas, beans, kama consists of everything that was left in the house after a long winter season. Today, you can find loads of tasty bites made with kama flour both on store shelves and in restaurants. This includes a wide range of dishes like sweet kama cakes, yogurts, cottage cheese, milk, whipped cream with kama, and even chocolate!

Deserts made with the famous kama flour of Mulgimaa

Photo by: Näljane Nelik, Visit Estonia

Discovering Mulgimaa for Yourself

When you visit the region, Mulgimaa has so much to offer visitors. There's something to enjoy whether you want to see historic castles, go for a hike, enjoy the scenery, or jump into a lake!

Taagepera Castle

One of the most enchanting places to visit in Mulgimaa is Taagepera Castle. With elegance and a rustic atmosphere, history and modernity intertwine here. The art nouveau-style castle was built by Baron Hugo von Streck more than a hundred years ago. The renovated castle complex has a welcoming atmosphere with an à la carte restaurant and the 1930s style Wagenküll hotel

Taagepera Castle

Photo by: Taagepera Castle

The Õisu Hiking Trail

You don't have to go to Taevaskoja to see sandstone deposits. In Mulgimaa, you'll find the beautiful Õisu Hiking Trail that starts near Õisu Manor and takes visitors along the slope of a gorge where you can get a stunning view of the Vidva river rapids. The second part of the trail runs on a wooded, lower level along the opposite bank of the stream, from where you can see the walls of the sandstone cliffs. In total, the Õisu hiking trail is about 2.6 kilometers long.

Karksi Valley and St. Peter's Church

For a picturesque place, visitors must see Karksi Valley. Driving down the winding road, you'll see the Karksi fortress hill on the other side of the Linnaveski Reservoir. Construction on the fortress began in the 13th century and it's believed that the hill was the site of an Estonian fortress before the conquests of the Crusaders. Attached to the fortress is St. Peter's Church of Karksi. The church has given Estonia its own leaning tower of Pisa with its noticeably slanting tower which tilts more than a meter to the west.

The Breathtaking View over the Karksi Valley

Photo by: Marnek Tugevus, Visit Estonia

The Town of Tõrva

Tõrva is one of Estonia's most beautiful small towns. The town's Central Square is well-known for being ideal for pedestrians and having a large number of leisure facilities. The square extends for almost 13,000 square meters and lined with thousands of trees and greenery making it a great place to go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings as you pass by a historic tavern and the town hall to end at Lake Veskijärvi. Alongside Veskijärvi, you can also stop by Lake Vanamõisa. Covering about 2 hectares and surrounded by a sandy beach, promenade, playgrounds, and volleyball courts, it's a hugely popular destination for Estonians. Of course, it's popularity is also in part due to having the tallest diving platform in Estonia which stands at about 11 metres high.

Lake Vanamõisa has Estonia's tallest diving platform

Photo by: Raul Veine, Visit Estonia

Abja-Paluoja as the Finno-Ugric Culture Capital of 2021

In 2021, Mulgimaa's capital of Abja-Paluoja will hold the title of the Finno-Ugric Culture Capital. To celebrate there are exciting cultural events happening in the region throughout the year. In addition to promoting Mulgimaa, they also aim to promote local traditions and preserve the area's historical heritage.

The three most important events this summer include:

22-25 July: Tõrva Fire Days

Tõrve Fire Days are filled with various sporting, cultural and recreational activities. The celebrations end on the evening of the 25th with a large and impressive bonfire.

July 31: VI Mulgi Party "Mia and sia ütenkuun"
A song and dance festival showcasing the customs and traditions of Mulgimaa. The folk festival will take place at Karksi Manor and Park, where you can also visit the Karksi Village Museum.

August 28: Food and Handicraft Fair
The city of Abja-Paluoja invites visitors to the food and craft fair where you can buy local handicrafts and can try local delicacies for yourself.

You can find the full program and additional information on the official Mulgimaa website or Facebook.

Last updated : 29.08.2021

In category: History & culture