Christmas tradition at the 'land of bays'

  • 2009-11-26
  • By Ella Karapetyan

TALLINN - The Christmas holiday season is almost near and people already are busily preparing for it and trying to find the perfect place to enjoy the Christmas season. Some people are always worried, asking where would be the best place to spend their holidays. Those who have been in Estonia can surely say that Estonia is a great place for a winter break.
An ideal place to spend your Christmas holidays is Palmse manor and park, some 80 kilometers from Tallinn, on the shores of the Baltic sea, which lies in the heart of Lahemaa National Park. The park is known for its attractive and special natural surroundings, the peninsula jutting out into the sea, and its bays, which have given the region its name, ‘lahemaa,’ meaning ‘land of bays’ in the Estonian language.

Palmse has gone through a long history. After World War II the mansion was used as a children’s summer camp. From 1972 to spring 2002, Lahemaa National Park administered the manor. Since spring 2002, the manor has been managed by the Foundation “Museums of Virumaa.” All the buildings are under state protection as an architectural monument.
The large 18th century residence, which once belonged to the von Phalen family, has been restored as a complex to give a full picture of a typical Baltic manorial estate, and is now the jewel in the crown of the park. The rooms of the manor house are furnished with manor furniture from different periods. The exhibition of old vehicles and the greenhouse can also be visited. In summer concerts are held in the manor park.

The group of buildings which form the manor are surrounded by parks, with common and rare trees as well as a lake with swans and a garden pavilion.
Nowadays, the manor itself is a museum and is open to the public. One of the largest of the group of buildings in the manor complex is the former distillery which has been rebuilt to form the hotel. This has meant that the unity of the manor buildings has been preserved as a whole, taking into account the heritage and environment.

Palmse is an excellent example of one of the largest, most successful and highly regarded Estonian manor house operations. A handmade map on display in the Baron’s office, dated 1864, shows their landholdings at 10,820 hectares.
The Phalen family history serves as an excellent example of the Baltic German family’s service to the King or Czar, their industriousness, and why they were allowed to remain in Estonia by the foreign rulers. Carl Magnus von der Phalen served the Czar as a cavalry Major General and saw service during the Napoleonic war. His son Alexander built the first railway building in Tallinn and was a founding director of the Baltic Railway Company operating between Tallinn and St. Petersburg. His son Alexis studied paleontology at the University of Tartu. The family was noted for its brewery, and several generations of Phalen botanists experimented in the family orchards and greenhouses.

The manor house has undergone a complete renovation although none of the furnishings are original. The Phalens removed all their belongings when they left for Germany in 1923. At that time the land was divided among ten families and the manor house was taken over by the Defense League, then the Estonian armed forces.
Here one can also find Palmse Manor Tavern, where one can taste all the traditional dishes of Estonia; fresh local bread and butter are always on the table. Tavern folks greet every guest as a long awaited relative. In summertime the tables are set outside. There parents can keep an eye on their kids as they try out the different swings set up behind the tavern that used to be a farm laborers’ house.

There are places for about one hundred people, which means that one can have a lovely traditional wedding there as well.
Next to the tavern there is the farm laborers’ museum where one can see how they lived, and try out different farm laborers’ tasks.