The Hanseatic Days
In summer Pärnu hosts the Hanseatic Days Medieval Festival, which includes numerous concerts, dance performances and theatricals. A highlight is the medieval market where tradesman sell handicrafts, food and other goods that represent trade between countries that was part of the Hanseatic League (a league of merchant associations within the cities of Northern Germany and the Baltic) during the 14th and 15th century.
In 2010 the 30th Hanseatic Days Festival will be held from June 24 to 27 in Pärnu with 17 countries participating.
Pärnu’s reputation as resort town can be traced back to 1838 when the first bathing centre was established with heated seawater baths. By 1890 Pärnu was submitted in the official list of imperial holiday resorts of Russia with the town council turning the pre-World War I Pärnu into a world-renowned health resort.
This reputation as resort town and later “summer capital” continued during the post-war era of independent Estonia from 1918 to 1940 as well as during the period of Soviet occupation. In 1996 “Sunny Pärnu” was officially declared Summer Capital of Estonia by the government.
Today the seaside area is lined with luxury resorts offering health and beauty treatments ranging from relaxation therapy, cold therapy at -100 degrees Celsius, waterbed massages, saunas and even dental care. The number of beds in Pärnu spas exceeds 1600, which amounts to one third of the total number of beds in Estonian spas.
But if you do not fancy forking out hard-earned pounds to be treated like the Queen, Pärnu’s long sandy beach is absolutely free to touch up on your suntan. The newly completed beach promenade at a cost of €1,3 million is spectacular both during the day or floodlit at night.
Take a walk
The relatively small city of Pärnu – the population is only 45000 – is scattered with parks and avenues. In fact, one fifth of the town is covered with parks, green areas, boulevards, orchards and gardens. No surprise then that it is ideal for long walks with stop-offs at various restaurants, cafes, museums and galleries.
Make sure not to miss the Red Tower, parts of the bastions, the moat and the old city gate, which dates from the 17th century.
Also walk past the most outstanding Baroque buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. They include Elisabeth’s and St. Catherine’s Churches and numerous Art Nouveau buildings.
Get bogged down
The Soomaa National Park is less than an hour’s drive to the east of the city. Soomaa means “bogland” in English and it truly is a land of bogs, flood plains, marshlands, rivers and forests.
Soomaa offers several hiking trails, of which the most fascinating is a walk on top of one of the highest and largest bogs in all of Europe – Kuresoo. If you are not armed with bog shoes (similar to snow shoes that prevents you from sinking into the bog) you will have to follow a boardwalk that will take you to large bog pools. Contrarily to popular horror bog stories, it is quite safe to swim in these pools and those who have attest to the pleasure.