Historically, Setomaa is divided into 12 nulk’s, or regions, in each of which people spoke a slightly different language. Today, the Seto region is divided into two by the Estonian-Russian border. The Seto language is very close to Võro language. It was only in the 19th century that the people of this region began to be called Setos. Earlier, they were called the Estonians of Pskov, as they lived for centuries under the rule of the Pskov Principality, later the Pskov Governorate.
Museums and heritage centres along the Seto language trail
Värska Visitor Centre – Reegi House – The aim of the Visitor Centre is to exhibit and promote the unique historical heritage of the Värska region. The exposition links the themes of the Northern Camp of Petseri and Värska as a resort area. The exhibition will appeal to both history-loving adults and families with children. The beautiful natural environment will gradually allow the exhibition area to be extended to the outdoor area of the Reegi House, where there is a picnic area, children's activities and the possibility to rent boats, bicycles, water wheels and ice skates.
Värska Farm Museum - Värska Farm Museum – it all starts in the sauna! The building of a home started with the selection of a suitable plot of land. It was good if the forest was close by, where you could find food, good if the water was close by, where you could catch fish and crayfish, good if the land was a little higher than the rest of the land, a flat place where you could set up your home and a field. The next thing was to build the two most important things - a sauna and a well. This was the beginning of the story of the Värska Farm Museum - there was no real traditional old farm complex to settle in, but the flat land on the outskirts of Värska village stood out – the forest was close by and water was not far away. In accordance with the old building logic, the first building to be erected was the smoke sauna. And since it was a young and budding memory institution, the museum collections were started just as quickly. Almost everything related to Setomaa, its people and culture was collected, from wooden spoons to buildings. And so, in the Värska Farm Museum's traditional farmhouse, you can feel the touch and the stories from the different villages and different regions of Setomaa.
Obinitsa Museum - In the cosy Obinitsa Museum you can learn about the unique culture and history of Setomaa, take part in various workshops and events. A museum lesson gives you the chance to get a deeper insight into a particular area of Seto culture - for example, sing a Seto song or learn about folk costumes. Most of the artefacts in the museum's collection come from the surrounding villages, and the fine handicrafts of Seto women are particularly valued. The museum reopened after renovation in June 2019, when the first phase of the creation of the new permanent exhibition "Seto Song and Song Mothers" was completed.
Saatse Museum - Saatse Museum is located almost opposite the Russian border. The museum building does not resemble a Seto house - it's more like a stately mansion! It was originally a residential building, then a schoolhouse and now a museum. What makes the Saatse museum special are the texts painted on the walls and the opportunity to watch old film clips about the history and religion of Setomaa. On the top floor of the house, a classroom has been set up in the style of the Soviet era. The museum has a spacious courtyard and a small stage. The museum has a large garden and a small stage, so it is a nice place to have a picnic. A small hiking trail starts and ends at the museum, going along the border, which can also be used when the museum is closed.
Other heritage sites along the Seto language trail
Õrsava Lake hiking trail - The Õrsava Lake hiking trail runs around the lake of the same name. The 5 km long trail officially starts at the Värska school stadium, but you can start from any point. The lakeside footpath is made more exciting by a series of bridges. On the shore of the lake there are RMK campfires and a forest house, as well as a swimming spot. In addition to the picturesque views of nature and the pine forest air, the hiking trail offers a history lesson: the trail runs partly on the grounds of the former training centre of the Estonian Defence Forces, the so-called Northern Camp, and although the camp was largely razed to the ground in World War II, some of the soldiers' barracks and other buildings have been preserved.
Laskevälja cycling trail - The 43-kilometre Laskevälja cycling trail runs through the forested hills, salt marshes, lakes and sandbanks of the Mustoja kame field. The trail introduces the military history of the area, which was home to the Estonian Defence Forces' shooting range in the 1920s and 1930s. The trail is a challenge even for fit hikers: due to the difference in altitude and the sandy paths, you will have to push the bike in some places. While the 17-kilometre section from Värska to Southern Camp is fairly flat, the return section is longer (26 km) and considerably more difficult.
Värska promenade - A 300 m long lakeside promenade with two viewing platforms starts at Värska harbour, on the shore of Värska Bay. The promenade is made of granite and wood, which link the different sections of the promenade into a coherent whole. A variety of seating areas and attractions are located along the well-lit promenade. The bay is ideal for water tourism, and during the summer the Seto Line ferry takes holidaymakers to the bay.
Värska spring - Several springs gush out from the banks of the Värska promenade. One of them, the largest, is called Silmaläte by the locals. You can find the spring if you walk to the end of the promenade.
Värska Orthodox Church - With its fieldstone walls and brick cornices, the name saint of the high Värska Orthodox Church is St George. The church's most important feast day is therefore St. George's Day, which is celebrated in Setomaa on 6 May. It is a great feast, which culminates in an afternoon kirmaski or village feast. The church has an original iconostasis, or iconostasis wall, and numerous beautiful handmade holy relics. Many cultural figures important to Setomaa are buried in the cemetery surrounding the church, such as the singer Anne Vabarna (1877-1964) and the poet Paul Haavaoks (1924-1983).
Mikitamäe Orthodox village chapels - The square in front of the Mikitamäe centre is called Square of Tsässona’s, because two tsässona’s or Ortodox village chapels are located next to each other. The old chapel is the oldest wooden building in mainland Estonia: its probable date of construction is 1694. The building was originally located on the Tartu–Petseri road, from where it was removed during the Soviet era and then fell into disrepair. In 2009, it was renovated and moved to the square in front of the former town hall. In the meantime, however, in 1998, a new building had been constructed. Both of Mikitamäe's chapels are dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle, and the village feast is St Thomas’s Day held one week after Easter.
Laossina cemetery and village chapel - The Laossina tsässon or village chapel is located in a village cemetery dating back to the Middle Ages, which is still in use today. The building was probably built in 1865. Several medieval stone crosses stand behind the chapel. The building is named after the Virgin Mary, and the village feast day is held on 21 September. People from near and far come to the cemetery, the priest conducts a service, food and drink is served on the graves and sometimes there is a proper kirmask or village party.
Lüübnitsa viewing tower - Lüübnitsa is a Russian village in the northern part of Setomaa, on the shores of Lake Pihkva. Its inhabitants are mainly engaged in onion farming and fishing. A magnificent viewing tower has been built at the southern end of the village, right on the shore of the lake, offering a good view of the village and the island of Kulkna (Kolpino) across the bay. On a clear day you can see the Orthodox church at the southern end of the island and, on a particularly clear day, the eastern shore of Lake Pskov. The Estonian-Russian border runs between Lüübnitsa and Kulkna Island, and its markings are clearly visible from the viewing tower and the shore of the lake. Up to 20 people can climb the tower at a time.
Lüübnitsa village chapel - Lüübnitsa tsässon or village chapel was a village chapel in Setomaa, according to the modern administrative division in the village of Lüübnitsa in Setomaa municipality. The date of construction or demolition of the chapel is unknown, only a 1937 survey shows the former location of the chapel.
Võõpsu village chapel - Võõpsu tsässon or village chapel is located right next to the northern gateway to Setomaa, the Võõpsu bridge over the Võhandu River, in the medieval village cemetery. It is the largest wooden chapel in Estonian Setomaa, which was probably originally a barn. It was rebuilt as a chapel shortly before the middle of the 18th century, and properly renovated in 2010. Architecturally interesting is the large open vestibule, which partly surrounds the side walls. The saint of Võõpsu tsässona is St. Nicholas, or St. Migul in Seto, which is why the chapel’s feast days are the spring and winter feast days of St. Nicholas. It is open only on St. Nicholas' Day.
Säpina Nahtsi village chapel - Säpina tsässon or village chapel is situated in the village of Säpina in Setomaa municipality, Setomaa. As the neighbouring village of Matsuri is larger, it is sometimes called Matsuri tsässon. The chapel is dedicated to Nahtsi (Anastassia the Elder), whose feast is celebrated on 11 November (29 October according to the Julian or old calendar). A dendrochronological survey was carried out in 2004–2005 to determine the age of the chapel, and it was found that it was probably built in 1711.
Saatse Church and cemetery - The Saatse Church was completed in 1801. The congregation there has been a mixed congregation of both Setos and Russians. Saatse's biggest feast day is päätnitsapäiv (the last Friday in July), the church's name feast. Paraskeva is the Greek word for 'Friday', and the Seto name is derived from the Russian (пятница). The church has 'royal gates' from an old wooden church and a 15th century stone cross. The only Seto saint associated with Saatse Church is St Stephen, who is depicted on icons in Seto folk costume. St. Stephen was buried in 1919, together with Father Vassili, a priest.
Lõuna Laagri hiking trail - The 2 km-long hiking trail in Lõuna Laagri was built on the former site of the Estonian Defence Forces. In the 1920s, a military complex was built there, where infantrymen used to train in the summer. Although nothing has remained of the buildings, the shimmering reservoir among the trees, the old bridge, several foundation stones and trenches tell a story of the past. There is a RMK camping site and camping facilities by the reservoir. At the information board, the hiking trail meets the Laskevälja cycling trail.
Old Jüri’s Soap Chamber - The first and only male soap maker in Setomaa, Silver Hüdsi, who named the soap shop after his grandfather Jüri, works in the Old Jüri’s Soap Chamber.
Each soap has something of Setomaa nature in it. The most special ingredient is the holy water from the nearby Petseri Monastery, which is found in no other soap in the world. The hits are tar soap, marsh soap and Piusa sand soap.
God’s Hill – God’s Hill is an ancient sacred place of the Seto people. According to legend, this is the place where God takes souls to heaven in his chariot. In the past, the mountain was a place of rather local importance, lost in memory, but in 2007 the people, under the initiative of the village mayor, reintroduced the mountain as a holy place. A local sculptor, Renaldo Veeber, made a statue of Peko on the hill. Peko – the traditional Seto god of fertility – is visited before major undertakings to wish for good luck and prosperity by placing an offering at the foot of the statue.
Obinitsa Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord - The construction of the former Obinitsa school-church began in 1897 and was consecrated in 1904. Unique in the Baltic States, the school-church was a wooden two-storey building with a belfry. In 1950 the church was closed and the building was given to the school. The congregation was given one hectare of land and two old abandoned buildings for the new church. The new church in Obinitsa is located on the road from Obinitsa to Piusa, next to the cemetery. Next to the church is the Obinitsa cemetery.
The statue of the singing mother and the old church-schoolhouse (the future Ilmaveere Centre) - A stone statue of the Seto singing mother stands on the high bank of Obinitsa reservoir. It is a memorial to all the singing mothers of Setomaa. The three-metre-high statue, completed in 1986, is surrounded by a number of memorial stones to local singing mothers. From the statue of the singing mother there is a good view of Obinitsa Lake and the older part of the village. To the left of the statue is the old Obinitsa school-church (1904). The nearby Obinitsa Museum has a room telling the story of the singing mothers, where you can learn more about the singers of the area.
Härma walls - Two high sandstone outcrops (in Võro language müür) along the Piusa River are known locally as Härma walls. The Härma Upper wall or Keldri wall is the highest Devonian sandstone outcrop in Estonia. It is 43 metres high. The 150-metre-long outcrop can be seen up to a height of 19 metres. Härma Lower wall or Kõlgusniidu wall is a 20.5 m high cliff and is one of the most beautiful in the Piusa Gorge, with its brightly coloured clay layers and majestic pyramid shape.
Seto Studio-Gallery - In the house built in the 1930s by the family of the Seto merchant Ivan Kalju, the Seto Gallery "Hal´as Kunn" has a permanent exhibition of old and modern Seto art and folk art. The gallery building houses a studio for making historical Seto jewellery, a block and silk printing workshop, and a production of wallpapers and textiles with Seto patterns. The Obinitsa Art Hall is located next to the gallery.
Vastseliina Castle - The medieval entertainment centre of Vastseliina Episcopal Castle is a place steeped in legend, with 14th-century fortress ruins and sanctuary, the main building of the entertainment centre, the fortress inn, the pilgrimage house, the small travellers chapel and the manor park. In addition to visiting the Entertainment Centre, you can also take part in guided tours and workshops by reservation.
Meremäe Viewing Tower - Meremäe viewing tower is located between Meremäe village and Vastseliina castle on Meremäe hill (204 m above sea level). From the name you might think that you can see the sea from the tower. However, the sea as we know it today is about 250 km away, but Lake Pskov - whose opposite shore is also not visible and which was probably called the sea in the old days - is only 40 km away. In fine weather, the domes of the churches of the Petseri Monastery can be seen from the tower.
Piusa Caves Visitor Centre / Piusa Caves - Piusa Caves are man-made caves located in Võru County, near Piusa railway station in Võru municipality. The caves were created between 1922 and 1966, when glass sand was mined there. The excavations created about 20 km of passages. In 2001 the caves were reinforced and reopened to tourists but were closed again in 2006 due to the risk of collapse. A nature reserve has been created to protect the caves and the bats that live there. The Piusa Visitor Centre was opened in 2010 in the immediate vicinity of the Piusa Cave Nature Reserve Museum Cave. The aim of the Visitor Centre is to contribute to the conservation of Piusa Cave and its protected species through the coordination and targeted development of year-round tourism.
Treski barn - Treski is a music and inspiration centre located in the village of Treski in the municipality of Setomaa. Treski (then Treski Küün) was officially opened with its first concert on 21 August 2015. The owner of Treski is Jalmar Vabarna, the owner of Silla farm. In 2021, the Treski outdoor stage was opened, where Estonia's biggest names performed during the first season.
Treski village chapel - The tiny Treski tsässon or Orthodox village chapel, may go unnoticed as you drive by, although it is nicely situated on the roadside. The villagers tell us that the building was built around the middle of the 18th century. Treski chapel is named after St John the Baptist, which is why the village's feast day is Midsummer. Unlike in Estonia, Midsummer is celebrated 13 days later, as are the other feasts linked to the church calendar. Midsummer's Day is therefore on 7 July and the feast is on 6 July. Treski's festive celebrations have become famous further afield.