The manor is 6km off the main road, the perfect distance to ensure easy access but equally to ensure a totally calm natural environment. It is without doubt the most impressive manor house in Estonia and the 15 years of restoration between 1971 and 1986 have left a lasting and appropriate memorial to the von der Pahlen family. The main building and the surrounding gardens were begun in 1697 but the Northern War between Sweden and Russia halted construction. It was completed in 1740 and then work started on the other buildings. The family lived here until 1923, when the estate was nationalised in accordance with the Land Law of 1919. The land was then divided amongst ten families and the house became a convalescent home; after World War II the Soviet administration converted it into a pioneer camp for young people. The other buildings had all been left to decline and by 1972, when restoration began, were in such poor condition that it was necessary to consult drawings and photographs from the turn of the century to see their original format.
Different histories like to typecast both the architecture of the manor house and the landscaping of the gardens. The former has been labelled French, Dutch and Italian, the latter English and Chinese. None of these labels is helpful as the von der Pahlens wanted a tasteful, solid and modest environment both indoors and outdoors and used largely local materials. They had no desire or need for ostentation as they all had highly successful careers in many different fields. They distilled as profitably as they ran the Baltic Railway Company; their paintings are as worthy as their botanical research.
Apart from one episode in 1805, their 200-year rule passed without peasant unrest and the famous Estonian writer of the 19th century, Friederich Reinhold Kreutzwald, puts this down to the relationship between the family and their farmers being similar to that between parents and children. They shunned military activity and the only sign of Prussian patriotism is the name they gave in 1871 to one of the paths through the wood - Parisian Way - following the defeat of the French by the Prussian army the previous year.
Apart from one chair in the main bedroom, and the chandelier in the reception, none of the furniture is original but the items which have been collected from all over Estonia are similar to those the family would have used. The chairs in the concert hall have all been recently produced, but follow the original designs. The late 19th-century music box is still in working order and plays 24 different pieces, mainly dance music. The drawings and charts on the first floor are by the 20th-century artist Olev Soans (1925-95) although many are modelled on 19th-century originals. On the balustrade are two monograms, one from the von der Pahlen family in 1785 and one added two hundred years later to commemorate the restoration in 1985. The tiled stoves throughout the house are original, as are the two granite obelisks which guard the entrance. In 2004 the basement wine cellars were reopened and they give considerable space for the display of 19th-century kitchenware and furniture. These were extended in 2006 to include a small bar and shop selling local fruit wines and grape wines with the manor house brand. Another addition, surprising for the 21st century, was a smoking room. To the left of the main building is a small wooden one which looks like a small chapel. It has the German name Kavalierhaus, which defies translation into English but was where the younger people congregated. Now it would be a computer centre by day and a disco by night but, in the early 19th century, sedate dancing could take place for much of the day. Its current use is as a discreet souvenir shop. To the right of the main building is the former bath house, which has now been converted into a cafe.
In the former stables in front of the cafe, there is now a transport museum with an exhibition of cars, bicycles and motorbikes, some of which date back to the 1930s. The most notable items are a fire engine sent from Viljandi to Tallinn in March 1944 to help deal with the aftermath of the Soviet bombing, and the Zil that belonged to Alexandra Kollontai, a close associate of Lenin in the run-up to the 1917 revolution but who was then exiled into the diplomatic corps by Stalin. She died of natural causes in 1952, when she was still working as an adviser in the Foreign Ministry.
Further left is the orchard and the greenhouse, testimony to several generations of botanists in the family. Sadly the greenhouse no longer cultivates the plums, apricots and pineapples that used to enhance the family meals. The distillery has been converted into a hotel and although it serves a wide range of Estonian spirits, none are now produced within the confines of the park. The former stables are now an information centre for the whole park and the shop there sells a wider range of maps and guides than does the souvenir shop. There are two particularly useful leaflets, Viru Bog Nature Trail and Lahemaa Birds. A walk along the lakeside is worthwhile, if only for the view back to the main house, but it can then be extended by taking one of the many different trails through the woods. Of sociological rather than architectural interest is the monument to the von der Pahlens erected in 1933 by the ten families who took over their land, which clearly shows the affection with which they were still regarded a decade after their departure. More impressive, although untouched by humans, are the erratic boulders, the massive lumps of granite that cluster in several places in the woods.
Neil Taylor "Estonia. The Bradt Travel Guide", 2007