Often referred to as the summer capital of Estonia, Pärnu straddles the eponymous river just where it empties into the Gulf of Riga. Long favoured by Russian, Finnish and German visitors, the sandy beach and mud baths have coaxed travellers to play, party and prosper here for well over a century. The beach, spa and wellness traditions thrive even more strongly today, and there’s an appealing range of accommodation for all tastes and budgets.
Courtesy of ESTONIA Resort Hotel and Spa / Expedia
Ideal for couples, with families close behind, the main drawcard at this hotel is an almost bewildering array of spa therapies and wellness treatments in the spa complex; there’s even a range for children. Saunas include a traditional Estonian smoke sauna with whisks (you’re brushed with birch or oak leaves to boost circulation) while two-person barrel-baths, hemp oil massages and magnesium foot-baths await the intrepid. Happily, there’s a pool bar to balance out the holiday. Straightforward rooms and suites feature large oval mirrors.
Courtesy of Kurgo Villa Hotel and Restaurant / Expedia
Barely a stone’s throw from the appealing Pärnu Beach, Kurgo Villa comprises the adjoining Manor and Garden Houses in a quiet residential street. Proud of an enduring hospitality – especially with the first president of Estonia counted as a regular guest – their neat weatherboard facades and skylight windows cocoon immaculate, spacious rooms. In contrast to the part-timbered walls and sleek furniture of the Manor, the Garden offers pine-cabin rusticity where every room has a modest terrace or veranda. There’s a children’s playground, along with a small heated outdoor pool in the summer months.
Glorious beach views underpin the idyllic sea-facing location of Rannahotell, and aptly enough it has a rounded prow resembling the bridge of a cruise ship. Built in the 1930s, it has a striking “functionalist” and Art Deco-tinged style, beautifully revived in a 2016 renovation. Expect bright immaculate rooms and suites with stripped floors, birch furniture and recessed lighting; the best have balconies overlooking the beach. An upscale big-window restaurant favours Estonian cuisine, while a range of spa treatments including algae detox wraps and Thai foot massages round off the genteel atmosphere.
On a quiet street a few blocks in from the beach, Tammsaare has a modern, glass-fronted look. Inside, things brighten with stylish gunmetal grey walls, furniture and pendant lamps married with wooden floors. Compact, functional rooms feature French windows and an armchair, but a handful of suites offer more joy plus personal saunas.
Designers and architecture buffs will likely swoon over the gorgeous Art Nouveau pile that is Ammende. It was built in 1905 as a wedding and summer villa by the wealthiest merchant in Pärnu, but his prosperity waned dramatically within two decades. A succession of cavalier owners almost completely stripped it of decor and character, so that by the mid-1990s it was nearly derelict. Now fastidiously restored and updated, with modern plumbing and amenities, it looks and feels like a glorious Art Nouveau treasure house. A parkland setting close to the beach only adds to its allure.
Wellness aficionados will appreciate this resurrected and enhanced beachside spa property with 1830s origins. The original 1920s mud baths with their Neoclassical facade and symmetrical wings have been handsomely restored. Between it and the beach stands a strikingly modern hotel, all Baltic cool with an irregular low-slung profile, balconies and sleek, unfussy rooms with bold-striped carpets. As expected, there’s a vast selection of spa experiences and treatments, from saunas to massages, and you’ll do well to know your caldarium from your laconicum and tepidarium.
In the heart of the compact old town, this low-key townhouse has apartments and suites that might appeal most to longer-stayers and families seeking space and kitchens. Together with a modern-looking annex, the accommodation is neat, practical and well-equipped. There’s a fondness for pockets of exposed brickwork – there’s even a rug-sized glazed floor panel displaying brick vaulting like a Roman mosaic.
The modern, swanky Wasa appeals to a youthful, almost hipsterish crowd with spacious snazzy rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and two-storey timber-clad apartment buildings with terraces. A pool and sauna centre features glass walls on three sides, while treatments and massages are particularly niche – how about “Amazingly Light Legs” or tautening with ice cube serum? Epicureans will be relieved with (for small-town Estonia) the satisfyingly eclectic restaurant menu embracing Asian influences and street food-style dishes.