Imagine driving up a dirt road after seeing a few stately manors fully repaired in all their grandeur awaiting you with caviar, duck and Italian wine, and then you are greeted by another manor, as ancient as the others, but in complete disrepair. Enter Estonia’s Kolga Manor.
While the exterior needs work (photo at the bottom of this post), it doesn’t compare to the amount of work needed inside the manor’s walls. As you enter, you are met with a stark reality.
Let’s remember that Kolga is one of the largest estates in all of Estonia and one of the oldest, dating back to 1230, when it was founded by a Cistercian monastery. The remains of stucco and paint and the staircase give, again if you use your imagination, an idea of its past glory and beauty and while you are free to walk around, you need to be careful not to stand on the wrong board or perhaps be greeted by one of Kolga’s ghosts. I’m convinced she’s there for when I was meandering through some of the back rooms on my own, I kept hearing a cranky door sway back and forth, only to walk through it and realize no windows were open nor was there a drafty wind coming from any other source.
Alas, I wished I had said hello and knew her name. The sway was too feminine in my opinion for the ghost to be a man.
Being one of the largest manors, it can boast 50000 hectares of land and still leaves a powerful and lasting impression. Next to the main house, in the former stable, is a cosy hotel (with 20 double rooms) and conference rooms are located in the manager’s house. The main building houses the village shop and a rural restaurant.
A Little History on the Manor:
In 1581, Sweden’s King Johan III presented Kolga to his army commander, Pontus de la Gardie. Through marriage, the manor changed hands from this well-known Swedish family to the Stenbocks who were the owners until the land reforms of 1920. In 1993 the grandiose mansion was returned to the Stenbocks. The building’s history has had many phases: the stone building, built in de la Gardie’s time, has remained intact among the other buildings. Between 1765 and 1768 Count Karl Magnus Stenbock had a late-Baroque central section with a high roof built.
The Stenbock family is one of the most famous Swedish families. Their forefather, Field Marshal Magnus von Stenbock, was one of the most influential people in Sweden alongside King Karl XII. Generally known as humane masters, his grandson Carl Magnus von Stenbock became notorious for permitting 1200 farmers from his manor to be deported to Ukraine in the 18th century. Among all the family members bearing military titles, there were also those with a different destiny, such as Eric von Stenbock, bohemian poet and a friend of Oscar Wilde, who died at a young age in England. Today the manor is in the hands of Finnish relatives of the Stenbock family.
The manor is located on the western border of Lahemaa National Park, roughly 70 miles from Tallinn, not far from the Tallinn-Narva highway. You can see the entire property in about an hour although frankly if you love restoration, architecture, want to meet a ghost and are a creative type, my guess is that you’ll want to meander through its rooms for much longer. The very upper floors cannot be accessed and the staircase is blocked with a wooden wall but you can enter most of the rooms despite their decay including the main ‘entrance hall.’ Below, take a visual meander through the manor with me….. Let’s just say that I was in my “element.”
Historians and architects will marvel in its glory and if you know a little bit about classicism and its models in ancient Greek and Roman architecture and Renaissance villas, you will likely want to hang around and embark on a project or two. The estate may however, give you an idea what places like the Sagadi or Palmse manors may have looked like in early Soviet times… Kolga Manor’s exterior below.
Note: my tour through Lahemaa National Park was hosted by the Estonian Tourism Board but all opinions expressed here are my own.