|Põlvamaa County at Lake Peipsi|
Põlvamaa County is located in southeastern part of Estonia, stretching from Otepää highlands to lake Pihkva and lake Lämmijärv. Põlvamaa is bordered by Tartumaa county to the north and northwest, by lake Pihkva and lake Lämmijärv to northeast, by Võrumaa county to the south and southwest and by Valgamaa county to the west. The east and southeast of the county is bordered by Russia. All this results in numerous legends and folktales, and in a rich cultural heritage.
This area at the crossroads has also been an important place in formation of people of a very distinct language and culture – the Setos. In this mixture of East and West, this former eastern tribe of Baltic-Finnic people managed to maintain many of thir original characteristic Finno-Ugric customs. Like their language, their way of life and their beautiful and original folklore. If you visit Setomaa, you can see distinct Seto chapels called the tsässonas.
The only Põlvamaa city at lake Peipsi, is the well-known Räpina, situated at the river Võhandu – famous for its gardens, its manor (castle Sillapää) and the dendro-park with over 300 species of trees and bushes. Räpina manor has been first mentioned already in 1582. The late-classical building we see today, was erected in 1836-1847 by the owner R. E. von Richter.
Both the main building with the 2-storied middle part and side wings, as well the remaining granary are interesting. The manor houses the local museum for history and gardening, giving a good overview of Räpina manor and the surroundings, the history of the city, the gardening school and the paper factory. You’ll also find old instruments and work equipment in the exposition.
One of the first paper mills in the Baltics was built in 1734 on river Võhandu, which grew into a manufacture – and then info a factory that despite all the changes throughout the centuries is working until today. The main building of the paper manufacture which has also gone through a lot of reconstructions, is a unique example of industrial architecture in Europe. Räpina paper factory is the biggest processor of recycled paper in Estonia, whereas some of the equipment dates back to the 19thcentury. The waterfall close by is also impressive.
There are 2 architecturally interesting churches in Räpina. The first one is the Lutheran St. Michael church with an arrow-like tower helmet and the 2-piece altar painting by Carl Antropoff: "Christ’s Revelation to Maria Magdalena" and "Entombing". The church was completed in 1785 in late-baroque style. The second church is an orthodox one, dedicated to St. Zacharias and Elisabeth and completed in 1833. The building in classical style consists of three parts and has a long, stretched form.
South of Räpina visit the Tsõõrikmäe meteorite crater which originates from the post-ice age period. It has a diameter of 40m and is surrounded by a ring wall.The bird preservation area of Räpina polder is one of the three Natura bird preservation areas in Põlvamaa county.
Võõpsu hamlet, a former centre of trade and port, is located on the left shore of river Võhandu (it was a small town from1920 to 1938) and is considered to be the beginning of Setomaa. It’s famous for its handicraft, pottery and fairs. Other local sights are the St. Nikolai church and the wooden Seto tsässon, - you will also find a similar one close to lake Pihkva in village Mikitamäe.
The most important hamlet in the Peipsi region of Põlvamaa is Värska, which is also the center of Setumaa in Estonia. The contrast between different cultures, between the past and present is very visible. Visit the Seto Farm Museum, showing various local collections from the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20thcentury. Tsäimaja or the tea house was opened at the museum in 2004 – make sure to try local Seto delicacies. You will also find Seto handicraft, old work equipment and interesting photo collections there.
The mud of Värska bay and the local mineral water drilled from the depths of the earth have strong health-curing effects. These natural recourses have turned Värska into a famous health resort.
Travelers might also be interested in visiting the local orthodox church of St. Gregorius, built in style of historicism, and the cemetery next to it – which is the last resting place for the famous Estonian poet Paul Haavaoks and the legendary Seto “song mother” Anne Vabarna.
Põlvamaa has a beautiful and diverse nature, rich woods and rapid rivers. Piusa caves can be found in the pine forest close to the border – these endless labyrinths are a magical sight, – a result of former quartz mining. Nowadays, it’s the largest winter-hibernating area for bats in the Baltics – therefore under nature protection.