The island of Saaremaa, off the west coast of Estonia, is claimed by many to be one of the most authentically Estonian parts of the country. Buses from Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu come here via a ferry running from the mainland village of Virtsu to Muhu Island, which is linked to Saaremaa by a causeway. The principal attraction is Kuressaare’s thirteenth-century castle, one of the finest in the Baltic region, but the rest of the island also deserves exploration; cycling is the best way to get around. Highlights include the 37km route north from Kuressaare to Angla, its five much-photographed wooden windmills by the roadside. Halfway along, Kaali village, home to a giant meteorite crater thought to be at least 4000 years old, makes a worthy detour.
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In Kuressaare’s Kesk väljak (main square) you’ll find the yellow-painted Town Hall, dating from 1670, its door guarded by stone lions. From the square, Lossi runs south past a monument commemorating the 1918–20 War of Independence to the magnificent Bishop’s Castle (Piiskopilinnus), set in the middle of an attractive park and surrounded by a deep moat. The formidable structure dates largely from the fourteenth century and is protected by huge seventeenth-century ramparts. The labyrinthine keep houses the Saaremaa Regional Museum, a riveting collection of displays charting the culture, nature and history of the island (including an excellent section on Soviet occupation) You can also climb the watchtowers, one of which houses stunning contemporary art and photography exhibitions.