In Setomaa we will see different natural and cultural sites during our bus trip:
The legend of Värska’s waters has its roots in a thousand-year-old tale of the tears the Earth Mother cried by the sacred wellsprings for her lost love. These crystal-clear pearls fell deep into the earth, enriching the waters in such a way that anyone who drank of them obtained long life, health and vitality. Those waters infused thousands of years ago, still contain minerals that are beneficial to the whole body – as can be seen in the Värska region where you can taste the mineral waters of Estonia;
The trip will take you through a peculiar border irregularity, which means a short trip through Russia (You don’t even need a visa!);
Beginning in 1922, miners began to hollow out the area that is now the Piusa Caves. Excavating for glass-sand, miners carefully hollowed out the sandstone into long corridors, open galleries and surprisingly elegant vaulted ceilings. Starkly different from other mines that are blasted apart or simply hacked to death, the Piusa Caves almost seem like a planned underground development.
We will also learn about an indigenous ethnic and linguistic minority in south-eastern Estonia and north-western Russia, the Setos who are a small unique nation living in South East Estonia and North West Russia. For the geographical location, religion and roots, their culture is often viewed as existing on the border of two worlds.
The second bus excursion will take you to a border city Valga-Valka that connects Estonia with our southern neighbour Latvia. Valga is located on the Estonian side and Valka on the Latvian side. In addition to the country border, the river Pedeli divides the city in half the other way as well. The cities grew back together after becoming Schengen area members and joining the “euro-club”.
During the trip, you will visit the local municipality of Valga where you’ll learn about their frequent cooperation with Valka municipality when organising mutual events and creating projects together. You will also have a city tour on both sides of the border.
The second destination is Sangaste Castle. Its owner count von Berg was revolutionary with his innovative technologies for agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century. He also spent over a decade trying to breed rye suitable for the local climate. Its descendant is now rumoured to be used in the production of Canadian Gold whiskey.
The last stopping point is Harimägi hill (211 m above sea level) that is a part of the Otepää upland. The hill has a 28 m tower to enjoy the view. Harimägi is also known for being one of the triangulation points for Struve’s geodetic arc.
Ahja River canoe and hiking excursion
The third excursion is definitely physically the most challenging. You will go canoeing on the river Ahja (approx. 12 km), where you can enjoy the untouched scenic view of protected areas and sandstone cliffs. If you’re lucky, you may also see the Common Kingfisher.
After canoeing, your hike (approx. 10 km) will take you through one of the Estonian classic movies’ shooting scenes. The trail mainly goes along the shore of the Ahja river weir (which also has some steeper edges!). You will hear more about the effects of the weir to the natural environment when you reach the Saesaare hydroelectric power plant.
NB! All participants of this excursion need to be ready to spend all day outside in nature, no matter what kind of weather it is. The hike is not as demanding as hiking in the mountains, but comfortable boots and weatherproof clothing are recommended.