When revolutionaries ambushed and assassinated the Baron of Pädaste, Imperial Hunting Master to Tsar Nicholas II, in 1919 it froze in time the manor house that was his summer home. History, often bloody history, now passed it by.
Axel von Buxhoeveden’s heartbroken widow, the Siemens heiress Charlotte, left to live in Germany, never to return, and as a turbulent century saw Estonia crushed by war and Soviet domination, medieval Pädaste Manor sank slowly into decay. Destined, it seemed, to be submerged in the marshes of Muhu island. Trees took root in its lofty halls.
But like the sleeping beauty in the fairytale it has been magically reawakened as a hotel, mirroring the Baltic state itself shaking off the years of repression, rediscovering its roots.
If the beautiful heart of capital Tallinn has turned into a kind of tourist toytown, seducing the cruise ship parties (the stag and hen hordes have thankfully moved on), then Muhu and the other islands out to the west seem the keepers of Estonia’s rebellious pagan flame against a backdrop of the brooding Baltic Sea.
We arrived to stay at Pädaste Manor, now a five-star luxury hideaway like no other, a couple of weeks before the great celebration of the White Nights, 19 hours of daylight demanding much tree-hugging and vodka swilling. It hits you that Christianity was late coming to these northerly parts.
Wild boar and moose roam the woods of Muhu, along with the huntsmen who track them. Rare butterflies flit among the juniper trees, even rarer orchids carpet the woodland clearings. Half of Estonia is forest, a valuable source of mushrooms and herbs. A wild larder just waiting to be foraged. A landscape with much to tell.
One man who has listened is Martin Breuer. A quarter of a century ago the erudite Dutchman had a vision for Pädaste. It has taken a lot of sweat and toil to realise it, along with a welcome cash injection from the European Union.
The result is captivating. We arrived late. A journey from capital Tallinn that had promised to take little over two hours on blissfully quiet roads had been extended by our foolishly not taking the pre-booked lane on the Virtsu quayside.
We missed the boat and looked like missing lunch, but Kuivastu where the next ferry dropped us is just 10 minutes from Pädaste and the Manor kitchen stayed open to accommodate us. Our first taste of the Manor’s take on ‘Nordic Islands’ cuisine.
Think good game and fish, wild greens, birch sap, all palate-tinglingly pure. The hotel’s ground floor Alexander Restaurant has regularly been voted Estonia’s best and goes from strength to strength under current Chef de Cuisine Diogo Caetano. This elegant room with high ceilings opens into a spectacular winter garden and offers sweeping views over the park with its ancient trees.
More casual but also impressive was the simpler fare at the Pädaste Yacht Club on the Sea House Terrace down by the marshes. A good start. So too, our suite, which sported a terrific bathroom, with a free-standing tub, and a balcony overlooking woodland.
No two rooms are the same at Pädaste, either in the art-filled Manor House itself or in the Carriage House in the grounds – a consequence of the quirky, organic feel to the place Martin has been determined to maintain. Even the sauna, in a separate cottage brings a smiling, homely feel to state of the art facilities.
The position helps, convenient yet remote feeling. We soon ventured beyond the gate and into a piece of unspoiled Muhu. Despite, or perhaps because of the unseasonal heat, mist cloaked the distant creek. After lunch and a beer we took our books out to the loungers on a little jetty and drifted off to the sound of birdsong and bee hum.
If shacking up in a lost domain is your thing, then there’s no need to venture out. We took the hire car for a morning’s spin around Muhu, which is really just a staging post en route for Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa.
Our favourite spot was Koguva fishing village, a lovingly preserved gaggle of farmhouses. There’s a museum of island life with staff in traditional costume and an art gallery but really it’s just an idyllic maze of lanes to wander around. It helps that it’s mostly inhabited by locals whose families have been here for generations.
This feels like the true Estonia, rather than Tallinn Old Town. Strikingly beautiful, yes, but just a mite plastic. Pädaste’s park and shoreline form part of a nature protection zone which is well known for its biodiversity. The shoreline is a stopover location for migratory geese, cranes, ducks and swans. Three breeding couples of the rare and majestic sea eagle nest nearby, the nightingale takes centre stage in the evenings of early June.
The park is home to owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and bats. Deer, wild boar and moose inhabit the surrounding forest. They occasionally can be seen crossing into the park, specially during cold winters.
Alas, the hotel is closed during the winter months, shuttered against the ice. Ready to reawaken when the abundant spring flowers are again in bloom and the lucky visitors return. Nowhere I know is quite like it.
Pädaste Manor – a Small Luxury Resort & Spa, Pädaste Mõis, Muhu Island, 94716 Estonia. +372 45 48 800. A member of Relais & Chateaux. Doubles from 280 euros (Carriage House) and 387 euros (Manor House). Junior suite from 459 euros, including breakfast with the Grand Suite at 965 euros. The hotel can arrange a private limousine transfer for the two hour journey from Tallinn or you can book car hire via the hotel website to get a discounted rate and complimentary upgrade depending on availability. Finnair has regular flights from Manchester to Helsink with connections to Tallinn.
To celebrate the hotel’s 25th birthday this profile of Pädaste is extracted from a travel piece of mine on Estonia, first published in Manchester Confidential.