Ice fishing in Estonia

Experience this 'hypnotic ritual' that will 'unclutter the mind'

A person ice fishing at sea in Estonia
Join the local fishermen in this seasonal pastime
(Image credit: Ilja Enger-Tsizikov / Alamy Stock Photo)

During the summer, the shores of Lake Peipus – the fifth-largest lake in Europe – fill with sunbathers from the Baltic states and beyond, said Oliver Smith in the FT. In the winter, the lake often freezes, and once it's solid, fishermen from the villages dotted along its Estonian side – the other is in Russia – venture out onto the ice to see what they can haul up from the dark water below.  

On my trip here, I discovered that ice fishing is "a hypnotic ritual". You drill a hole, lower a gossamer-thin line into "the invisible underworld of shadows and reeds", then wait for it to twitch. "I caught 23 perch", the "flip-flap" of dying fish often "the only movement on the lake, apart from the eagles that sometimes swooped down to steal them". Ice fishing here is best done with a guide. Mesi Tare, "a cosy guesthouse" in the village of Varnja, offers excellent day-long "safaris" that include ice fishing, soup-making and a sauna upon return. You'll be taken onto the lake on "karakats" – weird, huge-wheeled cars that are "just as homemade" as the moonshine you may be offered while you're out there. And fear not: "the edge of Nato territory and the European Union is marked by 'STOP!' signs jammed into the ice".

To get to Peipus, it's best to fly to Estonia's capital, Tallinn, and hire a car there. The drive to Varnja should only take two or three hours. If you don't fancy the fishing, the Peipsimaa Museum in Mustvee is worth a potter around (look out for its "magnificent collection of historic samovars and Orthodox icons"), and there are picturesque villages to explore in the vicinity of the lake, not least Kolkja, where you can have a tour on a kicksled. But it's by – or on – the lake that you'll be able truly to "unclutter your mind" and restore your equilibrium. On my final night, I went for a midnight walk. Under the "blue light of a half Moon", I found "not a soul on the ice – only me". 

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Mesi Tari's karakat safaris cost from €375 for up to six people (mesitare.ee).

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