Otepää — Estonia's winter city

Source: Timo Arbeiter

Otepää — Estonia's winter city

Otepää is Estonia's top destination for winter sports. Estonians love active outdoor holidays, especially in the winter when the options are endless. South Estonia's natural environment — rolling hills, deep green forests, and picturesque lakes — offer the perfect backdrop for skiing, kick sledging, hiking, and ice skating. 

Stroll through Otepää's Central Square, which was renovated in the summer of 2020. Here you can ask for good luck by scratching the back paw of the square's bear statue. On the edge of town, you can hike up to see the Otepää Hill Fort. At the top, you can see stone ruins dating back to a stronghold built in 1224 — the oldest known firearm in the world was found on this hill!

Foodies will want to stop by Edgar Tavern; they make their own meat products in-house and their pastry display is to die for. Wash it all down with a craft beer at the Nuustaku Brewery. Book a "Brewing with the brewmaster" workshop — you'll get toeeves and work alongside the brew roll up your slmaster! Ugandi Resto is another local favorite. They made the 2022 list of favorite family restaurants in Estonia. Kids will love the play area, and adults will adore the menu highlighting local Estonian products.  

Modern hotels and rustic smoke saunas

Local accommodations range from modern hotels to rustic farms with plenty of options in between. Two of the most popular places to stay in Otepää are the Pühajärve Spa & Holiday Resort Hotel and the GMP Clubhotel on the shores of Lake Pühajärve. GMP Pühajärve Restaurant's focus on local ingredients has also earned them a spot on the White Guide Nordic's list of the best restaurants in Estonia. The restaurant at the Pühajärve Resort Hotel features organic cuisine and is Green Key certified. The resort also has a laidback pub, perfect for watching sports on TV after a long day of outdoor activity.

Nestled in the woods and rolling hills of South Estonia, you'll find Kivitalu Country Hotel Cottages, only eight kilometers outside of Otepää. Several small cabins line the shore of a tiny lake, perfect for skating on in winter or taking a post-sauna dip in a hole cut in the ice. Their Russian sauna is the main attraction — it takes eight hours to heat, so order ahead!

South Estonia is the land of the UNESCO-listed smoke sauna tradition, making it a must-do if you're in the area! Near Otepää you can find two smoke saunas: Toidupada smoke sauna and Kakulaane smoke sauna. End your session with a roll in the snow or a dip in the pond!

Active holidays for sports enthusiasts

Tehvandi and Kääriku Sports Centres provide a year-round training ground for both professional and amateur sportsmen, so you will find everything you need for a sporting holiday. There are several national and international winter competitions in the area, with participants from all over the world. Due to the well-kept tracks and conditions, many well-known athletes come to Otepää to train for the Winter Olympics.

Kääriku Sports Centre has a variety of accommodation options, including one of ÖÖD Hotels iconic mirrored cabins. The Sports Centre offers all types of year-round activities: in winter, enjoy ski and hiking tracks and a natural ice rink; in summer, there's an outdoor swimming pool and a beach and several ball fields.

Sports enthusiasts can also opt to stay at the Tehvandi Sports Centre. The Centre offers basic hotel accommodations for those who want to stay in the middle of the action. Enjoy the ski tracks in winter and climb up to the ski jump observation platform — the second-highest observation tower in South Estonia after the viewing tower on Suur Munamägi Hill! You can also check out the Otepää Winter Sports Museum and compare your times to those of Estonia's top winter athletes.

Alpine skiers and snowboarders can head to Kuutsemäe Holiday Centre or rent snow tubes to zoom down the hill at Otepää Winterplace

Otepää in the summer

Opepää is also worth visiting outside the winter season. In warmer weather, enjoy the beach or rent a stand-up paddle board and glide around beautiful Lake Pühajärv. If you want to practice your long game, spend the afternoon at the Otepää Golf Centre, or grab a frisbee and check out one of the local disc golf courses

Get a dose of adrenaline at the Otepää Wakepark or the Otepää Adventure Park. Even the shortest daredevils can manage the pint-sized adventure track among the trees! Kids will also love the Cantervilla Castle Playland — climbing, bouncing, and water play will keep them busy for hours on the grounds of Cantervilla Castle, a manor home dating back to 1908.

History lovers and fans of Estonia's traditional black bread will want to visit Sangaste Castle. It was in Sangaste that Friedrich Georg Magnus von Berg developed a winter rye cultivar that is still grown all over the world to this day. The restaurant even serves vodka distilled from this particular type of rye. On the way to the manor from Otepää, stop and climb the Harimäe Observation Tower for a great view of the surrounding countryside.

While it might be the winter capital of Estonia, there's fun for every season in Otepää!