My boss at my last job spent two years in the Peace Corps in Estonia in the 1990s, and when I told her my now husband and I were planning a trip to the Baltic States for our honeymoon, she couldn’t stop singing praises for Pärnu. I thought, better listen to the expert, and include it in our Baltic itinerary, even if for a short stopover on our way into Latvia.
And thus, Pärnu was a brief stop on our whirlwind Baltic Road Trip Honeymoon™ this past summer. We stopped there for an extended lunch and wander period in between Saaremaa and the Gauja National Park. We were a bit down in the dumps about not having enough time in Saaremaa to properly explore, and had planned to only stop for a quick lunch. But, as it happens when one visits a place truly unburdened by unrealistic expectations, we ended up loving Pärnu!
Pärnu has a special place in the hearts of Estonians as their summer resort capital. Sitting inside Pärnu Bay in the Gulf of Riga, is has spectacular sandy beaches, nice weather, and calm waters very uncharacteristic of the Baltic Sea and its extensions. Estonians have long vacationed there (especially during the Soviet era when Saaremaa was off limits to all except permanent residents and miltary personnel), but it became especially popular as a spa destination during Tsarist Russian and Soviet times.
Today Pärnu is a rather sleepy town. We arrived midweek, and the weather was perfect. We spent a relaxed few hours wandering its streets, and taking in its sites. Of all the towns we visited, it contained the best preserved examples of Estonian wooden architecture (outside of Tallinn’s Kalamaja district perhaps – but that had a much more distinct urban feel than did Pärnu), and the people were very friendly and patient with my lack of Estonian language.
As I stated before, we went to the town with no expectations, so we didn’t have a planned itinerary of things to see. In our aimless wanderings we stopped by the Russian Orthodox Church, painted in different shades of technicolor green. The inside was particularly ornately decorated, making us think that there must be some sort of -ahem- homosexual design agenda behind the Russian Orthodoxy.
Pärnu was also the unlikely location of the best meal of our entire honeymoon. I’ve raved about the freshness of the food in the Baltics before (see my post on the Riga Central Market), but the Kohvik Supelsaksad in Pärnu took this idea of fresh, local food, and then added a ridiculous kitschy design on top of it to create the perfect hippie homo storm of culinary awesomeness. David ate a fresh salmon crudo salad, and I had homemade pasta with a cheesey cheese sauce (what is a vacation if not an excuse to eat all the cheese?) that were both to die for.
Our waitress, Kaisa, was a supermodel fluent in English who had spent summers in Miami and Hawaii. We were a bit crestfallen to tell her we were from Seattle, but too transfixed by her beauty to elaborate any further on ourselves. Needless to say, if you’re in Pärnu, eat at the Kohvik Supelsaksad – in addition to beautiful people and delicious fresh, local food, there’s also tons of fun shit on the walls and postcards to buy.
Our time in Pärnu ultimately served to revitalize us after feeling regretful about our harried pace in Saaremaa. Fitting that such a revitalization came from Estonia’s spa capital!
Pärnu is right on the main road running between Tallinn and Riga, and on the somewhat well trodden Baltic tourist trail. In the first week of September we were the only tourists in town. If you’re driving, parking is easy on the highway through town. Park wherever, get some info at the centrally located Tourist Information Center in the old Town Hall building, and wander from there. If you’re riding public transport, there are numerous buses to Pärnu from Tallinn, Riga, and Tartu. There are also a couple of trains from the Balti Jaam Station in Tallinn daily, but take longer to reach Pärnu.