Haapsalu and the Jahta Hostel
Haapsalu is sited on a peninsular on the west coast of Estonia and nowhere in the town is far from the water. There are narrow streets which are lined with pretty wooden houses and the town is dominated by the large 13th century Episcopal castle and the huge Dome church which sits inside the impressive walls.
For centuries the curative mud in this area attracted visitors and there are several hotels and spas which offer various therapies. Both the Russian tsar Peter I and Tchaikovsky have visited the town, with the composer returning more than one and even having a promenade named after him.
Pretty beaches and esplanades are dotted with high bird watching towers and in the winter the shallow waters freeze, forming ice roads across to some of the islands.
Cultural events and music festivals take place in Haapsalu; the most important being the AugustiBluus festival which takes place inside the castle grounds, and which attracts hoards of tourists and music lovers
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Haapsalu I can recommend the Jahta Hostel.
Just 10 minutes walk from the castle and the old town centre, this small hotel has the perfect seafront location. The pretty wooden building which is painted lemon yellow contains 8 bedrooms – two of which are ensuite. The ground floor is taken up with the restaurant and the hotel is upstairs with balconies overlooking the water and bedroom windows set into the eaves.
There is a comfortable lounge area which is available for guests to use with a TV, a large table, comfortable seats, a fridge and tea and coffee making facilities, and the most fantastic views over the water. With two balconies and large windows the room is flooded with light. It looks out over the sheltered bay, the waters of which change colour throughout the day and evening as the light changes. I saw the most spectacular sunrise ever here and during the day there are birds or boats, and on the cold winter mornings there was even ice floating about.
Rooms are simple but have very comfortable beds – they are light and airy and the hotel has a sauna of course. The restaurant and the bar downstairs in the Jahta looked so inviting with cool sea-blue wooden furniture and plenty of windows and doors which let in the light, and again, there is that view out over the bay. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the food as the restaurant is closed during the winter months, although it does open for pre-booked parties and events and over Christmas. The owner Henri has worked in Spain and if the rest of his hotel is anything to go by, I am sure that the Mediterranean style food (especially fish and seafood) would not disappoint. However because the restaurant was closed, Henri was more than happy to provide a microwave oven for guests’ use.
I asked Henri about the history of the building and he told me that it used to be a storage shed for boats before it was converted in 2008. At the side of the building is an area where salt used to be stored, waiting for the fishing boats to come alongside and collect supplies of it before heading back out to sea again. Henri showed me his catch of perch which he netted from the sea the previous night and he explained how he will now salt the fish and then hang them up whole by their tails in the open air underneath the eaves of the hotel for a few weeks. These salt fish will be sold to visitors in the summer with beer as a tasty snack. He hopes to have a line of these fish encircling the entire hotel and drying out in the spring sunshine shortly.
The Jahta Hostel hires out bicycles, sailing yachts and speed boats to guests in the summer, and they plan to add a car to that list too. They have their own music festival booked for this summer, with a stage on the waterfront, Estonian artists and an outside cocktail bar. A little shop in the hotel will serve boat owners and trippers with their immediate needs, from beer to boaty bits and pieces.
Just a couple of streets back from the Jahta Hostel is a large saltwater lagoon and further over from that, more sea. Day and night people can be found quietly fishing all along the shore line and one morning, after an especially cold, clear night, a thin layer of fresh ice had formed along the sheltered dock in front of the hotel which whispered magically as it floated around and the sun warmed it up.
The town (like most of Estonia) is kept impeccably clean and free of rubbish and the air has a sharp, clean quality to it. The Jahta Hostel and Haapsalu town will take on a completely different personality during the summer but in March there is an overwhelming feeling of tranquility and peace.