Kihnu – the charming island that has fallen out of time
The small island of Kihnu is best known for its traditional and colorful skirts and costumes, for its quasi-matriarchy and for the old Soviet motorcycles with sidecars in which the women are always whizzing around the island. A visit to Kihnu is worthwhile all year round – also with regard to nature.
When you think of Kihnu, the first thing that comes to mind are women in traditional folk costumes. And handicrafts: hardworking seamstresses, weavers, knitters and embroiderers who make clothes and pillowcases alone or in groups. Next, images of wind- and weather-beaten fishermen mending nets in the harbor or tinkering with their boats pop into the mind’s eye. And then there are the folk dances, which even the smallest inhabitants of Kihnu seem to be able to do perfectly.
Unmistakably Kihnu: traditional costumes and motorcycle
Photo: Renee Altrov, Visit Estonia
Cliche? Yes. But in this case, there’s more than a grain of truth in it: Kihnu is indeed as you imagine it to be. A small, enchanted island where time has stood still – with crazy stories and legends that go back to the distant past, but still have an influence on today’s islanders. This is the reason why every year visitors from all over the world come to visit Kihnu. There is hardly anything like this anymore – and certainly not in the middle of Europe.
Kihnu girls in colorful garb
Photo: Meelika Lehola, Visit Estonia
There are usually three ways to get around the island other than on foot: on the back of a small truck, by bicycle, or in the sidecar of one of the wonderful old Soviet military motorcycles, of which it is said that every family on Kihnu still has at least one. The motorcycles are driven by the women of the island – quite fast and usually without helmet and protective clothing, because a police patrol comes by here rather rarely. In general, the women are the ones who call the shots here and organize the entire island life. This is because the men still mostly work as fishermen and are out at least all day, if not several days at a time.
Family in front of island lighthouse
Photo: Renee Altrov, Visit Estonia
As you drive across the island, fields alternate with pine forests and small houses and farmsteads are scattered loosely in the clearings. For newcomers to the island, a tour is recommended to get a first overview: "Kihnu Reesuratas" is the name of this circular trail, which is 23 kilometers long and also includes a visit to the local museum. Here you get a good insight into the history, culture and traditions of the island, which by the way are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kihnu also has a lighthouse, which provides a wonderful panoramic view of the island and the sea.
The island food
Delicious! Smoked fish and fresh bread
Photo: Danel Rinaldo, Visit Estonia
Dishes with Baltic herring are obligatory – and they come in many different varieties. Smoked it tastes wonderful with authentic Kihnu bread. Since the island lives on fishing and the inhabitants have real expertise in fish, visitors should take the chance to learn the skills of smoking, filleting and reeling fish; such offers are regularly available.
Festivals and celebrations
In early summer, at the end of May, when the lilacs are in bloom, the locals are busy preparing for the first big festival of the year: "Kihnu Keretaus", the coffee days. It is a feast that takes place at the beginning of June and combines the presentation of various island specialties with an entertainment program.
Go to Midsummer Night – the big summer party that is common throughout Estonia – an old fishing barge is set on fire. The fire is the prelude to a night of music and dance in the colorful island costumes.
"Kihnu Mere Pidu", the Kihnuer sea festival, is the biggest and most important festival on the island. In mid-July, the Kihnuer here regularly show everything they can and have: There is a large market with handicrafts and culinary specialties, with workshops, artistic performances, with sports competitions, music and dance.