Hot spots: Vihula Manor, Estonia
What is it? Barely an hour's drive from the Estonian capital, Tallinn, and just four kilometres from quiet beaches, Vihula Manor Country Club and Spa is tucked into Lahemaa National Park. You're unlikely to meet a bear as you wander through its 50 hectares of park and woodland, but you might spot migrating cranes and superbly restored historical buildings.
So, what's special about it? How about 800 years of history - from Danish knights to the von Schubert family, whose coat of arms hangs above the reception. True, most of Vihula's buildings date back "only" to the 1800s, but myths and legends abound around old fireplaces and stairways.
Don't panic if you're told your room is in the cattle barn, the laundry or the pigeon house, for beyond their facades you will find stylish Scandinavian furniture and state-of-the-art amenities. Among 65 guest rooms, the club's Zen suites are designed for romance, with jacuzzis or power showers and fabulous views over Manor Park and the Mustoja River. If you'd rather be near the mill pond, book a room in the vodka distillery, but beware: the adjoining museum may present too much temptation, especially when you realise the manor's own brand is on sale (to uphold tradition, of course).
The spa, which has a wood-burning sauna, is situated in the old carriage house, and features an al-fresco jacuzzi. "Eternal youth" massages for men are among the treatments on the menu.
What about the food? The stylish La Boheme is in the old ballroom, where manorial elegance blends with sleek Nordic furniture. The accent is on local cuisine, with recipes borrowed from Vihula's old cookery books. The produce is largely sourced from the estate's organic garden and eco-farm and dishes include wild mushrooms with quail eggs, whitefish in sparkling wine sauce and beef tartar with Baltic anchovies. Need time to decide? Relax in the adjoining drawing room-cum-library or enjoy a cocktail while you ponder on the terrace - but don't forget to save the cigar lounge for an after-dinner (re)treat.
The Kaval-Ants Tavern & Terrace, in what was the ice cellar, serves hearty country fare in a rustic setting, with folk music and plenty of beer. Summer brings its own delights, including dining on the manor lawn and barbecues in the tavern's secluded garden.
What else is there to do? Venture beyond the elegant manor house (below) and explore the estate, either in a golf buggy, a 1927 French Berliet car (with chauffeur), a horse-drawn carriage or on foot. Look out for picnic spots, take a slow boat on the river, see the workers' cottages, enjoy the view from the windmill and take your significant other to the Kissing Tower. Within the grounds are ancient trees, river islands, dainty bridges and a lily pond.
The sports arena hosts tennis and bad-minton in the summer, and ice hockey and skating in the winter. There are outdoor concerts and traditional festivities held on site year-round. Bearing in mind there are a gym, steam bath, indoor pool, eco-spa, a design and fashion shop and a secluded waterside tea house, you'll probably never get to that nearby beach.
Is there anything for the children? A fairy-tale forest, a traditional Estonian swing and crazy golf on a course shaped like the Baltic states. That should keep them amused for a while.
Anything we should see beyond the estate? If nature is your thing, hire a bicycle or book a sight-seeing tour - both can be done through the manor - and explore the national park. You might spot storks, black grouse and otters; if you're lucky an elk, a bear or a lynx. The park stretches down to the coast (top), a "land of bays", peninsulas, islands and beaches strewn with enormous boulders and rocks. The log houses and thatched roofs of the village of Altja paint a delightful picture, as do the maritime museum and gaily coloured villas scattered on the lush lawns of Kasmu. Also worth visiting are the restored manors of Palmse and Sagadi and, of course, there's Tallinn.
What's the bottom line? A superior room costs €150 (HK$1,540) a night, a Zen suite €350 and the von Schubert presidential suite is €500. Special offers may apply for the low season, and for online or direct bookings.
The Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa is in Vihula, Lääne-Virumaa, Estonia, tel: 372 326 4100; www.vihulamanor.com