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The Summer Island

There’s a phrase on Muhu that’s near impossible to translate into English, and even harder to pronounce: ‘Muhune haalestumine’. It is the salty, windswept feeling that locals have when they’re on the island, tied to a sense of belonging. Only 1,900 people call the tiny speck of rock off the Estonian mainland home, and they are fiercely protective of its unique identity and traditions, forged through centuries of Swedish and then Soviet rule. Summer – when the sun bounces off the Baltic Sea and the forests and meadows bristle with wildflowers – is the best time to join them, and find a bit of Muhune haalestumine yourself.


Maarika Naagel bounds from plant to plant, stopping to examine a marsh orchid, point out the green berries of a juniper bush or to pick wood sorrel to add to the St John's Wort, yarrow and wild thyme in her basket. 'Even after 800 years of Christianity, we still have one eye on the forest,' she says, threading wild strawberries onto a blade of grass, for future snacking. 'Instead of going to church to pray, if we want to find peace, we go into the woods.' A guide since 1980, Maarika takes people into the forests and along the craggy coastline of Muhu, to teach them about local flora and its many uses through history - from the rowan trees that are said to keep evil away to the necessity of home-pickling during the collective-farming days of the Soviet era. Spend an hour in her company, and you'll soon know which plants will cure a headache, and which will poison you. In the process, her guests find themselves slowly switching to island time. 'You come here, you walk, you pick, there's no need to rush,' she says, handing over a bunch of primula with instructions how to make tea from it. 'You soon see that Muhu has a special atmosphere. Everything feels different here. This is a place where even time rests


'In the beginning, the islanders were a little surprised!' says Peke Eloranta, popping open a bottle of sparkling wine. 'But they're OK now.' The guesthouse and restaurant he runs with wife Ingrid are home to Muhu's least likely enterprise: one of Europe's most northernmost wineries. 'This place belongs to Ingrid's mother,' he says, pointing to the red villa behind him, the words 'Muhu is great' chalked on a wall. 'I was on the steps drinking a glass of wine one evening and looking at all the empty fields, and it made me sad that nothing grew here. So I had the idea - why not grow vines?'

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - July 2018
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