Whenever you’re organising a group visit, arranging top-notch food and drink ranks high on your to-do list. Bonus points if you can also link said food and drink to the host country’s culture and traditions, giving your guests a genuinely local experience. Now wrap that ‘only here’ gastronomic concept in an engaging activity that both entertains and brings your group together, and you’re officially a champion of culinary hosting.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of experiences available in Estonia that represent various flavours of foodie fun. Whether it’s dining in a boat or in picking mushrooms in a forest, learning a few tricks from the nation’s top chefs or sipping ale with medieval monks, here are some ideas to inspire you. Enjoy!
Flavours of Estonia – Tallinn Old Town walking tour
A proper visit to Tallinn should always start with a stroll through the city’s pride-and-joy Old Town, so we’re kicking off our list with Food Sightseeing Estonia’s gastronomic walking tour of the area. In addition to exploring the cobblestone lanes and learning the fascinating history of this 800-year-old gem, guests are introduced to the stories and tastes of Estonian cuisine in its many facets. The 4.5-hour excursion includes numerous food stops to sample medieval schnapps, spiced sprat sandwiches, the much-loved black bread, the national dessert Kama and the like. The highlights are a visit to a ‘secret’ wine café with a fantastic view and a main course in a top dining establishment.
Beer tasting in a medieval restaurant
Sitting right smack in the middle of Tallinn’s Old Town, the Olde Hansa restaurant has rightfully gained acclaim among visitors for the full-on medieval dining experience it serves up. From the candlelight and theatrically-clad waiters to the troubadours performing 14th-century favourites, this ‘wealthy merchant’s house’ comes packed to the rafters with warm, lively ambience. The food is amazing too. A beer tasting event for your group will cover the four house beers – honey, ginger, cinnamon and herbal – and include stories about the beer culture of those bygone medieval times.
Touring a brewery
For a beer-related experience that’s even more involved (and considerably less medieval), visiting either of Estonia’s two largest commercial breweries is a worthy option. Saku, just outside Tallinn, and A. Le Coq in Tartu both grew out of 19th-century facilities, so the tours they offer cover historical as well as state-of-the-art aspects of the brewing process. Each brewery comes with its very own beer museum, and provides a roomy pub for end-of-tour degustation and other fun.
One of the more unusual crafts practised in Tallinn involves shaping and decorating figurines made of marzipan – a sweet, almond-paste concoction with a doughy consistency. Though marzipan may be more widely associated with other Hanseatic cities of the middle ages, Tallinn has its own historical connection to the treat – up until the 17th century, it was considered a medicine here and famously sold in the Town Hall Pharmacy. In this workshop, your group will learn about marzipan and its making and see how the real masters ply their craft. Better still, they’ll become craftsmen themselves, sculpting, colouring and painting their own small figurines. The only real risk here is making something that’s just too darn pretty to eat.
Making your own chocolates
Continuing with the high-calorie theme brings us to this tempting workshop presented by Estonia’s main confectioner, Kalev. Here participants get to learn all about the principles, ingredients and techniques of making sweets. Guests then go to work, each making eight chocolate truffles which they can either devour on the spot or take home in a gift box. The workshops are hosted in Tallinn’s historical Rotermann Quarter, so can be conveniently linked with a tour of the area.
Mushroom picking tours
As a culture, Estonians have a profound – some would say spiritual – connection to their forests, which is why so many people here consider wandering through the trees hunting mushrooms to be the ultimate weekend pastime. The best way to experience this phenomenon for yourself is, of course, with one of the many guided mushroom-picking tours available. You can have your tour led by a naturalist who can introduce the local flora and fauna, or opt to have a professional chef steer you toward the best edible mushrooms and teach you how to bring out their flavours. Some groups have cleverly integrated their mushrooming adventures with visits to unique areas, like the unforgettable Naissaar Island.
Fairytale dinner in the forest
A decidedly more off-beat and theatrical way to experience Estonia’s wilderness, and enjoy a fine meal at the same time, comes in the form of a customised Show Catering event where mystical hobbits and elves invite you to dine with them. The costumed animators pop up to surprise you at various points of your forest walk, and may also teach you a thing or two about Estonian mythology and nature. Then you’ll be guided to a beauty spot to take in local delicacies, drinks and entertainment.
Craft cider tasting
A good alternative (or addition) to the beer tasting options above is offered by the Cider House in Tallinn, one of few such institutions in this part of Europe specialising in the ancient, fruit-based beverage. The house organises workshops and tasting events that introduce Estonia’s finest craft ciders as well as those from beyond the country’s borders. The events can be held in the Cider House itself (accommodates up to 15), in the nearby Estonian Food Museum, or in other locations by arrangement.
Liviko Distillery tour
If you suspect your group prefers beverages with even more kick, take them on a factory tour of Estonia’s leading distillery and alcohol distributor, Liviko. Based in historical buildings in the heart of Tallinn, the 120-year-old institution recently opened an interactive museum focusing on Liviko’s biggest brands: Vana Tallinn liqueur, Viru Valge vodka and Crafter´s gin. The tour itself shows the various stages of production, from mash to bottling, and can include a visit to the Liviko Academy of Beverages (LAB) for tastings and/or beverage training carried out by experienced sommeliers and barmen.
Dinner with medieval monks
This theatrical culinary experience combines food and thematic entertainment with a chance to visit one of Tallinn’s most prized historical locales – the inner chambers of the city’s 13th-century Dominican monastery. A humorous glimpse into the lives of medieval monks is on the menu, as are live musicians and a few magical surprises. The two-hour programme can be arranged as a lunch or dinner.
Bohemian Tallinn: Farmers’ market & street food
Food doesn’t get much fresher, or more fashionable, than what you’ll find on this tour of the hippest areas of Tallinn. The 2- to 3-hour journey starts at the Balti Jaama Market, a contemporary commercial/cultural hub where Tallinners congregate to shop for everything from antiques to locally-grown vegetables. A tasting at the food market, where diverse array of street food is also on offer, is a must. The tour continues to the adjacent Telliskivi Creative City, a reclaimed factory area with a distinct bohemian character. Startups, theatres, cool design shops and funky bars all make their home here, but the area’s off-beat restaurants are a particular draw and provide great options for your post-tour meal.
Cooking with the Vihula Manor chef
It’s not every day that you get to learn cooking tips from a top chef, and in this case, the experience is made even more special by the locale: picturesque Vihula Manor. Set along the Mustoja River about an hour’s drive from Tallinn, Vihula is a charming, 16th-century estate that has been exquisitely restored to provide boutique-style accommodation and group activities. The sprawling grounds include an eco-garden – an important source of fresh ingredients for the chef. Your dinner cooking activity might start off with a hunt through the garden to gather peppermint to make your very own mojito!
Dinner cruise on Tallinn Bay
Culinary experiences don’t get much more romantic than this two-hour dinner cruise aboard the Katharina, a classic, Norweigian-built coastal liner. In addition to stunning views of Tallinn’s Old Town and historic coastline, your rich buffet dinner will come with fascinating stories about the city’s maritime past. The voyage sets sail from the Tallinn Seaplane Harbour, a museum/attraction that’s itself a popular spot for group activities.
Pancake cruise aboard Jõmmu barge
Visitors to Tartu looking for a similarly enjoyable onboard treat can head straight for the Jõmmu barge, a replica of the wooden trade vessels that plied local waterways from Hanseatic times right up to the 20th century. From its dock adjacent Old Town, the Jõmmu embarks on leisurely, two-hour cruise up and down the Emajõgi River during which your group will feast on pancakes, jam, coffee and tea while taking in the rustic landscapes of southern Estonia. Oh, so relaxing!
We’ll finish out our list with an option that turns the tables, letting the participants themselves supply a meal as part of a fun, team-building exercise. The action takes place in a fully-equipped kitchen where the groups receive some introductory instruction and are then divided into teams to complete culinary tasks under the watchful eye of an experienced chef. The mood is party-like, perfect for having colleagues connect with one another in a purely social setting. And, if all goes well, they’ll get a delicious dinner out of the bargain. Bon appetit!