Cabin in the woods, Saarema, Estonia

Spending a Month in a Cabin In The Woods in Estonia

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After looking at all of the destinations I have visited in the last few years, it’s fair to say that all of them have been warm. I enjoy the heat and the sun. I’m much happier in 30 degrees than 3 degrees. When I lived in Australia, I experienced 48 degrees. On a recent trip to Mauritania it hit 42.

I was born in London, one of the biggest cities in the world, and have spent a considerable amount of time in various cities all over. When working online, I normally stay in cities or big towns, as in my head, these are the sort of places that have the best internet (even though almost everywhere has good internet these days).

But I also like to be out of my comfort zone.

Which is why I agreed to spend one month in a cabin in the woods, on a remote Estonian island in the middle of winter.

Staying on Saarema, an island off the west coast of mainland Estonia was something I had never considered doing, something that kind of happened by chance, but something I absolutely loved.

How did I get to this point? Read on…

Dan sunset beach, Saarema, Estonia
With a sunset this good, I think you’ll guess I liked it!

Getting to Estonia

I spent Christmas with my family in London with no idea where I’ll go next. Aimee, a fellow digital nomad I had first met in Bansko, reached out to me to stay with her in Tallinn.

But it was cold, I replied. I searched on my phone. -8 degrees celcius. I don’t think I had even been anywhere that cold before.

But after weighing up the pros and cons (by literally writing them out in a list), I booked a flight to Tallinn and we landed on a small strip of black tarmac that was surrounded by a sea of white snow. It had been a long time since I had seen snow. Probably not since I flew to a glacier.

I originally only planned on staying for a month, but I honestly doubted I would last a couple of weeks. When it hit -17 and my snot froze making it hard to breath, I strangely enjoyed being in the snow. Did I enjoy putting on my 25 layers of thermals every time I wanted to leave the house? Not at all. But the few times I ventured out, I enjoyed the snow crunching and squeaking beneath my feet, a feeling I hadn’t really experienced before.

Watching small children dressed in full body snow suits being dragged in sleds by their parents as pushchairs just wouldn’t work made me realise that there are a whole set of issues in the snow that I had never had to think about before, let alone encounter.

The first time I heard of Saaremaa was in a craft beer bar where they sold a local Estonian beer that was made on the island. Aimee had visited Saaremaa as part of a solo road trip in 2020, and told me a bit about her experiences in this remote, beautiful part of the country.

“That sounds cool”, I thought without much else going into it.

A short while later, a plan had been made. “Shall we stay on Saaremaa for a month?” Aimee offered. I looked at the relatively large island with a population of a little over 10,000 people, a number that would barely fill a quarter of most premier league football stadiums.

What would I do for that time? How would I get around? I had just got into a good exercise routine in Tallinn, was there a gym I could go to?

Through Facebook, Aimee and I met Allan and Kirsten, a couple who had a holiday home on Saaremaa they were willing to rent to us for the month. It was a perfect situation; they had a house that was empty, and we needed somewhere to stay without going through landlords or AirBnB taking massive fees.

Allan and Kirstens house was in the north of the island, the name of the town they gave us had nothing of note when searching on Google Maps. In fact, it only looked like a few houses and many many fields.

But how often would I get to stay in a cabin in the woods?!

It had to be a yes.

Boat to, Saarema, Estonia
On the boat to Saaremaa

And so, after meeting Allan and Kirsten a few days prior in Tallinn, we packed a hire car and drove to Saaremaa. Arriving in the dark, as you would expect with Estonia’s long winter nights, the car trundled along the 200m driveway until we got to the house.

It wasn’t a cabin by any means but a full two story house, so much larger than I was expecting.

Cabin in the woods, Saarema, Estonia
The cabin in the woods I stayed in

We woke up the next morning to a beautiful sunrise, pastel colours growing in the sky, looking out across farmland that we could see through a clearing in the forest. It was the first chance I got to see the house and what was around it.

Sunrise from cabin, Saarema, Estonia
First morning sunrise

A small shed out the back was obviously the home to the dog when he stayed. Another shed was piled high with firewood to keep the winter at bay in the house. Another, a “summer kitchen”, with work spaces and BBQ pit. Another cabin, contained a sauna, a traditional fire sauna, heated with a wooden fireplace; I knew this region was famous for these but I had never seen one before. A hot tub that was unfortunately covered in a slab of ice and snow, not even allowing me a glance inside. All nestled away in a clearing that was surrounded by forest and untouched nature that could be explored in summer. This place had everything for all seasons.

Sauna, Saarema, Estonia
Sauna building and hot tub

Although the house was well heated, a fire inside whilst the temperature is below freezing outside makes everything more homely. Thus, my nightly routine of getting my layers on to head to the shed with the fire wood, load up a basket and make a crackling fire that burned into the late evening was kind of soothing.

I sat inside and spent my days working, sometimes being distracted when the snow fell in thick flurries outside adding to the thick blanket already coating the ground.

Dan working, Saarema, Estonia
How I spent most of my days (trying to now be distracted by the snow outside)

Surviving to Thriving

Unlike Tallinn, or most places I have stayed, I couldn’t walk to the shops if we had forgotten something. We became planners and resourceful. Our weekends involved hour long round trips to supermarkets in the nearest towns. Leisi, another small village, had a small Coop that did the trick for small purchases during the week, and just past that in Karja, a bakery that did incredible pastries and bread so fresh, you could smell it as soon as you stepped out of the car.

When we had too much food and the freezer was full we came up with a solution. Leave the food outside. Animals that would normally go for it are hibernating at this time of year and the temperature wouldn’t get above -7 for the next few days. Problem solved.

Food outside, Cabin in the woods, Saarema, Estonia
Leave the frozen pizza outside, snow problem!

To get exercise, a kettlebell and weights were in the house along with two yoga mats. Running was out of the question as the roads were covered in a mix of snow, ice and sometimes mud once the temperature crept above freezing towards the end of the stay. But a walk to a local camping and recreation beach a ten minute stroll away gave us fresh air and got us out the house, especially when sunset provided the evenings entertainment.

The city boy in me wanted to flick a switch for heating, but I was now a pro at making fire. Even so much that the fire in the sauna was something I was happy to do instead of being nervous to do so.

Local beer, Saarema, Estonia
Enjoying a beer in front of the fire

The house was beautiful, though much bigger than I had ever lived in before. It took more effort to clean and maintain than I was used to, but in such a beautiful place it was well worth it.

There was a TV, but rarely was it turned on.

The entertainment was watching sunrise with a coffee, having a beer in the sauna, creating a fire to stare into or standing outside at night with no lights around looking at the stars. The nearest dwellings were hundreds of metres away, and often uninhabited as they were holiday homes as well, meaning no lights and no light pollution for potentially miles around. The stars twinkled in a way I had rarely seen before.

Sunrise on the first morning

What I learned…

Sometimes solitude is good. I’m a city boy that like being in large towns. While I’ve lived in remote places in the past, staying in a cabin in the woods on an Estonian island for a month is probably the most remote I have been for an extended period of time.

And I loved it.

I loved doing something that I have never done before, and am unlikely to do again any time soon.

I’d like to challenge myself to do this more often – to stay somewhere I wouldn’t normally, and for a longer period of time.

And maybe even someplace cold.

You may also like: Things to do in Saaremaa, Estonia (Complete Saaremaa Travel Guide)

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