A personal , short and incomplete overview of some of our considerations and thoughts for moving to the island Saaremaa.
Our home from above.
1 | Silence and space - it's not crowded
With a population density of 11.7/km2 (30.3/sq mi) it feels most of the time as if you're in a big nature reserve, except for the cosy city 'Kurresaare' in the south, which does have a cityvibe around it. Driving around, there is a diversity of landscapes, open views, forests and little farmsteads nestled in the landscape. This is such a breath of fresh air - even in contrast to the village in Belgium where we lived before. That 'small' village counted around 12,000 inhabitants, as here a place with 200 inhabitants is sometimes called a city.
This small number of inhabitants is mostly due to their tragic history.
The silence is a blessing for us. No distant traffic, planes or noisy neighbours. Except for some barking dogs and the occassional chainsawn in a very acceptable intensity. The chirping birds ,the wind through the leaves, ... those sounds make up the soundscape now. I'm finding myself astounded by the intense silence some of the nights seem to possess here.
2 | Entrepreneur-friendly - less beaurocratic
Coming from an overcomplicated and paradoxical country like Belgium the contrast appears huge. Estonia invested effort and time in reducing the bureaucratic apparatus, and created electronic platforms where you can use your E-id for voting , taxes, doing business, and so on. Getting things in order with the local authorities, buying property and getting our E-id was a rather straight-forward and simple procedure, even as a non-Estonian without proficiency in the estonian language. The people here so far always have been very helpful, as they guide you forward with a practical no-nonsense mentality.
But as Estonia likes to appear as a high-tech country, advanced and smart, it also seems that this focus on technology as the way forward and as a way to help form the country's identity, doesn't count everybody in. It sometimes also looks as if it focuses away the attention for some of the real problems people face here.
Nevertheless, being able to have a chance as an entrepreneur without it being an enormous hassle, and the prospect of getting things done via the internet in (most of the time) English, is a bonus for us.
Harilaid, the Westcoast of Saaremaa.
3 | Acces to forest and the sea - 'Everyman's right'
Being able to just walk from our home into the forest is a dream come true. We have acces to our land, and we can use some of our own trees for building and firewood. There is plenty of organic materials available for the future garden and stones for landscaping. There are algae on the coastlines to be used as fertiliser in the gardenbeds. That feels like richness to me.
We noticed already many times people gathering and foraging mushrooms, berries and plants in the forests and meadows. Estonia provides the "everyman's right", or freedom to roam, that is the general public's right to access certain public or privately owned land, lakes, and rivers for recreation and exercise.
4 | Interesting Culture -Folkmusic , a singing nation , sauna's and spa's, Nordic influences
My impression is that people rather describe themselves as a 'Nordic people' instead of 'Baltic'. There seems to be rather little bonding with Latvia and Lithuania, besides the geographical and economical. There is more overlap with Finland, which has the same language-origine and also knows the use of sauna's and some other cultural habits.
We come across great Estonian music all the time, there seems to be a lively folkscene here. And there are many established choirs in the little villages around here, bonding people together. The summer season provides the locals and the tourists with plenty of cultural events, fairs and opportunities. The winter is a silent period in that regard.
5 | Debt-free living - affordable farmsteads
We were suprised by the prices for the kind of properties we were looking for. There seem to be plenty of abandoned and old farmsteads and little houses waiting for a creative vision and to be given a new life. We had a list of requirements and hopes for our future plot. The size, a wind barrier from the west and north side, acces to forest, proximity to local shops and so on. Somehow, we found a place that somehow magically suits them all. From the moment I discovered the listing on the internet I knew: this is it.
Not having to take on a debt with a bank also made a lot of sense to us, and guided our decisionmaking and preparationperiod.
Old summerhouse on our property, now our little home.
6 | Natural building opportunities- space for experimentation
For us it is important that there are some possibilities for crafting our own buildings without it being a bureaucratic and expensive hassle or without disturbing neighbours. There seem to be no limit as far as I know as to how small you can live here, as opposed to Belgium. As we like to start with a small livingspace and slowly add on in the future, that is a bonus. People seem to be living in rather compact houses here, but often have acces to multiple outbuildings like a shed, a sauna, a gardenhouse and so on.
And why specifically the island Saaremaa?
7 | More Small Organic farms - Slow food movement
The number of small organic farms is higher than on the mainland. The town Kurresaare also has the only official 'Earth market' - organic farm market of the country as far as I know. There are plenty of makers , craftspeople and producers creating interesting products. There is much focus on the local products that are displayed in little shops or on farmvisits and markets. We don't complain about the food here, there is plenty of fresh choice for the things we like to eat.
8 | A slightly warmer climate and more hours of sunshine - Island micro climate
With our wish to use our off-grid solar panel system for our energy-use, more sunhours are a nice bonus. In USDA plant hardiness zones, Saaremaa can be two zones different from the mainland, as the island creates it own microclimate. This means there is a bit less winter and a bit more of the other seasons. Saaremaa seems to be mainly in zone 7A- roughly 7 months without frost, and has cold and dark winters.
9| Slow living - More laid-back then mainland
'Saaremaa is a land on it's own', the neighbour told us the first time we've met him. Less stress, more laidback. It indeed feels like a place where time hasn't catched up yet, and the rythm of life is slower than elsewhere.
10 | Story and myth - A land created by giants and influenced by vikingculture
Islands do speak to my imagination, and Estonia offers plenty of them. There are stories and myths that feed the inspiration for my artistic adventures in printmaking.
Some things to consider
1 | A recent tragic history- it's in the subconsiousness of the people and the landscape
History hasn't been particulary friendly to Estonia. If you're sensitive, you can feel it from time to time. There are dark stories looming in the landscape. Overgrown farms taken back by nature after the Sovjet deportations or from people trying to escape oversea. Ruins of the communal farms of the sovjet-era can still be seen as living memories, and history lives in the thoughts of the people. The island of Saaremaa has been a restricted area for almost 50 years, not reachable for many people.
2 | A really beautiful but very difficult language- It sounds like singing
What a beautiful language. Deep sounds and vibrations, all the words seems attached to one another to a foreigners ear. Only around 1 million people in the world can speak Estonian, and it is time we join that group. Easier said then done though, as this is a really difficult and nuanced language to learn. I think this is the hardest for me so far, as I feel guilty not being able to understand or communicate freely with our neighbours...yet. It is also rather strange for them hearing someone foreign trying speaking their language I suppose.
3 | Immigration to here is rather unuasual
On the island 98´% is Ethnic Estonian. It's seems rather suprising for them that we have chosen to live here.
4 | The environment seems more suitable for introverted personalities
Extraverted personalities might have a harder time in this environment. But we personally are people that can work on our own and don't mind at all. We are not in need for a constant social interaction. It feels to me that Estonians tend to be more introverted as well.
5 | It can become really cold in wintertime - adaptivity is nessecary
In the winter of 2019-2020, there was barely snow and it didn't get really cold. But other times you can have snow for multiple months and temperatures going towards -25C on some days or nights. Better be prepared! (I do say that to myself, as we have yet to experience our first winter here) People tell us they remember much heavier winters in their youth, so the general trend seems less cold and more rain, but you never know what the future beholds.