Estonian Swedish Jaala Routes

The home port of jaala is a seaside resort town with a long history – Haapsalu. During the middle ages Haapsalu was the most important center in Western Estonia and the bishop's residence, with township already from the XIII century. The city got back its energy and apperance lost in the many wars only in the XIX century when it became a favoured resort town for the family of Russian czar. Today Haapsalu is still a rapidly developing popular resort well-known for its curative mud centers. The bishop's castle and the museum opened in this meidieval building offer a real experience to history fans – in addition to the restored castle it is possible to see the collection of weapons found during the excavation works, hear about fashion in the middle ages and about the Saare-Lääne bishopric. In Haapsalu also lies the Aiboland Museum, which offers and insight into the past and the cultural heritage of an interesting minority – the Estonian Swedes and their traditional sailing ship jaala. The Museum of Western Estonia situated in the old town hall building is a good place to get more thorough overview of the history of whole Western Estonia.

Despite the fact that jaala itself originates from Ruhnu island in the Pärnu Gulf it is mainly used for various trips on the islands of Väinameri Sea – a shallow part of the Baltic sea with curvy coastline and numerous islands, situated between the Estonian mainland and its westernmost islands. Compared to open sea the waves are weaker here, the water less salty and the winter-time ice much thicker. Väinameri Sea with its endless scenic views is popular among sailers (Muhu Strait Regatta) and fishermen. The small islands and islets have their fans too. In Limestone is very characteristic of the whole region of Western Estonia. The picteresque limestone denudations form an endless chain all the way from the southern coast of Matsalu Bay to the westernmost islands. The plant communities formed on these lime-rich landscapes - alvars and wooded meadows - are very rich in species. To maintain these valueable areas volunteer nature work camps have become increasingly popular.

The coastal landscape is in never ending cycle of change, because the land is rising here roughly 20 cm in a century. This way bays turn into dryer lagoons overgown with reed and lakes into shallow swamps. The plains born due to recession of the sea form large coastal meadows with many rare species, like Natter jack Toad and Dunlin. The many islets of Väinameri sea are good nesting places for numerous birds, inlcuding Eiders, Velvet Scotters and Red-breasted Mergansers. Lately there have been more Sea-gulls and Cormorants. During migration period the sea is full of hudreds of thousands of Clangulas and Velvet Scotters.

A few hours of sailing towards Noarootsi peninsula from the home port of the jaalaship is the Silma Nature Reserve, full of coves and coastal lakes overgrown with reed. This region is the second biggest resting and nesting place for migratory birds in Western Estonia. The visitors' center of the nature reserve is in the Saare manor in Noarootsi ('Lyckholm' in Swedish). Nearby lies the Sutlepa sea, the biggest coastal lake in the area. The lake shores have reed cottages, observation towers and hiking trails to enable to get a better glimpse of the birdlife in the reedbeds. Here you can hear the Bittern and with a streak of luck even to see Bearded Tit and Horend Grebe. There are good bird observation towers also in the Saunja village and Haapsalu. The bays of Silma are important spawning areas for the fish of Väinaemeri sea. During the spawning season dozens of White-tailed Eagles are seen here.

A days sailing to the west from Haapsalu lies the Vormsi island ('Worm island' in Swedish) – a long time home to the Estonian Swedes as the predominantly foreign names betray. The last of the Estonian Swedes, who inhabited the island already in the 13. century left these areas shortly before the Russian occupation in the Second World War. This enigmatic junipery island offers scenic natural beauty as well as interesting historic memories. On the spot we will learn why Vormsi church has no tower, why there are over 300 stone circle-crosses in the graveyard and how to differentiate between Scottish highlander cattle from the Brown Bear. One should definitely also visit the white limestone coastal embankment near the Saxby lighthouse tower. The plant communities on Vormsi alvars are rich in orchids. They are especially numerous in the Digy peninsula alvar forests and on the northern shores of Prästviigi lake rich in streams. The junipery Rumpo peninsula has exceptionally rich in species and rare lichen communities – there are more than 160 different species of lichen growing here. As Vormsi is on the bird migration route it has quite many - 211 recorded bird species, the rarest of which are Peregrine Falcon, Eagle-owl, Bittern, Dunlin and Corncrake. On the way to Vormsi jaala can visit the junipery islet of Hobulaid ('Horse islet'), which got its name after the fact that the bishop of Saare-Lääne county used to graze his horses there.

Another island on jaala's course, Osmussaar, with the Swedish name 'Odensholm', is also a well-known region of coastal swedes. This small island was home to 130 Swedish-Estonian farmers before the Russian army deported them and turned it into a military outpost. After the Russian troops pulled out in 1992 the island offers an odd site, where the ruins of centuries-old traditional limestone farm houses are interspersed with huge military bunkers and -constructions slowly dilapidating. Walking past the graves of soldiers from different ages and nationalities, some of them more than a century old, it feels as if you have become lost in Andrei Tarkovski's film 'Stalker'. Osmussaar will take you back in time and gives you an unforgettable chance hear the echoes of the history of this small island that has for centuries been the meeting point of great powers.

Saaremaa, the biggest island in Estonia and a huge viking age center was quite well-known among the ancient people. Kaali meteorite crater has probably the best accessibility in whole Eurasia and the destruction it wreaked upon the surrounding landscape can be well seen with the naked eye even today. The meteorite has been dated 4500 B.C. - a time when these parts were already inhabited and the big bang did not go unnoticed. That is why many people of the Baltic sea have in their folklore hints about the sun or iron falling from the sky. Saaremaa is also famous for one of Estonia's most famous historic ship findings – the Maasilinna ship. This 16. century sailing ship has been conserved near where it was found in Orissaare and it is possible to visit it with prior agreement. The junipery Saaremaa full of idyllic wind mills offers interesting exploration for many days – for handicraft-, historic ship-, history fans as well as to vacationers.

In addition jaala can sail to many other islands of Väinameri sea, visit further reaches of the Baltic sea or even head over the borders to more distant destinations. If the captain is willing the group can even sail to see the king of Sweden himself.

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