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Lithuania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.  Even some travelers focusing their trip on the Baltic countries seem skip Lithuania since Latvia and Estonia are more easily accessible via air travel. This is a  huge mistake!  Vilnius is a cute, quirky capital that was a delight to experience and explore.   Although I could list many, here are 8 reasons to travel to Vilnius, Lithuania:

8 Reasons to Travel to Vilnius, Lithuania

1.  Vilnius has a beautiful historic Old Town filled with baroque architecture.

You could easily spend a day leisurely exploring Vilnius’ charming Old Town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s largest baroque capital.  Pop into shops, stroll the winding streets and admire the impressive baroque architecture.  Don’t forget to saunter around Vilnius University’s picturesque courtyards, admire the gothic architecture of St. Anne’s Church and wander through the impressive Gates of Dawn before you head down Vokiečiu gatvė to settle into a cafe and people watch.

 Reasons to Travel to Vilnius, Lithuania

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Vilnius katedra

BBC’s War And Peace filming locations revealed … / The Daily Mail, 2016 01 06
Vilnius, Lithuania: Discover the setting of BBC1’s epic drama, War And Peace / The Express Saturday, 2016 01 08
Latvia and Lithuania: the fairytale filming locations for War and Peace / The Telegraph, 2016 01 22
На отдых в Литву / Линия полета, 2016 01-02
Литва знает секрет привлекательности / ТурБизнес, 2016 01-02
Den baltiske overraskelse / FerieMagasin, 2016 01 30
Литва: янтарными дорогами здоровья / Совершенство, 2016 02
Rating Europe’s Most and Least Happy Cities /, 2016 02 09
Want to Move to Europe? Here Are the Happiest Cities / Mental Floss, 2016 02 10
5 Eastern European Countries to Shoot Your Next Film and Save Money / The Hollywood Reporter, 2016 02 14
Baltic destination in top 25 EPI list /, 2016 02 16
Vilnius – Auch für Golfer eine Reise wert /, 2016 02 22
Vilnius! The Baroque Capital of Europe / Tourism Around the World Monthly, 2016 03
TOP10 Incentive Travel Destinations for 2016 / Successful Meetings, 2016 03 06
Vilnius, Lituania / Tustyle Viaggi, 2016 03 07
Amazingly Fast Free Public Wi-Fi? / ITB Berlin News, 2016 03 12
The 13 cheapest European cities for a weekend break / Business Insider, 2016 03 21
Названы самые дешевые города Европы для посещения на выходных / Moya, 2016 03 23
Top 5 Most Beautiful Cities to Visit in 2016 / Huffpost Travel Blog, 2016 03 29
Las ciudades culturales más económicas de Europa /, 2016 04 16
Citytrips: Auf zu einem neuen Hotspot /, 2016 04 19
Cheap City Breaks for When You’re Broke /, 2016 04 29
The 10 Cheapest Tourist Destinations In Europe / The Culture Trip, 2016 05 17
The old world charm and new world feel of Vilnius, Lithuania / Examiner, 2016 05 22
Cap à l’Est : six villes d’Europe à petit budget / LeMonde, 2016 05 22
The 13 cities with the best work-life balance in the world / Business Insider, 2016 05 29
BBC TV series draws tourists to Vilnius, Lithuania /, 2016 05 30
Litva brana Pobaltia / Báječná Žena, 2016 06
A Local Expert Teaches Us How To Experience Lithuania’s Capital: Vilnius / JetsetTimes, 2016 06 21
Hoşgörünün Modern Yüzü. City of Modernity and Tolerance / Skylife, 2016 07
10 Things To Do In Vilnius / Epicwander, 2016 07 19
Just Back: Inside Uzupis, Lithuania’s free-thinking republic / The Telegraph, 2016 08 06
Please, Stop!: Things People Think Lithuania Is That It Is Really Not /, 2016 09 05
A statistical portrait of the cities, towns and suburbs across the European Union / Eurostat, 2016 09 07
Northern Europeans most satisfied with the life in cities / Politico, 2016 09 07
Litouwen: De facelift van Vilnius / National Geographic, 2016 09 14
Vilnius, une capitale balte pas comme les autres /, 2016 09 16
The 10 cheapest European city breaks for autumn / The Telegraph, 2016 09 29
Things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania: Three-minute guide / Gippsland Times, 2016 10 08

Need a cure for your winter wanderlust? Check out our editors’ list of the 10 Best Winter Trips. We've assembled a world of reasons to travel this season, starting with a European city with Old World charm. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Vilnius, Lithuania

With its medieval layout, baroque cityscape, and cobblestone streets, the heart of Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, charms in any season of the year. But add a dusting of snow to the castles, Gothic churches, and red-tile roofs, and the Vilnius Historic Center, or Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), becomes an utterly enchanting winter wonderland.

“I love seeing the frozen River Neris in the middle of the beautiful Old Town,” says Vilnius resident Inga Aukselyte. “Every time I cross one of the bridges I notice the glaciers [ice floe] quietly flowing through the town. It is especially romantic in the evening when all the city lights are on.”

Celebrate winter in Vilnius at seasonal events such as the free Christmas in the Capital (November 27 to January 6); performances of "TheNutcracker" at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre; and aThree Kings Procession from the Gate of Dawn toward Cathedral Square (January 6). There’s also a Winter Safari on Snowmobile through nearby national park forest trails and across snow-covered fields and frozen lakes.

How to Get Around: Vilnius Airport is fewer than four miles south of the city. Take light rail from the airport to the Vilnius Railway Station, or bus 88 from the airport to Old Town. Walking is the best way to travel around Old Town and to nearby center city attractions.

Where to Stay: The 18-room Moon Garden Art Hotel is close to the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate from Old Town's original 16th-century city wall. Book a room through the hotel website for a free ride from the airport, and ask for help with your luggage—there’s no elevator. A larger Old Town option is the 118-room Artis Hotel. The popular conference hotel is located near the Presidential Palace. Rates include a buffet breakfast.

What to Eat or Drink: The menu at Old Town’s Ertlio Namas celebrates the traditions of early Lithuania. Dishes such as sturgeon with mustard sauce and veal with steamed root vegetables are based on recipes from the 17th to 19th century. Reservations recommended.

What to Buy: Locals keep their hands warm by wearing thick wool mittens knit in snowflake and geometric patterns. Buy a pair (and wool sweaters, hats, and scarves) at Wool House, a family-owned traditional woolen-wear enterprise originally founded in 1936 and revived in 1988.

What to Read Before You Go: Ellen Cassedy’s award-winning memoirWe Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust details her efforts to learn Yiddish as a way to discover her family’s Jewish Lithuanian roots and, in turn, explore Lithuania’s brutal history under Stalin’s Soviet regime and during Nazi occupation.

Helpful Links: Vilnius TourismLithuania Travel, and I Heart My City: Kamilė’s Vilnius

Fun Fact: The name of Vilnius’s main street reflects Lithuania’s tumultuous modern history. Built in 1836 as Georgij Avenue, the street was renamed Mickiewicz by the Polish, and first Stalin and then Lenin Avenue by the Soviets. The current name, Gediminas Avenue, was briefly used in 1939 and 1940 (between the Nazi and Soviet occupations) and was reinstated in 1989. The name honors Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania (circa 1275 to 1341).

Staff Tip: During my Baltic tour, the quirky Užupis area of Vilnius stood out the most. This self-proclaimed republic of artists possesses its own anthem and has its constitution displayed on a fence, as well as a bronze angel keeping watch at the entrance to the neighborhood. Cross the river to find alternative shops, arts performances, and fashion festivals in this charming, unique district. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, associate producer, National Geographic Travel

Roads to revolution: Druskininkai to Kaunas

Adrian Bridge meets Marx and Lenin on the road from Druskininkai to Kaunas.

10 Aug 2011

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Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, and second city Kaunas, harbour rich histories, taking in vodka by royal decree, the KGB, and bohemia. WORDS: JOHN SHERIDAN

I have a theory: if the name of a country ends in ‘ia’, it’s worth a visit. From Algeria to Armenia, Bulgaria to Bolivia, and Slovenia to Syria, all evoke a sense of adventure and the prospect of a steep cultural learning curve. 

Now, Lithuania might not spring readily to mind when thinking of a short break destination. But whether it’s sampling the local moonshine or coming face-to-face with the devil, I soon find Lithuania ticks all the right boxes.

The country’s second city, Kaunas, is where I start my trip and a very interesting, compact and walkable place it turns out to be – with the added advantage that it’s Lithuania’s largest producer of alcoholic spirits. Kaunas started making vodka in 1906 in a factory built at the personal decree of Nicholas II of Russia, and has been manufacturing it almost without a break to this day.

For the not-unreasonable sum of about £15, you get a tour of the distillery, a visit to the museum, and a tasting class with 10 different drinks varying in strength and age. Purely in the spirit of journalistic research, I feel that I have to go along and take part in the tasting class. 

During the talk, the difference between the spirits and the reactions to the aging process are explained. Basically, at a certain age the spirit gains a fiery temperament that changes with the temperature, and eventually mellows. The selection of vodkas and local specialities – some with a few herbs mixed in – all taste pretty similar, but ‘the older the spirit, the smoother the taste’ seems to be the rule.

After an hour of nosing and tasting, it’s time to move on. I head to 55° Restaurant (Laisves aleja, 79) for lunch. This intriguing cellar eatery gets its name from the alcohol content of the country’s traditional moonshine, samane. Here, I learn about the making (and drinking) of the moonshine, which commands more of my attention than lunch itself. There seems to be a pattern emerging …

It’s soon time to check out one of the city’s stranger attractions – the world’s only devil museum. Housed in what looks like an unimposing government building, it comprises a collection of devils from around the world, and visitors are encouraged to bring along their own creations to put on display. The curator looks at my wife, but decides that she would not fit in the display cabinet.

Departing Kaunas, I head by coach to the capital of Vilnius, and if ever there was a city of two halves, this is it. The best way to view the city is from the top of Gediminas Castle. It’s certainly worth the climb of 78 steps – although it seems more – to get panoramic views of castle turrets spiking out of forest greenery on one side, and high-rise glass buildings on the other.

Of everything I see in Vilnius, the independent republic of Uzupisdefinitely demands a visit. With its own president, constitution and Independence Day (which falls on April Fool’s Day), Uzupis is a district of Vilnius Old Town and home to many artists, local celebs, and even religious prophets. It’s often compared to Montmartre in Paris, with its citizens, their lifestyle and beliefs all contributing to the unfettled feel of the district, which seems like a cross between a Sixties hippy commune and a refugee camp.

In Uzupis, numerous art and socially responsible activities take place year-round, including the release of live fish into the Vilnia river, or voluntarily helping to clean up the neighbourhood. However, the actual contents of the shops and stalls – hand-woven rugs, paintings, odd-shaped ceramic jugs and colourful plastic cups on bits of string – leave little to be desired. 

Another highlight of my trip in Vilnius is a visit to the KGB, or Genocide, Museum. Here, I see the old KGB prison that was established in the basement of the building in the autumn of 1940, after Lithuania‘s occupation by the Soviet Union. Most frightening is that at street level, life and business continued as usual, but beneath the surface the misery, deprivation, torture and executions took place.

It’s a sobering and humbling few hours which, set against the devils, hippies and moonshine, shows the sheer breadth of experiences on offer in Lithuania.

For more information see
More on the KGB museum at

Click below for food, drink and hotel recommendations >>>






This year, instead of hopping in the car and going for a drive, take your fall foliage tour to a soaring new level in a hot air balloon.


"Vilnius is actually one of the few capitals to allow hot air balloon flights directly above the city, giving a unique perspective to both the bustling metropolis centre and its colourful, fall backdrop. If you’re looking for something more along the countryside, a few companies offer flights over Trakai and its medieval castle, rolling hills and gentle lakes."


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Lithuanian Heritage Magazine is the leading publication about Lithuania and Lithuanians in the  English language. Its readers are those of Lithuanian descent and their non-Lithuanian friends in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Lithuania, and many other countries. Its content is informative, educational, and entertaining. Every bimonthly issue brings articles, stories, photographs, and illustrations about a variety of subjects and themes of interest to those who want to know more about Lithuania, its past, present, and future.

Some of the topics covered in past issues include:


  1. Interesting and unusual highlights of early and modern Lithuanian history,

  2. Famous Lithuanian personalities of the past and present who helped shape Lithuanian, American, and world events,

  3. Brave Lithuanian kings, dukes, and warriors who extended Lithuania’s borders from the Baltic to the Black Sea,

  4. Stories, myths, legends, and fairytales about maidens with amber-colored hair, and young warriors who risked their lives to rescue and protect them,

  5. Legendary gods of the sea, land, and thunder,

  6. Unusual historic, artistic, architectural, and tourist attractions,

  7. Traveling tips, where to stay and eat, where to go, and what to see,

  8. Folk art, native costumes, holidays, language, customs and traditions,

  9. Searching for your Lithuanian “roots,”

  10. Lithuanian immigration, and places and events associated with it,

  11. What’s happening in Lithuania today, and in Lithuanian communities around the world,

  12. Lithuanian food recipes,

  13. Heritage Marketplace (books about Lithuania, maps, music CDs and cassettes, amber, folk art, and gifts),

  14. ... and much much more...


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. Holly O'Neill
Photography David Loftus

It may be the perfect winter escape. Blanketed in snow, Vilnius abounds in old-world charm. The central Old Town is recognised by UNESCO as one of the best collections of baroque-style architecture in the world, but just near the ornately grand pastel buildings and exquisite churches you’ll find farmers selling produce from trucks, and small workshops specialising in local craft. Although tourism is established, and the pound’s strength against the lita makes a jaunt to Vilnius a cheap long weekend, it’s not a go-to destination for rowdy stag nights. (But there are plenty of decent bars to warm up in, should you be inclined.)Director Dalia Ibelhauptaitė divides her life between London and Vilnius, where she’s sometimes joined by her husbandthe actor Dexter Fletcher. Dexter provides a frequent-visitor’s view, pointing out hidden gardens he’s found while walking, cafés where he likes to catch up on work and cultural differences he finds amusing. Dalia sets a tight agenda – shops, bars, pickles, markets – while managing the opening of her opera company’s revival production of Sweeney Todd – Stephen Sondheim’s opera about a cut-throat barber and the baker who turns his victims into pies. They’re fine guides to a city that’s unknown to many in the UK.

Once the biggest country in Europe, and an important trading and education centre, Lithuania was invaded, captured and liberated repeatedly until the 20th century, when it fell under Soviet, then Nazi, then again Soviet occupation. It was the first Soviet state to declare independence, with the last of the troops leaving in 1993, and was a country on the rise, financially and culturally, until the recent economic downturn. Driving into Vilnius from the airport, you’ll see Soviet Bloc architecture, its starkness enhanced by the proper picture-perfect snow.

At the top of the beautiful Old Town, in the Gates of Dawn, an icon of the Holy Virgin surrounded by heart symbols watches out down the hill – over the buskers and old ladies bundled up in coats and shawls, carrying their shopping – to the mammoth white cathedral. To the west is the main shopping street, Gedimino Avenue, for high-street fashion, and the national drama theatre. Round to the east is the red-brick St Anne’s church, then you reach a bridge where lovers stop and fasten padlocks engraved with their names, before casting the keys into the River Vilnia below.

On the other side of the bridge lies Užupis, a suburban bohemian haven that is far less grand than the imposing buildings of the Old Town but no less pretty. Ramshackle buildings are covered with murals, the brightly painted walls contrasting against the snow-covered banks of the partially frozen river. This artistic community declared independence in 2001. Their constitution is posted on a wall and includes such statutes as everyone has the right to die, but it is not a duty; no one has the right to violence; a dog has the right to be a dog; and everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof. By the river, the president of the republic and a few artists are building a fire and undertaking some maintenance – and making plans for a poetry and mead party that’s taking place the next night.

No one in Vilnius seems to find it particularly odd that a suburb has seceded from the major town, to be watched over by a statue of an angel standing on an egg. Vilnius residents take creativity seriously. Well, sort of seriously – when the country gained independence from the Soviets, artists chose to celebrate by commissioning a statue of mental rocker Frank Zappa. (What did he have to do with Vilnius? Nothing, except the new-found freedom for people to rejoice in what they wanted, without restriction.)

A European City of Culture in 2009, Vilnus boasts two opera companies for a population of just over 600,000 people. One of those is the one that Dalia founded. The darkly atmospheric posters for her revival Sweeney Todd are dotted around town. At the restaurant La Boheme, they’re making pies, as they did for the first production. But recent changes to the economic condition have brought a change to the pies. Meat was always out the question but the jams and vegetables that formerly filled the pies are now replaced with whatever the restaurant has left over from the previous day’s service – today it’s polenta. However, Dalia says it doesn’t matter what the stuffing is, the ravenous chorus will eat it: “You will not even see crumbs after the show.”

The diminishing quality of pie stuffing was a trivial but telling indicator of the state of the Lithuanian economy earlier this year. Everyone is struggling, particularly those in the creative fields, explains fashion designer Juozas Statkevičius. Juozas is Dalia’s friend and costume designer for her productions, and an internationally acclaimed fashion designer. Without the kind of funding available to artists in other European countries, it is difficult for him to put on a show in a fashion hub like Paris. The government recently revoked a favourable tax status for artists, making things harder, and people like Juozas and Dalia must look to forming relationships with private business to help fund productions.

Yet it’s not for a lack of public interest. As long as enterprising artists can put on shows, it seems the citizens of Vilnius will pay to see them. Sweeney Todd’s run is sold out, attracting an enthusiastic and diverse audience, from groups of teenagers to stately couples in fur coats (lots of people in fur – it’s very cold).

Those looking to get a glimpse of what Lithuanian life was like under Soviet rule can visit the old KGB prison. Now called the Museum of Genocide Victims, it has exhibits that document repression under the country’s most recent occupiers. Dalia, whose parents were both interred in Soviet work camps, won’t visit, or even recommend the museum. She does, however, suggest lunch at Neringa restaurant. A favourite with the intelligentsia under Soviet rule (Dalia says the regime bugged the banquettes), this strange space is locked in the past. You’ll see a different side of Vilnius society here. Older women with immaculately lacquered up-dos and big brooches lunch from a nostalgic menu of dishes that time forgot – chicken kiev with crinkle-cut chips, chanterelles with sour cream, beef tongue with jellied salad and chicken broth with dumplings. The service too seems leftover from the grim days. “When they throw a plate of food at you, it’s your problem to catch it so it doesn’t land on your lap,” says Dalia.

While a nice insight into social history, Neringa is not a great look at Lithuania’s culinary culture. Better instead to head to the weekly farmers’ markets where small-scale producers travel in to the city to sell their wares, or the everyday market above the Old Town, or the well-stocked organic shop Senamiesčio Krautuvė. You’ll find the hearty, rustic food – jams, smoked meats and pickles – that you’d expect to find in Eastern Europe, but also flavours that echo further afield. Herring and deer are reminiscent of Scandinavia, which of course is just across the Baltic Sea. A trip to Trakai, about an hour’s drive away, not only shows Lithuania’s importance as a hub on historic trade routes but is an interesting culinary experience. The attractions here are a castle-museum with exhibits about the local ethnic minority, the Karaim, and a couple of restaurants that specialise in Karaim food. Most famous are kibinai, a type of pie like pierogi, but with, as you might imagine from the name, a Turkish vibe.

“The ancient cuisine in Lithuania was influenced by European cuisine,” says restaurateur Arūnas Oželis. “The cooks in the castles were foreigners, from France and Spain, and brought their own recipes and spices. We have food similar to Greek dolma, but wrapped in cabbage, while zeppelins come from Germany.”

If tourists have heard anything about Lithuanian cuisine, it will be about the infamously indigestible potato dumpling, known as zeppelin. Lithuanians,
we’re informed repeatedly by locals, don’t really eat it. Nevertheless, Arūnas’s restaurant Zemaičiai serves it to the curious, along with vederai. “Haggis is a good comparison,” Arunas says of this potato sausage, encased in pig’s intestine. “The smell is so strong,” Dexter says, wincing. “Dalia’s dad loved vederai but I can’t eat it.” He chooses to have another juniper-smoked slice of roebuck, which Arūnas says is a ‘royal meat’ in Lithuania, and a top-up of Svyturys, Lithuania’s best beer, available in an impressive range of shades and flavours. They’re going down well – turns out smoked meat, pickles and lots of potatoes are the perfect food to go with a decent brew on a cold night.

The local vodka is also very good. Better, Lithuanians boast, than Russian vodka. It’s smooth and best served ice-cold – and not as a rather lethal shot known as
a kalashnikov. “You’ve never had one?” asks Radvile, Dalia’s assistant, who’s at Cozy bar with her sister Teodora. She orders a round. Out come shots of vodka, accompanied by slices of lemon that are topped as half-sugar, half-ground-coffee. Down the vodka, suck the lemon. It doesn’t seem as violent as its name suggests. “Radvile, why didn’t you tell me about this before?” asks Dexter, ordering the third round. “To Radvile!” everyone toasts, as she mutters, “You’re only meant to have one…”

The damage is apparent the next day. After downfall at the suggestion of Radvile, redemption lies in the hands of Teodora, who in a happy vodka haze invited everyone round to breakfast. Dexter is unrousable, but Dalia is, as ever, indefatigable and leads a band of sorry souls to the sisters’ flat in the Old Town. Everyone sits in sore silence. Teodora’s paler-than-usual face suggests she regrets her invitation, and no one apart from Dalia is able to articulate appreciation. Yet, sitting in the kitchen of young Lithuanians, just-cooked traditional pancakes on the table, plans already being made for the evening ahead, snowy streets outside just waiting for intrepid footprints, markets to visit and amber to buy, Vilnius seems like a pretty great place to explore. And coffee helps.


Cozy 10 Dominikonu gatve; +370 5 2611137, A welcoming atmosphere means this is where the city’s media and creative set descend for a late-night meal, glass of wine, and good music.
Domm Vilnius Town Hall, Didžioji 31; +370 686 77707, If you like your gastronomy to be molecular, this restaurant, under the guidance of Spaniard Javier Lopez in the kitchen, is a world away from the rustic setting and comfortable cuisine of owner Arunas Oželis’s other two restaurants (below).
La Provence Vokieciu gatve 22; +370 5 262 02 57, If you want a change from the rustic pickle-and-black-bread fare of traditional Lithuanian food, try the Mediterranean style fare at this restaurant – the first in the city to invest effort into sourcing quality fresh fish.
Zemaiciai Vokieciu gatve 24; +370 5 261 65 73, In the maze of cellars, you can experience high-quality traditional Lithuanian food. While locals view dishes such as the infamous zeppelin (potato dumplings, boiled or fried) with mirth, they appreciate the dishes such as beetroot soup with pork ribs, and the excellent smoked meats and pickles.
Bistro 18 Stikliu gatve 18; +370 687 72091, Duck confit, pasta, Irish stew – bistro fare with a side of comfort is yours for a very reasonable price in this cosy restaurant-cum-wine bar, owned by an Irish-Lithuanian couple.
La Boheme Šv. Ignoto 4/3; +370 5 2121087, Below an art-house cinema, this is another restaurant of interconnecting rooms, and another haunt of the Vilnius glamorous and creative set, especially in winter. Though the French/Italian/local menu is variable in execution, the spirits of the punters keep the atmosphere jolly.
In Vino Aušros Vartu gatve 7; +370 8-5-2121210, Not as hip as it
was a few years ago, this wine bar is nevertheless humming with locals drinking reasonably priced wine and tapas-style small plates and snacks.
The Tavern Hotel Stikliai, Gaono 7; +370 5 264 9595, Though the hotel has a fine-dining restaurant in a pretty domed atrium, this less-formal space offers excellent Lithuanian cuisine such as herrings, potato pancakes that stay the palatable side of stodgy, and very good bread and vodka ice-cream with apple jam.
Stikliai Café Next to Stikliai Hotel (see previous); +370 5 264 9581. Elaborate cakes, handmade chocolates and marzipan sweets, plus jams and honey from the country home of the hotel’s manager.
Neringa Gedimino prospektas 23; +370 5 2614058, Worth a look for a glimpse of life past but, as Dalia says, don’t eat here and think you’ve had Lithuanian food.
El Gaucho Sano Pilies gatve 10; +370 5 210 77 73, Meat on wooden boards with sides and sauces. This basement Argentine restaurant in the Old Town, is where Dexter and Dalia come for a mean steak after shows.
Pilies Kepyklele Pilies gatve 19; +370 5 2608992. “Just wait till we go to my crêpe place,” says Dexter, promising it’ll be a highlight of Vilnius food. The low-key vibe and friendly staff are part of the attraction but Dexter’s proof is in the pudding – the crêpes really are good, as is the coffee. A perfect pit-stop on a cold afternoon.

Jonas Bugailiškis Aušros Vartu gatve 17-10; +370 86 5236613, If you want to visit the workshop and store of this sculptor, you may need to call ahead and arrange an appointment. Worth a look if you’re looking for some Lithuanian folk art – decorative carvings, toys and musical instruments.
Amber Museum Gallery St. Mykolo gatve 8; +370 5 2623092; Artefacts and souvenirs, information on Baltic ambers, as well as finely crafted jewellery and objets.
Juozas Statkevicius Odminiu gatve 11; The showroom of Lithuania’s leading, and Dalia’s favourite, designer. Juozas’s clothes combine classic feminine tailoring with directional flourishes.
Souvenir market Pilies gatve 23. In the main street of the baroque Old Town, you’ll find paintings of the kitten-and-sunset variety, as well as local handicrafts and amber that’s of questionable quality (and authenticity) but is pleasing aesthetically and fiscally.
Contemporary Art Centre Vokieciu 2; The largest contemporary art centre in the Baltic States has changing exhibitions from Lithuanian, regional and international artists across different media. And if you prefer the company of arty people, rather than their work, the café is pretty good too.
Akademija Galerija Pilies gatve 44/2; + 370 5 2612094. Gallery exhibiting the works of students and staff of the Vilnius Academy of Arts,some of which make beautiful and affordable souvenirs.
Senamiescio Krautuve Literatu gatve 5; +370 6 Any resident in any city would love this as their cornershop. Hanging cured meats, slabs of lard, big ceramic jars of pickles, honey, birch and sea buckthorn juice, freshly baked cakes and a huge range of digestive teas. The best of local and organic produce – you can easily spend an hour browsing, and could easily spend a fortune.
Thelonious Stikliu gatve 12; +370 5 2121076. As you’ll have guessed from the name, this secondhand vinyl shop specialises in jazz.
Number 1 Linen & Amber Studio Stikliu gatve 3; +370 5 2610213, Sells two of the things Lithuania is most famed for. This is the best place to buy traditional, simple but high-quality linen, mainly tableware and bed linen.
Tymo Turgus – Farmers’ Market Aukštaiciu/Maironio. If your feet are feeling (or not) the effects of tramping through the snow, the felt in-soles here provide welcome relief. Pop them in your shoes then taste your way down the market trying black bread, all manner of sausages, jams and, of course, pickled vegetables, sold from stalls or the trucks of small-scale producers and farmers. Every Thursday.
Hales Turgus Pylimo 58/1. A covered market where locals shop for smoked and fresh meat, fish, local honey and juices, as well as cheap clothes.

Stikliai Hotel Gaono 7; +370 5 264 9595, Right in the heart of the Old Town, and within walking distance of everything you could want in a weekend away, this is a five-star hotel with two excellent restaurants. All the rooms are decorated differently, and the hotel has traditional and contemporary artworks. Favoured by visiting statesmen, the exchange rate makes it an attractive
option for accommodation in Vilnius.

Bohemieciai For more information about Dalia’s opera company, see
Getting there At time of press there were no direct flights from the UK to Vilnius. You can fly with stopovers on Air Baltic or Lufthansa, among others.

By Teresa Levonian Cole
Last updated at 4:16 PM on 1st September 2010

There is a place on the Curonian Spit where fish fall out of the sky.

No, really, my guide assured me - but by then, I would not have been surprised to find mackerel raining down on me. On the spit, one feels, anything is possible. This fishy phenomenon, however, has less to do with the many local myths of witches and demons than the greedy, butter-beaked cormorants. So I waited, neck craned to the heavens. Nothing. Today, alas, the birds were being careful not to drop any of their catch.

Curonian Spit

Small wonder: Divided between Lithuania and Russia, the Curonian Spit is 60 miles long, but barely a mile wide

The Curonian Spit, named after one of the early Baltic tribes that inhabited the region, is a curious place, a 60 mile-long finger of sand that stretches upwards from Russian Kaliningrad to within a handshake of the Lithuanian mainland, separating the waters of the Baltic Sea from the Curonian lagoon.


The northern 32 miles of this peninsula belong to Lithuania, accessed by ferry from the port of Klaipeda. Make the short hop across the strait and you reach a National Park and Unesco World Heritage Site of astonishing beauty.

I arrived around 10 pm to find the sun retiring, and drove southwards through a darkening forest. The spit averages just over a mile wide with a single main road running between dunes all the way to the Russian border.

The famous postal route used to run from Konigsberg to St Petersburg, but I could see neither sea nor lagoon through the thick plantations lining the road.

After half an hour, we reached Nida, the southernmost settlement on the Lithuanian side: a tiny town of 1,500, which swells with visitors every summer and resonates to the sounds of Lithuanian, German and Russian.

The arrival of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century paved the way for Prussian rule over the next 700 years, to be succeeded by the USSR after World War II.

You could stay at the Nida hotel, until 1990 a favourite of the Soviet apparatchiks, or rent a guesthouse converted from the pretty wooden fishermen's cottages.

Neringa, Curonian Spit, Lithuania

The Spit's shoreline offers spaces for cycling - and pretty wooden houses in the town of Neringa

Every house, it seems, has a little restaurant in its garden, in which holidaymakers linger over beers, while bicycles - the favoured form of transport - lean tipsily in wait.

This is far removed from a trendy resort. A haven of peace, the Curonian Spit is little changed since the 19th century, when a colony of German artists settled in Nida in search of inspiration.

Freud visited, and Thomas Mann was so impressed he built a summer house, which is the focus of a music and arts festival every July.

The unique landscape makes it a place for nature-lovers and, being on the migratory path of 20 million birds, a twitcher's delight.

It was the Sahara-style sand dunes that piqued my curiosity. Sand dunes so far north? Yet, soft and creamy, they rise in places to almost 230 ft. With deforestation for ship-building between the 16th to 18th centuries, the unfettered dunes began to drift with the winds, allegedly burying 17 villages.

The forests, which cover 70 per cent of the land, are the result of replanting in the 19th century. Trails with signs explaining local flora and fauna, lead through the forests, while nature reserves protect the fragile ecology.

The cycle route along the lagoon, past reed banks and swans guarding fluffy cygnets, is one of the easiest and most pleasant rides.

Lining the shore, colourful weathercocks, intricately carved with symbolic ensigns, swing on tall poles. Typical of this region, they were used to identify boats and control fishing quotas. Past the fishing harbour we soon found ourselves in forest, fragrant with wild strawberries. Elk and wild boar roam hereabouts.

Passing Vecekrugo dune, the highest forested hill on the spit, we reached the small fishing village of Preila. 'This is where they make the best smoked fish on the spit,' Neringa, my guide, told me, to the acrid smell of woodsmoke. At a small market, nameless fish from sea and lagoon hung shiny and golden from hooks.

exterior shot of tourists walkign along sand duensexterior shot of an elk drinking water from a river

Tourists wander along the sand dunes of the Curonian Spit, whilst elk can be spotted by nature lovers

The four main settlements of Juodkrante, Pervalka, Preila and Nida, collectively known as the City of Neringa, are lagoon-side.

The Baltic shore, reached over the hump of dunes, is a long stretch of sand and Blue Flag beaches of chill, shallow water.

Well tended, it is ideal for families, the greatest hazard being tripping over a half-buried bottle of vodka left to cool in the sea. You can even hunt for tiny pieces of amber.

The spit is famous for this 'Baltic gold', and Nida is full of shops selling beautiful amber jewellery.

Algirdas Marcius, an amber master, explained the medicinal properties of this fossilised resin - from curing earache to regulating blood pressure. I sipped vodka marinated with amber pieces 'as a prophylactic against illness'. It must work. In his 60s, Algirdas still dredges amber using a net and pole. I watched him fashion a beautiful necklace of chunky white amber, 'a colour formerly reserved for the Tsars'.

A red evening sun smiled as Captain Aurelio hoisted the sails of his flat-bottomed, 40ft oak fishing boat - a copy of the traditional kurenai of the region, which disappeared in the Fifties.

Curonian Spit, Lithuania

Charming: Old fishing boats sit at rest near Preilan on the Curonian Lagoon

We sailed along Parnidis Dune and Gliders' Dune beyond - a nature reserve stretching five miles into Russia.

Grey herons and seagulls wheeled overhead. 'The spit is so unique that everyone must see it,' wrote philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt on his visit in 1809. Two hundred years on, his words still hold true.

Read more:

Fotorelacja z wyjazdu studyjnego dla dziennikarzy „Bursztynowa Litwa" zorganizowanego przez Centrum Informacji Turystycznej Republiki Litewskiej w Polsce. Dzisiaj Kłajpeda.

30 maja, Kłajpeda

W ostatni dzień dziennikarskiej eskapady po nadmorskiej Litwie zwiedzamy portową część Kłajpedy. Z racji święta nie pracują stocznia i terminale przeładunkowe. Za to bardzo gwarno jest przy przeprawie promowej, którą można dostać się do drugiej części miasta, gdzie znajduje się bodajże największa atrakcja turystyczna Kłajpedy – delfinarium.

W wielkiej sali widowiskowej, mogącej pomieścić nawet 1000 widzów, co kilka godzin pokazywany jest prawdziwy show z delfinami i fokami w roli głównej. Delfiny pod okiem swoich opiekunów zabawiają publiczność, skacząc, tańcząc, grając w koszykówkę, a nawet śpiewając i malując. Naprawdę pokaz robi duże wrażenie, nie tylko na dzieciach, które dominują na widowni. Niemniej interesujący jest pokaz tresury lwa morskiego, który można zobaczyć w sąsiadującym z delfinarium Muzeum Morskim. Ważące prawie tonę zwierzę, które żongluje piłką i rzuca do kosza – i to celnie – to widok na pewno wart 5 litów, które trzeba wydać na bilet. Za kolejne 5 litów można w jednej z urokliwych kłajpedzkich knajpek zamówić bardzo dobre piwo Svyturys, które jest warzone w tym mieście. I nad kuflem zastanowić się, dlaczego tak atrakcyjna pod każdym względem kraina, jakim jest nadmorska Litwa, jest stosunkowo mało popularna wśród Polaków.

29 maja, Kłajpeda

Opuszczamy przyrodniczy raj, jakim jest Mierzeja Kurońska, udając się do położonej u ujścia rzeki Dangi do Zalewu Kurońskiego Kłajpedy, najstarszego miasta na Litwie. Miasto jest głównym portem Litwy i ważnym ośrodkiem gospodarczym.
Kłajpeda została założona ponad 750 lat temu, gdy zakon kawalerów mieczowych wybudował tu drewniany zamek Memelburg. Później miasto przechodziło różne koleje losu, będąc we władaniu m. in. Litwy, Prus, Rosji, Niemiec. Pamiątki po burzliwej historii miasta można dzisiaj obejrzeć w Muzeum Zamkowym, ale również na kłajpedzkiej plaży, gdzie pozostały fragmenty niemieckich bunkrów.

Miasto może nie olśniewa jakimś szczególnym pięknem, ale z pewnością kilka budowli może się spodobać. Szczególnie urokliwa jest ulica Wysoka, gdzie można podziwiać najstarsze konstrukcje z muru pruskiego. Starówka nie jest zbyt wielka, a znaczna część domów to rekonstrukcje. Ciekawym zabytkiem Kłajpedy jest XIX-wieczny teatr, z którego balkonu w dzień po anektowaniu Kłajpedy – w marcu 1939 r. – przemówienie wygłosił Adolf Hitler.
Dzisiejsza Kłajpeda jest prężnie rozwijającym się gospodarczo miastem. Jej największym atutem jest nadmorskie położenie. Jest to najbardziej wysunięty na północ niezamarzający port na wschodnim wybrzeżu Bałtyku. Ale miasto stawia też na turystów. To przede wszystkim dla nich wybudowano kilka wysokiej klasy hoteli, eleganckie restauracje, kawiarnie. I jak w miastach portowych nie brakuje obiektów rozrywki, takich jak kasyna czy nocne kluby.

28 maja, Nerynga

Zwiedzamy miejscowości letniskowe wchodzące w skład Neryngi: Nidę, Juodkrante. Kiedyś były to małe osady rybackie, dziś to bardzo modne litewskie kurorty nadmorskie. Urok tych bardzo sympatycznych miejscowości docenili już na początku XX wieku niemieccy artyści, którzy bardzo chętnie przyjeżdżali tu wypoczywać i tworzyć. Jednym z najbardziej znanych miłośników Mierzei Kurońskiej był Tomasz Mann, który mieszkał w Nidzie w latach 1930-1933.

Mierzeja Kurońska przyciąga mnóstwo turystów z całego świata, ale nadal najliczniej przyjeżdżają Niemcy. W sumie mierzeję odwiedza w ciągu roku 700 tys. osób, z czego większość to turyści jednodniowi. Polaków odpoczywających, tu na wczasach, nie jest zbyt wielu, znacznie częściej pojawiają się polskie wycieczki objazdowe po krajach bałtyckich. W całej Neryndze jest ok. 4 tys. miejsc noclegowych, w hotelach, pensjonatach oraz kwaterach prywatnych. Jak poinformował nas mer Neryngi Vigantas Giedraitis w planach jest budowa nowych pensjonatów, hoteli, ale ich liczba nie będzie nigdy zbyt duża, z uwagi na potrzebę ochrony unikatowej przyrody.
Kurończycy są bardzo mili i gościnni. Gdziekolwiek pójdziemy jesteśmy częstowani miejscowym specjałem – nalewką na bursztynach. Podobno picie tego dosyć mocnego trunku pozwala długo zachować zdrowie. Zobaczymy...

27 maja - Mierzeja Kurońska

Z letniej stolicy Litwy, Połągi, udajemy się na Mierzeję Kurońską – pas lądu o długości 98 km pomiędzy Morzem Bałtyckim a Zalewem Kurońskim. Północna część mierzei, o długości 52 km, należy do Republiki Litewskiej. Natomiast część południowa to terytorium Obwodu Kaliningradzkiego Federacji Rosyjskiej. Mierzeja, na obszarze której ustanowiono park narodowy, jest unikatem przyrodniczym. I to nie tylko ze względu na bodajże największe w Europie ruchome wydmy. Występuje tu ok. 300 gatunków ptaków i 40 ssaków i 900 rodzajów roślin. Nic więc dziwnego, że w 2000 r. Park Narodowy Mierzei Kurońskiej został wpisany na Listę Światowego Dziedzictwa UNESCO.

Turyści odwiedzający mierzeję zatrzymują się zazwyczaj w letnisku Nerynga – jednej z najpiękniejszej miejscowości letniskowych nad Bałtykiem. Miasto Nerynga – założone w 1961 r. – składa się z osiedla Alksnyne oraz 4 miejscowości: Nida, Preila, Juodkrante i Pervalka. Każda z tych miejscowości to prawdziwa perełka, z charakterystyczną dla tego regionu architekturą. Naszej grupie było dane zamieszkać w Pervalce, w uroczym ośrodku zwanym willa „Baldininkas" nad samym zalewem.
Duże wrażenie robią wydmy w okolicach Nidy, które zaliczane są do najwyższych nad Bałtykiem. Niezapomnianych wrażeń dostarczył wieczorny spacer z Pervalki na druga stronę mierzei, nad otwarte morze. Trudy trasy, iczącej ok. 4 km w jedną stronę, wynagrodził przepiękny widok zachodzącego słońca na plaży, co miało miejsce ok. 22. czasu lokalnego.


26 maja - Połąga (lit. Palanga)

Po przylocie do Wilna udajemy się busikiem do leżącej nad Bałtykiem (odległej od stolicy Litwy o ponad 300 km) Połągi, która w Polsce często nazywana jest błędnie Pałangą.. Droga szybkiego ruchu, którą jedziemy jest bardzo dobrej jakości, co skłania kierowców do. szybkiej jazdy. Nie zawsze to się opłaca, o czym przekonał się nasz kierowca. Niewielkie przekroczenie dozwolonej prędkości kosztowało go 70 litów (równowartość prawie 90 zł). A być może mandat byłby nawet wyższy, gdyby kierowca nie tłumaczył swego pośpiechu koniecznością punktualnego dowiezienia na miejsce polskich dziennikarzy.

Połąga - uważana za letnią stolicę Litwy – wita nas raczej zimowo. Jest zaledwie ok. 10 stopni i bardzo wietrznie. Na szczęście, przestało padać i i zza chmur co jakiś czas wyziera słońce. Pewnie to niezbyt sprzyjająca aura jest powodem, że niemałe miasteczko (prawie 20 tys. stałych mieszkańców i setki tysięcy turystów w sezonie) sprawia wrażenie wymarłego. Aż trudno uwierzyć, że w sezonie trudno przejść przez prowadzący nad morze deptak. A znalezienie wolnego miejsca w licznych urokliwych knajpkach, restauracjach czy kawiarniach położonych przy deptaku jest nie lada sztuką. Do tego najsłynniejszego litewskiego nadmorskiego kurortu przyciągają przede wszystkim piękne, piaszczyste plaże i wydmy. Co ciekawe, na Litwie można się opalać na wydmach, są nawet przygotowane specjalne stanowiska!

W dalekiej przeszłości Połąga była małą osadą rybacką. Jej mieszkańcy oprócz łowienia ryb trudnili się zbieraniem bursztynu., który później szlakami handlowymi docierał do dalekich krajów Europy i Azji. Bursztyn to symbol Litwy

W XIX w. Połąga zaczęła przeobrażać się w uzdrowisko. To szczególna zasługa hrabiów Tyszkiewiczów, którzy osiedlili się w tym miasteczku. Utworzono park, zbudowano nowy zespół pałacowy, powstały lecznice, wzniesiono nowy kościół, molo spacerowe.
Jedno z najpiękniejszych miejsc w Połądze to pałac Tyszkiewiczów z otaczającym go parkiem. W pałacu obecnie mieści się Muzeum Bursztynu, słynące z bogactwa zbiorów. Godny odwiedzenia jest też neogotycki kościół.
Obowiązkowym punktem zwiedzania tego urokliwego miasteczka jest też spacer po głównym deptaku i wizyta na drewnianym molo.

Turun Sanomat 17.11 2010 02:31:20

Filnland_1 Kaunas on Liettuan henkinen ja historiallinen pääkaupunki ja paljon aidompi pala Liettuaa kuin Vilna – ainakin jos kaunasilaisilta itseltä kysytään. Ja aika usein he nämä mielestään kiistämättömät tosiasiat ylpeydellä ilmoittavat, vaikkei kysyttäisikään.

Kaunasin ja Vilnan välinen jännite on hieman sukua Turun ja Helsingin suhteelle Suomessa. Myös Kaunas on maansa entinen pääkaupunki. Kaupunkien välisestä kissanhännänvedosta välittämättä on selvää, että Kaunas on kaupunkikuvaltaan ja tunnelmaltaan toisenlainen kuin historialtaan puolalaisvaikutteisempi Vilna. Mikään komeaan menneisyyteensä huntuun kietoutunut pysähtynyt kakkoskaupunki ei Kaunas ole. Se on esimerkiksi yhä maan suurin opiskelukaupunki, mikä näkyy nuorekkaassa katukuvassa ja eloisassa kulttuuritarjonnassa.


Edullinen ja maukas
Matkailijan viihtymistä kaupungissa ei lainkaan haittaa se että hintataso on jonkin verran pääkaupunkia edullisempi. Matkailijakin huomaa sen esimerkiksi hotelli- ja ravintolahinnoissa. Ja mitä ruokaan tulee, Kaunasia pidetään maan suuremmista kaupungeista parhaimpana paikkana maistella liettualaisia perinne- ja maalaisruokia. Eikä vain kaunasilaisten omasta mielestä.

Maittavia, mutta raskaita ja raaka-aineiltaan suomalaisille tuttuja liettualaisruokia kannattaakin Kaunasissa maistella estotta, esimerkiksi täytetyt perunat, sienet, maalaismakkarat sekä riista ovat hyvin edustettuina.

Ja pitäähän sitä savustettuja siankorviakin kerran elämässä maistaa, siihen Liettua ja Kaunas erityisesti on juuri oikea paikka!

Kävelijän kohde
300  000 asukkaan koostaan huolimatta Kaunas on mainion kompakti kaupunkikohde lyhyemmällekin vierailulle – siitä ehtii näkemään aikalailla parhaat palat muutamassa päivässä, ja vieläpä ilman että astuu välttämättä kertaakaan minkäänlaiseen kulkuneuvoon. Kaunas on ennen kaikkea kävelijän kaupunki, ja miksei olisi, ylpeileehän kaupunki historiallisella kävelykadulla joka oli pitkään Euroopan pisin. 

Helposti eksyvälle kaupunkimatkailijalle Kaunas onkin unelmakohde, pääkatu on aina lyhyen matkan päässä ja sitten pitääkin vain tietää kumpaan suuntaan kävelee.

Kaunasin linnoitus perustettiin 1200-luvulla Nemunas- ja Neris-jokien risteykseen. Siitä on vain hyvin vähän nähtävää jäljellä, mutta kaupungin vanhimman osan sijainti on varsin dramaattinen. Vanhankaupungin suurimpia nähtävyyksiä ovat merkittävät rakennukset kuten Vytautasin goottityylinen kirkko. Koko kaupungin tärkein kulttuurihistoriallinen keskittymä on vanhankaupungin keskustori jolla seisoo myös yksitorninen kaupungintalo.

Kummalliset museot
Kaunasin vanhastakaupungista ei ole pittoreskiudessaan kilpailemaan Vilnan tai Baltian muiden pääkaupunkien kanssa. Kaunas ei tarjoa pieniä kujia joilla eksyttää itsensä vaan kaupungin vanhan osan (senamiestis) mielenkiintoisin katu on sittenkin sen halki aina kaupungin uuteen keskustaan (naujamiestis) saakka kulkeva Vilniaus gatve. Uuden kaupungin puolella kadun nimi muuttuu Laisves-kaduksi, mutta jatkuu yhtä kaikki kävelykatuna.

Jos puutuu kaupungista kujia ja sokkeloita, erikoisia ja hauskoja museoita ei ainakaan: Kaunasista löytyy muun muassa maailman tiettävästi suurin paholaismuseo, Liettuan Schindleriksi kutsutulle Chiune Sugiharalle omistettu juutalaisvainoista kertova museo, viestintämuseo, urheilumuseo, ilmailumuseo, nukketeatterimuseo sekä kansanmusiikkimuseo. Niiden tavanomaisempien lisäksi.

Museo löytyy verukkeeksi vierailulle myös Liettuan kuuluisimpaan ja suurimpaan viinatehtaaseen Stumbrasiin. Tislaamon tutustumis- ja maistiaiskierros on sujuvasti toteutettu, ja museo totta kai mielenkiintoinen. Vuonna 1906 perustettu Stumbras tarkoittaa suomeksi eurooppalaista biisonia, visenttiä, joka on nähtävissä tislaamon logossakin. Stumbrasin suosituimpiin juomiin kuuluu Starka, biisoniheinällä maustettu vodka, jota juodaan perinteisesti omenamehun kanssa.

Ged Cleugh

Ged Cleugh

Ged Cleugh is one of our Producers. His never-ending research into the world's top tourist resorts has left him able to recite the hotels of Europe at will. A keen snowboarder, Ged takes to the slopes each season working his way through the world's finest resorts in search of "big air".


Lithuania, ‘Land of Rain’. Well not in my experience. With two previous trips under my belt and on both occasions rarely a cloud in the sky, this summer I took the somewhat rare step for a British Holidaymaker and booked a weeks summer holiday on Lithuania’s Baltic Coast.

What coast you may ask. Well in fact there is a near seventy kilometre strip of weathered sandy beach that stretches from the border with Latvia in the north to Russia in the south. Peppered along it are a string of sleepy fishing villages and a trio of interesting resorts, namely Palanga, Klaipeda and Nida.

Access to the region is a definite case of cost over convenience. There are no direct flights from the UK to Palanga Airport. Instead I opted for Ryanair’s scheduled service to Kaunas, the nation’s second city and a mere couple of hours from Palanga by hire car. The connecting highway is new, swift and reasonably scenic, but where is the fun in that? There is a splendid road along the gorgeous meandering banks of the Nemunas River south of Kaunas. A couple of castles break up the drive, and if you make the break north at Jurbarkas then the stretch of road through the pine forests is equally exhilarating. This is one of the most pleasant drives I’ve experienced on the continent, and it didn’t add more than half an hour or so to the direct route along the as-functional-as-it-sounds ‘A1’.

Palanga is to Lithuania what Blackpool is to the UK. Fun, sea and sand in spades. The town of around eighteen thousand souls swells in the summer to a burgeoning throng of scantily clad beachgoers, all vying for space on the eighteen kilometer stretch of sand. As you’d expect the town itself is choc-full of souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and bars. The main drag can be just that, masses of holidaymakers jostling for a route through to the beach, but despite this bottleneck a mere road or two away Palanga opens into an airy, spacious and pleasantly relaxing resort town. There are extensive pine forests and dunes to explore and the best way to do so is by bike. These are easily picked up from one of scores of hire joints, it’s a cheap-as-chips day out and rather healthy to boot. Something you’ll no doubt welcome given the weight of traditional Lithuanian food. Saddled up, a good starting point is the Botanical Gardens. These were designed by French architect Eduardo Andre are well tended with rare plants, a pretty lake, the splendid neo-Renaissance Tiskeviciai Palace and an Amber Museum. From the gardens the forests and dunes stretch along the coast on well tended paths as far as you dare venture.

Accommodation wise you’ll find the full spectrum of pensions, B&B’s, hotels and five star luxury. Be warned though, they will all fill up in the peak summer months so do get your booking in early. I stayed at Palanga Hotel and Spa, an award winning nautical themed building a stones throw from the beach. The rooms are sleek, stylish and airy replete with all mod cons. The floor to ceiling windows spill light, yet the surrounding pine trees retain the sense of privacy. You’ll notice the appropriate use of amber in the colour scheme, and all rooms come with a balcony. Guests have use of a spa, outside pool and ground floor restaurant of the same name. ‘Palanga’ is spacious and tastefully decorated with a European menu and an expansive outside terrace. As one would expect seafood features heavily on the menu. I opted for a mixed fish grill for two and was presented with a tasty, perfectly cooked combination of mussels, king prawns, scallops salmon, tuna, halibut and sea bass. It was as tasty a seafood grill as I’ve ever had, and a wonderful introduction of Lithuanian cuisine.

Dusk brings Palanga to life. The endless bars and restaurants along Jonas Basanavicius Street, or the main street crank up the volume as the neon takes over. You can eat a couple of courses with wine or beer for well under ten euro a head, a rare bargain in Europe. The bars too are reasonable, though as ever you will pay inflated prices in clubs which open long into the night.

Klaipeda is the third largest city in Lithuania and about a twenty minute drive south of Palanga at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon. It has spent large parts of its history jostling between battling empires owing to its importance as a (usually) ice free Baltic Port. The German legacy is the most obvious with many Fachwerk style buildings throughout the town. They are big on jazz in this part of the Baltic, and one place definitely worth a mention is ‘Kurpiai’ restaurant. It offers live jazz most evenings (cover charge applies) and the food is really tasty. It fills out with a knowing local crowd, eager to chat across the shared tables and share their travel tips with you.

Accommodation is Klaipeda is also plentiful. Hotel Klaipeda is an imposing modern building adjacent to the old town. It is part of a sprawling complex of contemporary bars and restaurants. The rooms are modern and spacious offering spectacular views of the port and lagoon. The hotel also offers a wide ranging entertainment from ‘Honolulu’ a fully equipped bowling alley with arcade games, pool and darts to a casino and even a nightclub. Food wise there are three restaurants to pick from; the one that gets my recommendation is Viva LaVita, a cocktail bar that serves up food with an exotic twist. The piece de resistance is the view, from the twentieth floor its pretty jaw-dropping, especially during sunset.

Klaipeda mainly serves as the gateway to the incredible Curonian Spit, a narrow sand bank that stretches down the Baltic Coast to Russia. Connecting ferries are frequent and very cheap, especially if you are on foot or cycle. Of the one hundred kilometer spit, around half belongs to Lithuania. The dunes rise out of the sea majestically, so tall in fact that they are the highest drifting sand dunes in Europe. Consequently much of the spit is protected (you’ll have a pay a entrance fee if you want to take your car, but it’s worth it.) as a national park. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in 2000 and given the conservation efforts it would be foolish to hike into the restricted areas as there are plenty of regulated places to enjoy the dunes.

Day trips from Klaipeda by bus or bike are easily arranged through your hotel. I opted to stay on the spit in Nida. This fishing village  has blossomed into a quiet tourist town. Rooms are at a premium so book in advance, or contact the local tourist information centre who can help arrange home stays.

Getting up close to the sand dunes is what Nida is all about. Throngs head for the Baltic Coast beaches but you wont have to travel far to find your own spot of seclusion. You may well notice that the tourists hit the beach, while the regular visitors hide in the adjacent dunes, the reason is the surprisingly chilling winds that whip down the coastline even on the hottest days.

On the opposite side of the Spit are the lagoon beaches. Wind and crowd free, these get my vote. Plus, you can walk to your own private area in under ten minutes from the centre of Nida. The waters are great for swimming and are whole lot calmer making it a safer option If you are travelling with younger kids. For the best view of the dunes you can hire a boat for a trip along the lagoon. There are a couple of traditional wooden vessels called Curonas, these were originally for fishing and with the sails up are a romantic and relaxing voyage along the coast.

Dusk in Nida and not a lot changes. This sleepy destination offers a couple of traditional restaurants and a handful of quiet bars. This place is all about relaxation, and after the hectic all-singing-and-dancing scene of its Baltic Coast neighbours, is welcome respite.

So who would take a summer break to Lithuania’s Baltic Coast? Well I for one would return in a heartbeat. It’s family friendly, pretty, history rich and all mod cons are in place, but most important is the extraordinary value for money you get, especially as the Eurozone’s prices skyrocket. about travel: The hotel issue, Dominican Republic, tulips in Holland, Paris in the springtime, Galapagos islands, more

The Flight Crew

Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, January 11, 2010; 2:00 PM




Bethesda, Md.: Hi, my boyfriend is doing an overseas assignment this spring and we were thinking about meeting up in June in the Baltic States for a couple weeks. Do you have any recommendations or travel tips for Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania? Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: Here's a story we did on Latvia a couple of years ago. The info should still be good. We also did a primer that included all three Baltic states when the joined the EU. Our Web site isn't letting me link to it for some reason but here's the info on Estonia and Lithuania:


* WHERE: Northern Europe, on the Gulf of Finland, bordering Latvia and Russia.

* WHY GO: The concentration of medieval buildings in the capital city of Tallinn offers a total immersion 600 years into the past. The rest of the country, particularly the 162,500-acre Lahemaa National Park, boasts a wealth of greenery adorned with ancient manor houses and peaceful churches. For travelers looking to escape even further into raw nature, the hundreds of islands scattered off the coast take you about as far off the tourist path as you can get in Europe.

* DON'T MISS: Kadriorg Park, which runs along the Baltic Coast and is home to the Estonian Art Museum, noted for its striking baroque facade. . . The pristine period buildings of Pikk and Lai streets in Tallinn . . . 600-year-old Tallinn Town Hall, one of the best examples of medieval buildings in northern Europe . . . Olde Hansa restaurant, where waiters in medieval garb plop down platters of pork, potatoes in thick creamy sauce and rye bread. . . . Bog walking or paddling a haabja (Finnish wooden boat) in Soomaa National Park (watch for witches) . . . Puhtitsa Convent, home of vegetarian nuns . . . Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands, lined with basket-weave fences and home to ancient lighthouses.

* SAMPLE PACKAGE: Spend four nights in the capital of Tallinn, with round-trip air from Dulles, lodging, breakfasts and half-day city tour, for $1,124, through Crown Travel (800-853-6453, Tack on such optional excursions as the Puhtitsa Convent, the island of Hiiumaa and bog walking for $29 to $159 extra. Book by June 28, and travel midweek, November through December; about $145 in taxes extra.

* INFO: Estonian Embassy, 202-588-0101, or


* WHERE: Northern Europe, bordering Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia.

* WHY GO: The Old Town of Vilnius, the capital city, is one of Europe's most attractive town centers. With its medley of architectural styles (Gothic to classical), cobblestone streets and brown-brick facades, it offers a near-perfect glimpse into the past. Kaunas, the country's second-largest city, is an alluring enclave of well-preserved buildings dating to the 14th century. The coastal town of Palanga, with friendly locals and the lovely Amber Museum, offers a great entree to provincial Baltic culture.

* DON'T MISS: The intriguing cultural attractions of Vilnius, such as the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, which documents the extermination of the city's vibrant Jewish community during WWII; the KGB Museum, where thousands of Lithuanians were interrogated and tortured during the Soviet occupation; and Paneriai, a small museum with a memorial to WWII victims outside the capital in a beautiful forest . . . the TV Tower, former site of a Soviet standoff but now a great panoramic perch . . . the stebuklas tile between the Vilnius cathedral and bell tower, which marks the beginning of a human chain that some 2 million Baltic citizens formed between Vilnius and Tallinn in 1989 to protest the Soviet occupation . . . A meal of smoked fish in one of the coastal settlements on the Curonian Spit . . . the Hill of Crosses, near Siauliai, blanketed in thousands of crosses . . . Gruto Parkas, near Druskininkai, an outdoor museum of notorious Soviet political figures . . . The sea resort of Palanga and its Amber Museum, with thousands of examples of "Baltic Gold" . . . The Hill of Witches in Juodkrante, site of wooden sculptures based on legends and folk tales.

* SAMPLE PACKAGE: Visit Lithuania has a host of land-only packages that range from a weekend in Vilnius to a week traveling from city to sea resort. The "Lithuanian Experience," a 10-day escorted tour, includes the Dzukija National Park, a drive along Panemune castle road and a climb up the Hill of Witches, and centers on a cultural event, such as May's international folk festival or July's state celebration of the crowning of King Mindaugas. Price of $1,460 includes accommodations, some meals, transfers, tours and more. Depart May 28, June 18, July 2, Aug. 6 or Sept. 10. Round-trip flights from Dulles to Vilnius, with at least one connection, start at about $770 on such carriers as SAS, United and US Airways. Info: 011-370-5-2625-241,

* INFO: Lithuanian Embassy, 202-234-5860,, or Lithuanian Tourist Information Center, 718-281-1623,



A new online guide to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania aims to help travellers make the most of these beautiful countries. Here, the website's author, Claire Gervat, offers a taste of her insider's guide

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Aukstaitijos National Park in Lithuania is one of several green  spaces across the Baltics with wildlife including bears

Lithuanian State Department of Tourism

Aukstaitijos National Park in Lithuania is one of several green  spaces across the Baltics with wildlife including bears


Lingering evenings, colourful festivals, cold beetroot soup and storks' nests: there's so much I love about summer in the Baltics that I could go on and on.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to visit Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at any time of year, but several of the most appealing are thrown into sharp relief in summer, when the long days and better weather tempt people out.

The first thing that always hits me is how much space there is for everyone, how much room to breathe. Consider the figures. Lithuania has about 51 people for every square kilometre, Latvia has just 35 and Estonia has barely 30. Compare that with England, at 383.

The result? There's a huge amount of countryside to play in, much of it covered by pine, spruce and birch forests, which make the air smell even cleaner than it probably is. The three countries are dotted with national parks, several of which are as wild as anywhere in Europe – and that includes having free-roaming brown bears, wolves and lynx.

Where the wildlife isn't quite so wild, there are networks of paths for hikers and cyclists, for whom the lack of muscle-killing hills – the highest point in the region being a lowly 311m – is a bonus. And if that's too exhausting, you can always rent a boat on one of the rivers or lake systems for a few days of playing Swallows and Amazons.

Where the forests and marshlands end, the cultivated areas have their own gentle appeal. Farming is not yet always an agri-business; there are still huge numbers of small, family-run holdings with camera-friendly wooden farmhouses and outbuildings. Fortunately, diversification has arrived, which means you can stay in some of these rural idylls, join in the work if you wish, and scoff summer produce – honey, berries, mushrooms and much more – in situ at its very freshest. (And if you're planning on staying in town, they all have proper markets where you can stock up on whatever is in season; I always come home nursing a bag of chanterelles if I can.) It's hard to imagine a better environment for a good old-fashioned family holiday.

Around the western and northern edge of the Baltic states is the long and largely undeveloped coastline, with endless stretches of sandy beach where you will never have to lie, sardine-like, with thousands of other sun-scorched bodies. Even in the main seaside towns – Parnu in Estonia, Jurmala and Liepaja in Latvia, and Palanga in Lithuania – you don't have to go far to find a quieter corner.

Nor are the best sandy sweeps blighted by a backdrop of wall-to-wall identikit resort hotels. While there are a few concrete monstrosities left over from Soviet times, many rather stylishly refurbished, there are lots of other places to stay: guesthouses, cottages and even the occasional boutique hotel. It all makes for a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere, which is surely what you want from a beach holiday.

More familiar to British travellers, the three Baltic capitals – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – also have a different feel when the sun shines. Every restaurant and café sprouts a proper outdoor terrace complete with parasols and pots of plants (plus a pile of blankets for cooler evenings) to complement the lighter summer menu. Suddenly, the thought of sightseeing by boat or bicycle doesn't seem so ridiculous; nor does ditching the list of sights and just meandering on foot, hoping to stumble on a quirky shop, a tucked-away restaurant or a park with a fair or festival of something or other.

That's another joy of a Baltic summer. It may be fleeting – too much so, the locals always complain – but it's celebrated with captivating enthusiasm from the summer solstice to the end of August. In sports halls, gilded opera houses and beachside forests, there are festivals devoted to everything from folk songs to heavy metal, samba to early music. Every town, outdoor museum, castle and archaeological site joins in with re-enactments, craft fairs and concerts. You'll notice that everyone owns a full set of their national dress for special occasions, which they wear with real pride (perhaps not surprising since it's a mere 20 years since they declared their independence from Soviet rule).

Something else you notice is that, whether you're heading to the beach or a song festival, you don't need to allow for your journey to take twice as long as you expected. Friday and Sunday evenings may see heavier traffic on the most popular routes and the locals may grumble about traffic jams, but no one who has ever sat motionless on the M25 need take them seriously. There simply aren't enough people and cars to create proper hold-ups. As a consequence, you have more time to spend having fun when you get there and more energy to appreciate it.

And if the lack of traffic snarl-ups isn't enough by itself to explain why making the most of summer isn't as exhausting as in many other parts of Europe, perhaps the spa tradition plays a role, as well. Throughout the Baltics, there are places where you can bathe in healing mineral waters, wallow in health-giving mud, or just have a fabulous massage without breaking the bank. It may not be just a summer thing (I've been to one in February and loved it), but as a way of getting body and mind ready for the holidays it's hard to beat. And with spa resorts offering everything from water parks to music festivals, they're a holiday for all ages in themselves.

Are there any downsides? Well, as you'd expect, hot weather is not a given; the 30C spells of last month and last year are the exception, not the rule. But, I'm happy to forgo the sunburn in return for everything else that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania offer the traveller in the summertime.


Tallinn ( is beautiful at any time of year, even at the height of the cruise season. Stay in the Old Town – I like the Hotel Schlössle ( – so that you can enjoy the quieter mornings and evenings, but head off to the city's less touristy districts in the day. Upmarket Kadriorg has a park, two art galleries ( and lots of relaxed places to eat. Further east, at Pirita, you'll find a beach, spa and botanical garden. In the opposite direction, at Rocca al Mare, there's a charming Estonian Open-Air Museum ( – if you're feeling lazy, you can ride round it in a horse-drawn carriage.

The islands off the west coast have a special appeal to Estonians because they were firmly off limits during Soviet times. Saaremaa ( is the largest and best known island, though still unspoilt. The main town, Kuressaare, has a ruined castle and several modern spa hotels. Otherwise, it's all about nature: quiet beaches, rare wildflowers and forests. Neighbouring Muhu ( has one of Estonia's best hotels in Pädaste Manor ( and equally soothing landscapes. The north coast is more rugged, but well worth a visit. The section around Lahemaa National Park ( is a good place to start.


Riga's airiness – all those parks, avenues and Art Nouveau buildings, such as Hotel Neiburgs ( – comes into its own in summer. I recommend a boat trip on the greenery-flanked canal and river that encircle the Old Town ( for the views. The boat stops at Ostas Skati ( on Kipsala Island, which is lovely for a sunny-day meal.

The closest beach to Riga is at Jurmala (, which means "seaside", and is just a short train ride away. There's a great sweep of white sand about 19 miles long and some excellent spa hotels, such as Baltic Beach (, which offers a fantastic mountain lavender massage that I still dream about when I'm feeling stressed. Majori is the liveliest area; stroll along the beach in either direction and you'll soon have the place to yourself.

Inland, active tourism with a dash of culture makes the Gauja National Park and the historic towns of Cesis and Sigulda within it is a good starting place. Sigulda is heaven for adrenalin junkies, but if you don't fancy the summer bobsleigh, rope walks or catapults, canoeing on the Gauja river is more restful – hire your craft at Zagarkalns ( in Cesis.


I love spending a few days pottering around the capital, Vilnius, staying somewhere friendly such as the Shakespeare Boutique Hotel ( There are sights for list-tickers: the serene new National Art Gallery (; the grim KGB Museum (technically the Museum of Genocide Victims,; and more churches than you'd expect in a country that embraced Christianity so late. But the real pleasure lies in just soaking up the beauty of the mainly Baroque Old Town and checking out the work of excellent local designers such as Giedrius Sarkauskas (linoko and Julija Zileniene (

A close second on my list is Druskininkai ( in the south-east. People have been coming here for 200 years to bathe in the mineral waters and wallow in healing mud, which explains the mix of 19th-century wooden villas and clunky Soviet blocks. One of the older buildings is now a comfortable riverside hotel, the Europa Royale (group, conveniently close to the superb new Aquapark ( and the Druskininku Gydykla centre (, where a classic mud bath will set you back about £8. As for the seaside, it's hard to beat the tranquil Curonian Spit (visit, essentially 60 miles of sandbar split between Lithuania and Kaliningrad.

Claire Gervat has just launched, a small but growing online guide to her favourite places and experiences in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Compact Facts

How to get there

Air Baltic ( flies from Gatwick to Riga and Vilnius with connections to Tallinn and other cities (returns from €63). Other direct flights from various UK airports include Estonian Air ( to Tallinn, Tartu and Vilnius, easyJet ( to Tallinn, and Ryanair ( to Riga and Kaunas. Baltic Holidays (0845 0705710; balticholidays can put together any combination of city, beach, spa and countryside tour. A tailor-made trip to all three Baltic capitals, with private transfers, starts at £500 per person for nine nights, based on two sharing. For rural accommodation, try Baltic Country Holidays (

Further information

Visit Estonia (; Visit Latvia (; Lithuania National Tourism Office (

Ahh, your own place in the sun. In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we show how to make like a beach bum and head for the world’s 10 most idyllic, sun-kissed refuges.


1. Dahab, Egypt

Dahab means ‘gold’ in Arabic – a name given to the area because of its golden sands. With a unique location on the edge of the Sinai desert, Dahab certainly remains an untapped treasure; budget accommodation almost on the beach means you can virtually roll out of your sleeping bag and into the water. Backed by mountain ranges, Dahab’s Bedouin settlement, Assalah, is a favoured beach-bum haunt, with unspoilt charm and chilled beachside
cafes, while up the coast are favoured and famous diving spots. Expensive resort-style hotels are at El Kura, where the bus stops; Assalah village in Mashraba Bay is much more chilled.

2. Curonian Spit, Lithuania

This 98km lick of sand is a wondrous mixture of dunes (some as high as 200m) and forest – the smell of pine will impart an otherworldly quality to your hammock time. Wilhelm von Humboldt believed that a trip to the Curonian Spit was essential nourishment for the soul, and Thomas Mann was also drawn to this timeless wonderland. It’s said that around 14 villages are buried under the endless, shifting dunes, making the Spit a kind of
Baltic Sahara. The towering 52m ‘Great Dune’ is in Nida; to get there take the ferry from Klaipeda to Neringa (costs around €10 per car), then drive or cycle 50km.


5 August 2010 4:57pm

What happens when obsessions become collections? In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we explore 10 of the more eccentric arrays to make it behind the glass.

1. Paris Sewer Museum, France


Prepare yourself: the ‘galleries’ of the Musée des Egouts de Paris are actually disused sections of Paris‘ sewerage system (fans of Hugo’s Les Misérables will know what to expect). The smell is unbelievable and let that be a warning – you
can’t completely eradicate over 100 years of crap. Exhibits include photographs, maps and stuffed sewer rats. As a bonus, you can actually walk around on walkways a few metres above flowing, flushing waste from the stinky Parisians above ground. There’s a souvenir shop, too, that sells…ah…

It’s open Saturday to Wednesday; Paris Museum pass holders get in for free.


4. Grutas Park Druskininkai, Lithuania

Also known as ‘Stalin World’, Grutas Park in Druskininkai is a blackly humorous, deeply ironic museum-cum-theme park dedicated to the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, featuring a sculpture garden with statues of former Soviet identities, plus recreations of Gulags including electrified fencing and wooden guard towers. There were plans to herd visitors in via a cattle truck on a railway track, but this was defeated after fierce public disapproval. There are occasional reenactments in which, according to the Guardian, ‘Soviet pioneers sing paeans to the dignity of work; Stalin waves his pipe and delivers tedious speeches; and Lenin sits on a bank fishing’.

Entry is LTL20 but the audio guide is worth the extra LTL46. Visit for information, including how to get there.

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Discovering Vilnius, Lithuania
Katie Wood

26 Jul 2010

Among the three Baltic capitals, Vilnius (where the Tartan Army will be heading for Scotland’s European Championship qualifier on September 3) is the quiet little sister compared with Riga and Tallinn.
Still slightly immature, but fast coming of age, she’s also arguably the most fun when you get to know her.
Only 20 years ago Lithuania was still subjected to the control of the Soviet regime so it’s little wonder it delights in its hard-won independence and is brimming with optimism. The predominantly young population seem to have a sense that they’re at a good point in the country’s history; and that’s precisely why you see them out enjoying their freedom and revelling in their culture, once so harshly repressed.
Which is not to say this results in scenes of public drunkenness or objectionable behaviour, it doesn’t (and thankfully the British stag party scene hasn’t hit here – not yet anyway, but at the equivalent of £1.80 a pint that won’t take long). The worst that happens to us during our walk back from a delicious three-course meal that set us back £20, including wine, are a few encounters with the kamikaze cyclists who use (quite legally, it transpires) the pavements, not the roads.
Vilnius has the largest old town in eastern Europe, and it’s in this labyrinth of cobbled alleyways – with around 50 churches and what seems like endless cafes – that you’ll no doubt spend most of your time: people-watching, sightseeing or souvenir shopping for the excellent quality (and remarkably cheap) linen and amber goods for which the country is famed.
A disproportionately large part of the population seem to be in their 20s; many people speak excellent English and seem delighted to welcome foreigners. As these young people have grown up in the country post-independence you may have to seek out the older generation to discuss life in the USSR.

Lithuanians are very proud of a place that pretty much sums up the psyche of the country: the Hill of Crosses. This site of pilgrimage, about 12km north of the city of Šiauliai, is absolutely covered with the Christian symbol of religion (and defiance towards the Soviets) – crucifixes.
It’s thought that the first crosses were placed on the hill after the 1831 uprising against the Russians. Over the centuries, not only crosses but carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of rosaries have been brought here by Catholics. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at more than 100,000.
Even when their country was occupied by the Communist regime of the USSR, between 1944 and 1990, Lithuanians continued to travel to the hill and leave their tributes, despite their oppressors’ best attempts to remove all crosses and symbols of national identity. The site was bulldozed time and again, but overnight the crosses started appearing again.
But while elements of this unpalatable history are all around, it’s far from being all angst in Lithuania. The locals love a party and, with the cost of eating out and the nightlife half that of cities such as Prague, visitors can enjoy themselves even on a tight budget.
The country’s beer (Svyturys) is a past winner of the World Beer Championship so give that a go, while steadfastly avoiding the local firewater Triple Nine (unless you enjoy the taste of paint-stripper).
My favourite part of Vilnius is the bohemian quarter, situated across the smaller of the city’s two rivers, the Neris. The signpost on the bridge declares the area, known as Uzupis, to be an “independent republic”. It has a 41-point constitution, which one can’t help imagining was written while under the influence. Choice clauses include: “A cat is not obliged to love its master, but it must help him in difficult times”; “Everyone has the right to be personal”; and “Everyone has the right to understand nothing”.
The most famous landmark of Lithuania is the impressive 14th-century castle of Trakai, which is 45 minutes by car from Vilnius. Set on a lake, it’s been restored and the castle complex takes three hours to explore.
The village of Trakai, with its attractive wooden houses, is home to a community of Karaites – a Turkish ethnic group practising a religion linked to Judaism, who came to Lithuania from Crimea in the 14th century as warriors for Grand Duke Vytautas. Today the country’s smallest ethnic minority, the Karaites account for less than 300 people.
You can enjoy some of their delicious Turkish-style cuisine in the Karaim restaurant, Kybynlar. Rather than joining the throng and “doing” Trakai as a day trip, make a night of it and stay over at Academia Remigum, a delightful guest house on the river which doubles as the local rowing club.
Back in Vilnius, the Museum of Genocide Victims is an absolute must-see. It is the most shocking but moving part of the trip, exhibiting documents relating to the 50-year occupation by the USSR, the Lithuanian resistance, and the victims of the arrests, deportations, and executions that took place during this period.
Housed in the former KGB headquarters, the building is said to be exactly as the Soviets left it in 1991. Among the exhibits are the solitary confinement cells, torture chambers, padded cells and KGB equipment that was used for listening in to private conversations. On the first floor there are dramatic photographs depicting the horrific working and living conditions of the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians sent to the hard labour camps of Siberia.
But the place that makes the most impression on me (apart from the execution chamber, which still has bullet holes in the walls) is the “water cell”. Here, prisoners were made to stand over ice-cold water, balancing on a tiny iron platform. When they became exhausted and fell over into the water, the prisoners would be revived in a hot shower then put back into the cold water cell again and again.
As with many nations in the former Eastern Bloc, there is a reluctance to face up to the country’s own crimes and the museum makes no mention of the former Nazi death camp less than 20km from the museum, nor the fact that several hundred thousand Lithuanian Jews were killed there during the Second World War.
For all the suffering this small nation of 3.32 million souls has endured over the centuries, today’s Lithuania is a vibrant, positive happy country – truly a Baltic beauty. Next year she’ll be 21, so go and celebrate her coming of age.
When to go:
Lithuania generally has warm summers, with temperatures sometimes hitting 30C. Winters can be cold, with temperatures as low as –15C), and there is normally snow cover for one or two months of the year.

Getting there:
Star 1 (Lithuania’s low-cost carrier) flies six days a week from London Stansted to Vilnius (from £37 one way) and once a week from Edinburgh (from £25 one way).

Getting around:
The Vilnius City Card offers free use of public transport, entry to museums and more. Discounts are also available on accommodation and restaurant and cafe bills.

Lithuanian, but English is widely spoken in the cities.

Hostels are around £15 per night, with most hotel rooms £50-£70. Visit or for offers.

Written by Katie Wood at the “HeraldScotland”:

Vilnius, la capital mágica de LituaniaUna mezcla de vida cosmopolita y tradicional.

Lituania, a menudo ocupa las primeras páginas de los periódicos deportivos por los éxitos de su selección nacional de baloncesto. Pero este bello país báltico tiene motivos más que suficientes para atraer y conquistar al viajero, al margen de lo deportivo. Su capital, Vilnius, por ejemplo, es una urbe milenaria que rebosa encanto. Dividida por el río Neris, la zona moderna, destaca por sus atrevidos rascacielos, centros comerciales, etc. En la otra orilla, cruzando cualquiera de sus hermosos puentes, hallamos lo más interesante: su viejo centro histórico, declarado Patrimonio de la Humanidad. Rodeado de sugerentes callejuelas, uno de los aspectos que más sorprende al viajero al pasear por ellas es -si se me permite esta licencia glamurosa- que éste cree estar inmerso en una interminable pasarela de top-models. La belleza de las lituanas supera, muy probablemente, la media de cualquier otro país. Llama verdaderamente la atención.

En busca de las mejores panorámicas
En su casco histórico se pueden contemplar edificios monumentales, iglesias góticas, neoclásicas, barrocas e incluso bizantinas, así como su majestuosa Catedral, del siglo XV, con su curioso campanario, resto de una vieja muralla. Frente a ella, la siempre animada calle Pilies alberga, no sólo numerosas tiendas y restaurantes típicos de la ciudad, sino el Teatro Nacional de Ópera y Ballet, la Universidad, un conjunto arquitectónico de distintos estilos que bien merece una visita. También palacetes como el que ocupa hoy el Hotel Shakespeare. En el camino hacia la colina de Gediminas, desde donde se disfrutan atractivas panorámicas de Vilnius, es casi obligado detenerse antes en el Museo del Ámbar, donde se pueden adquirir bellas piezas o simples amuletos. Sin olvidar la coqueta iglesia de Santa Ana, de la que tanto se enamoró Napoleón que quiso llevársela a Paris. Tampoco debe nadie dejar de subir por la escalera de caracol del Observatorio Astronómico si quiere, finalmente, admirar las magníficas vistas de toda la ciudad.
Uzupish, una república independiente ¡No te la pierdas!
Atravesando un pequeño puente repleto de candados con los que las parejas de enamorados simbolizan su inquebrantable amor, se llega al barrio de Uzupish. Se trata de un curiosísimo distrito de Vilnius ocupado por gente bohemia o neohippies -artistas- que se ha autoproclamado república independiente. El primero de abril celebra su fiesta nacional y nadie puede acceder al barrio si no dispone del correspondiente pasaporte. Uzupish posee bandera propia, está hermanado con el parisino barrio de Montmartre, y tiene su propia Constitución, que puede leerse en las paredes del barrio, cuya primera premisa proclama: “El hombre es libre para ser vago”. Pegadas a los muros de la calle Literatu también puede contemplarse buen número de “obras de arte”, grotescas y sarcásticas algunas, con paradójicas ambiciones de trascender otras, todas ellas capaces de arrancar la sonrisa del visitante o incluso la admiración. En un recodo del río Vilnele hay un barecito llamado Stopke, en el que se puede entrar en conversación con alguno de sus curiosos habitantes.

En cuanto a la gastronomía lituana, lo más típico del país son los cepelinai (patatas rellenas con carne). Para terminar la jornada, siempre hay conciertos musicales en algún punto de la ciudad o, si se prefiere, el Skybar del Hotel Reval en la planta 22, ofrece buenos cócteles, frente a impresionantes vistas nocturnas de la ciudad.
Más info: Centro Inform. Turística de Lituania.
c/ Consell de Cent, 355-3º. 08007 Barcelona.
Tel. +34.934670225;
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Vilnius, Lithuania is a beautiful city in Europe that is often overlooked because of it's small size.

The city has quite a remarkable history that makes special.


When traveling internationally, I often find the most beauty in unexpected places – the places that aren’t travel hotspots and written about in magazines and displayed on posters in travel agencies. Lithuania is one of those places that you typically don’t hear too much about, but those who do visit are left fascinated by what they discover.
Lithuania is a small Baltic country in Eastern Europe that has battled Russia for independence for many years. Finally in 1990, they gained their own independence. Though the country itself is still young, it has a deep history, culture, and beautiful lakes, forest, and nature.

The capital city of Vilnius has a very colorful personality – cobble stone streets lined with cafés and home to a vibrant art scene. The city is alive with outdoor concerts, exhibitions, and celebrations that regularly take place in Sereikiskes Park- the city’s largest park.
Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit is another must see destination while in Lithuania. Baltic waves and sand dunes stretch for miles and even into Russia. Lithuanian folklore says that the Spit was created when a giant was playing at the beach and fell down, creating this desert-like stretch. One town on the stretch, Nida, is a popular beachfront vacation spot for Lithuanians.
For outdoor recreation and relaxation, Aukstaitija National Park has it all. Guests enjoy boating, fishing, and berry picking in the wilderness. For those wanting to stay a while, there are small cabins available.

Churches and Religion
The country of Lithuania is very Christian – consisting of both Protestant and Catholic churches. In 1831, the country fought in an unsuccessful battle for independence against Russia. People started planting crosses at the foot of a popular fort and eventually more and more crosses were placed there. Today there are more than 100,000 crosses- some are very small and others are giant crucifixes. Anyone is welcome to add crosses there as they see fit and it’s known as a very peaceful place with a great historical significance for the tiny country.
For the history fan, there is also a very popular Soviet statue park where guests can witness the solemn approach to life under the Soviet Union’s communistic rule.

Written by Erica Lange



Times Online

The world’s bestselling city guidebook publisher, DK Eyewitness Travel, has named its pick of the best cities to visit next year.

After mulling it over a few cups of continental coffee and a biscotti biscuit, or two, the team that creates the DK Top 10 guidebook series have revealed their favourite cities for 2009, with a distinctive Northern European and Americas feel.

Vilnius – European Capital of Culture in 2009, the Lithuanian capital is planning 120 art and culture projects, and over 900 cultural events.

Highlights include the Vilnius Book Fair in February, Street Musician Day in May, Culture Night on Midsummer Night, and the LUX Festival of Lights in November which brings socially deprived groups into

Buenos Aires – The old port district of La Boca will feature a major exhibition of France’s surrealist master Marcel Duchamp at the recently revamped Fundación Proa art gallery in February. In June the Puerto Madero docklands district opens the first-ever Fosters & Partners (led by Sir Norman Foster) design project in Latin America. The uber-hip residential space will be the centrepiece of a new cultural district. The bicentenary of Argentina’s independence from Spain is in 2010 but next year offers the chance to go before the hordes do.

Gdansk – Reputed to be the new Krakow in 2009, Gdansk’s old town has been spruced up and the picturesque Bergher houses that line its streets are interspersed with an influx of new hotels, restaurants and shops. With direct flights from Liverpool, Stansted and Birmingham with Ryanair, Poland’s coastline could see a new influx of visitors to this part of the Baltic Sea.

Seattle, USA – With a new Four Seasons hotel just unveiled, a new Hyatt at Olive 8 opening in January 2009 from the Hyatt brand, and a large new “eco-friendly” hotel called “1” scheduled to open mid 2009, a good nights sleep in Seattle is scheduled for next year. Something you need in a city that can see you catching a rock show or taking in the sleek downtown area by kayak, all in one trip. A truly modern American city surrounded by acres of stately redwoods, misty coastline, and glacial caves makes for intriguing juxtaposition.

Bristol – Dita Von Teese recently opened a new Harvey Nichols store alongside a Cinema de Lux and a wealth of luxury apartments at Cabot Circus - a long awaited boost to the Broadmead shopping district. Not long after, Bristol’s robust eco-appeal got stronger as it was named the ‘most sustainable city in Britain’. Luxury consumerism and environmental sustainability look set to coexist in 2009.

Fes – With new direct flights from Gatwick starting in December 2008, with the low cost airline Atlas Blue, it won’t take long before the tourists turn east from Marrakech’s crowded souks, to explore Morocco’s spiritual and cultural hub. The narrow streets of Fes are alive with commerce, and all lanes lead to the Karaouiyne mosque, established in 859, one of the oldest and most illustrious mosques in the western Muslim world.

Washington DC – Fresh with reinvigorated patriotism, tour the Eastern Seaboard by train or bus, heading south from New York to the home of the founding fathers in Philadelphia, then on to the seat of American government. With the largest library in the world (Library of Congress), the National Museum of American History and Arlington National Cemetery, not to mention the White House, Washington DC is a vision of marble and light, with icons and monuments at every turn.

Copenhagen – With 12 Michelin stars awarded in 2008 (that’s more than Vienna, Rome, or Madrid) plus a clutch of new boutique hotels and minimalist designed budget hostels, Copenhagen has become the ultimate gourmet and style destination. Its green-credentials aren’t bad either, recently becoming the world’s first ‘Bike City’ with 36 percent of all Copenhageners cycling to work, school and university.

Cape Town – The hosting of the world cup in 2010 means that visitors in late 2009 will see an upgraded Cape Town Station and the arrival of the One&Only Cape Town luxury resort, complete with Africa’s first branch of Nobu. Cape Town looks set to raise its tourist game in 2009 as it gears up for the sporting events of the following year. Add this to the world famous vista, outdoor activities, and affordable prices due to the exchange rate, and it’s a good time to visit.

Vienna – Vienna’s festival calendar is a true ballroom blur, kicking off with the city’s glittering New Year balls and the annual splendour of the Vienna Opera Ball on 19 February 2009. Come mid-May the city’s greatest festival, the Wiener Festwochen, comes into play with operas, theatre, music and performing arts, and Mozart’s operas are performed in the beautiful Schönbrunn Park until late August.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Don’t be ashamed if you can’t point out this pocket-size country or its fairy-tale capital on a map—or if you have no idea what you might find there. That’s all the better for insiders who’ve had the considerable charms of this former Soviet puppet all to themselves. Let’s start with its lost-in-time architecture: ornate Romanesque churches with gilded cupolas found alongside Baroque mansions on cobblestone streets (the entire old town has been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site).

If you arrive in winter, the whole place looks like a snow globe, with locals ice skating on the huge city lake and getting quite merry on absinthe. The liquor is now legal after being banned for a century; see how much you remember after a couple of absinthe mojitos at Absento Fejos. There’s more to the nightlife than that, however: chic wine bars such as In Vino, clubs where dancing until 5 am is par for the course (try Brodvejus), and authentic local taverns—fancy grilled beaver with your beer? Take the funicular up Gediminas Hill for the great views over the city, then head to the island suburb of Uzupis, an up-and-coming artist neighborhood.

The Lithuanian capital’s pleasures are extremely reasonable—the City Park Hotel has gorgeous views over Cathedral Square for less than $200 a night, while you’ll spend half that for one of the 39 rooms at Domus Maria, a monastery turned boutique hotel. Throughout the year, Vilnius will be under the international spotlight as the European Culture Capital of 2009, with a bevy of festivals, concerts, and events set for the occasion. home The Observer home

David Atkinson ,The Observer, Sunday 18 January 2009

esc Vilnius

Year of culture … thousands of people watch the Gert Hoff light show in the Cathedral Square of central Vilnius.

Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features

Why Go Now?

The explosion of luminous green signs around the Baltics signals the start of the Lithuanian capital’s reign as one of the two new European Capitals of Culture (the other is Linz in Austria). The Culture Live programme ( features 900 events, 60% of which are free to attend. Lithuania is evolving fast having gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. A new National Art Gallery, opening in June, will host the V&A’s blockbuster “Cold War Modern” exhibition from October and specialist tour operator Baltic Holidays (0845 070 5711; has launched two-night packages from £229 including flights.

Checking In

To soak up the winter-wonderland charm of the Old Town, the Stikliai Hotel (Gaono 7; 00 370 5 264 9595;; doubles from £228) is best placed, with a genteel ambience, although the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square ( will give it a run for its money when it opens this summer. Klaipeda Hotel (L. Stuokos-Guceviciaus 3; 00 370 5 210 7461; boasts a great location opposite Cathedral Square, with comfortable doubles from £148, while Grybas Hotel (Ausros Vartu 3; 00 370 5 261 9695; has homely rooms in a family-run baroque house (doubles from £98).

Hit the Streets

Vilnius is small, so explore on foot. The Old Town is the atmospheric hub; the Gates of Dawn, with its chapel housing a gold-leaf image of the Virgin Mary, is the must-see. Heading northwest, the KGB Museum ( is both moving and shocking in its graphic illustration of the brutality of the Soviet regime. The nearby statue of Lenin has long since been removed, but, a touch bizarrely, there is a bronze bust of zany rock star Frank Zappa, a cult figure in Lithuania. The Vilnius Picture Gallery ( is currently hosting an exhibition of works by the Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani.

Coffee Break

Blusyne (Saviciaus 5; 00 370 5 212 2012; is a cool cafe many tourists miss. It’s named after the owners’ dog, hence the sign: “In Dog We Trust”. Blusyne is one of Vilnius’ growing band of talking cafes, where debate and coffee fuel the creative ambience. Mano Guru (Vilniaus 22; 00 370 5 212 0126) is notable as Lithuania’s first non-smoking cafe and for its programme of giving jobs to reformed drug addicts.

Neighbourhood Watch

The self-styled “Republic of Uzupis” is Vilnius’ hippest hang-out for its galleries and boho vibe. At Galera (Uzupio 2;, catch the latest art installation, while Uzupio Kavine (Uzupio 2; 00 370 5 212 2138) keeps the republic fed and watered. Uzupis publishes a constitution, which includes the maxim that “Man is free to be idle”. Most people in Uzupis are fashionably so.

Retail Therapy

Baltic amber is the traditional souvenir and the Amber Museum Gallery (Sv. Mykolo 8; 00 370 5 262 3092; is the place to learn about its history before purchase - a simple stone starts from £5. Otherwise, Stikliu street is a haven for designer boutiques and second-hand treasure troves.

Worked up an appetitie?

Zemaiciai (Vokieciu 24; 00 370 5 261 6573; is a cellar restaurant to stock up on hearty Lithuanian favourites, such as meat-filled zeppelins (that’s pancakes to you and me). Try a glass of traditional gira, a non-alcoholic drink made from bread and honey with a distinctive burnt aroma. Otherwise, Avilys (Gedimino 5; 00 370 5 212 1900; is a popular microbrewery with hearty fare. For pub grub Lithuanian style, try Busi Trecias (Totoriu 18; 00 370 5 231 2698) - good beers and sturdy local fare. The pig’s ear pancake does exactly what it says on the tin.

Big night out

Go cultured with a recital at the National Philharmonic (, where tickets start from £10, or Baltic bling with the credit-crunching cocktails at Mojito Naktys (Didzioji 33; 00 370 6 100 4131). La Bohème (Sv. Ignoto 4/3; 00 370 5 212 1087) is stylish and cosy with its huge fireplace and tasty tapas. The latest in-place is In Vino (Ausros Vartu 7; 00 370 5 212 1210), where the wine list is as eclectic as the crowd at the candlelit tables.

The morning after

The bar at the Shakespeare Hotel (Bernardinu 8/8; 00 370 5 266 5885; is a tucked-away retreat for good coffee. Better still, get away from the crowd with a laid-back secret Vilnius tour by one of the city’s alternative guides. As well as pointing out the Old Town’s legends, they can arrange a visit to the White Hall and Astronomical Observatory at Vilnius University, founded in 1753. Climb the spiral staircase for a blow-away-the-cobwebs panorama across the cityscape.

Getting there

Lithuanian Airlines (00 370 5 252 5555; flies direct from Gatwick from about £210. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; flies from Stansted, Luton and Birmingham to Kaunas, about two hours by train from Vilnius, from about £50.

• This article was amended on Sunday 25 January 2009. Lithuania’s national carrier, FlyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines, had its operating certificate revoked last Friday, after Observer Escape went to press. All flights have been grounded indefinitely.

Welcome to the Inflight Magazine of
Brussels Airlines

James Kevin Mac Goris checks out the pretty Lithuanian capital Vilnius and discovers a city brimming with confi dence












If you’re Belgian, as undoubtedly many Brussels Airlines passengers are, the new four times weekly direct flight from Brussels to Vilnius is not only an excellent new connection to a fantastic Baltic citytrip destination, it’s also an opportunity to invade the Lithuanian capital en masse and right a very important historical wrong. The fact is that Belgians are seriously misrepresented in modern Lithuanian idiom, and my first inkling of this was a slightly awkward moment during a recent trip to Lithuania when our guide, describing the stoic Lithuanian character of the country’s former president, said that even when the unscheduled end of his tenure was at hand (from her tone one could almost imagine the mob chanting for his blood) he remained ‘as placid as a Belgian’. Not as a Lithuanian – not as a mill pond – as a Belgian. My companions had obviously not been as placid as Belgians – when they asked where on earth this phrase came from, our guide proceeded to add enigma to mystification by informing us that the whole world knew that Belgians were very placid people who rarely spoke and certainly never asked questions, unlike you French (she addressed us) who are vaguely undisciplined and have a tendency not to listen to what you are told (she was a high school teacher before becoming a guide).


Intrigued, I’ve since checked out the origin of this most incorrect assumption – everybody knows that Belgians are Europe’s fun-loving style criminals in rectangular-shaped spectacles – and in fact it’s true. In a way. When Napoleon swept through Lithuania in the early 19th century on his way to bring an enlightened judicial code to mother Russia, his French cavalry horses absolutely terrified the local population – unlike the stout and stoic Ardennais draw horses used to pull the artillery… placid in nature and undeniably Belgian.

Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, is full of historical treasures big and small, and this year old meets new as the city celebrates both the 1000th anniversary of its founding (technically this means the place is 1001 years old) and the 2009 European City of Culture celebration, which it shares with Linz in Austria. It’s a great time to see how this city has triumphed, survived and been born again through an incredibly rich millennium of history as one of Europe’s crossroads. Although thousands showed up at the beginning of the year to watch a quite spectacular lights and fireworks show in the city’s Cathedral Square, for many the euphoria of being at the kick-off of a very special year has swiftly died down in the face of severe cutbacks in the year-long culture bash programme as Vilnius, like every other city in the world, faces up to the reality of the credit crisis. However, this has done nothing to dampen the citizens’ enthusiasm in welcoming visitors from western Europe.

Which does give a bit of a clue as to why Vilnius seems so unlike other eastern European cities – with its gaze historically turned towards the west, Vilnius has always welcomed artistic and cultural influence coming from its occidental neighbours. One thing that defines Vilnius architecturally are its churches, (of which there are many, 600

Previous page, main image Amble along the pretty cobbled streets of the old town and soak up its charm; Previous page, inset The Feast of the 3 Muses at the National Drama Theatre might look a bit spooky but it’s a fine piece of sculpture; Above The striking Belltower seen from the impressive porch of Vilnius Cathedral; Below St. Casimirs Church is just one of the 600 churches that make Vilnius a beautiful place to visit

being an oft-cited number) and they are mainly Italian inspired in design due to the strong Jesuit presence in the city – from the 17th century onwards Vilnius was the eastern outpost of the Roman Catholic Church, and not for nothing was it known as the ‘Rome of the East’.

Jesuit activities were also at the heart of Vilnius’ intellectual revival, with the first Jesuit University founded in 1579. Today, the University Quarter is recognised as a unique architectural ensemble with buildings inspired by the early Italian baroque and representing Lithuania’s golden age. However, despite several centuries following the Union of Lithuania with Poland in the late 16th century of constant bowing to the will of more powerful nations the city’s construction continued unabated and by the beginning of the 19th century (when Napoleon passed by) Vilnius was the third most populous city in eastern Europe exceeded only by Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Since achieving independence in 1990, Lithuanians have been busy restoring their city and today a walk around the old town is like an almost surreal wander through a marshmallow kingdom – the gracefully rounded domes, pillars and arches of churches and public buildings are restored to an almost unnatural smoothness and painted pretty pastel pinks, yellows, greens and beiges.

The identity of Lithuanians themselves has also undergone a serious makeover. In Vilnius, a population made up of Lithuanians, Poles, Russians and various other minorities, everybody gets on with each other and ostensibly the past is buried or even half-forgotten. All eyes are turned towards Europe, with accession to the Union having been recent enough to still be something to be quietly proud of. I have yet to see an eastern European city with less evidence of Soviet-era symbolism in its architecture or public installations. While one resident informed me quietly that during the soviet era the Ukrainians envied Vilnius for its freedom, and the Lithuanians in turn envied Warsaw, the only signs I could see left of Soviet domination were four handsome constructivist statues on a bridge (the worker, farmer, teacher and soldier), and the unmissable KGB museum in the organisation’s former HQ in downtown Vilnius.


On the contrary, political and ideological tolerance is actively championed here, with a strange international frontier existing Berlin-like within the city itself. Granted, this city enclave is not a separate country in the conventional or even the Frank Zappa sense of the word (he claimed that any true country required a beer and an airline), but the Uzupis Republic, which constitutes the bohemian district of the same name, which simply means “beyond the river”, has its own rules, and its own constitution, the last article of which reads “Don’t conquer. Don’t defend. Don’t surrender”. Something between Copenhagen’s free town of Christiania and Paris’ Montmartre, the area unilaterally declared its independence on April Fool’s Day 1998, which is celebrated annually at the incongruously shiny Angel of Uzupis Statue. The city’s former mayor Arturas Zuokas is a Uzupis local and, in defiance of Article 9 the Constitution (“People have the right to be lazy and do nothing at all”), he had a webcam installed in his office to demonstrate to the people of Vilnius how hard he was working. Which pretty much sums up the charm of Vilnius from the visitors point of view – it’s not ‘an enigma, wrapped in a mystery’ or even a paradox like its neighbour, but it’s certainly a lighter take on at least one third of that formula.


11.06.2009 @ 17:08 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - It’s the season for getting the trunks out of the cupboard or buying a new bikini and heading to the beach, and Europeans and tourists that visit the continent can take a plunge knowing that most bathing waters in the European Union are safe for a swim.

After a slight dip in the number of places safe to take a dip in 2007, the cleanliness of sea sides, river banks and watering holes was back on track and improving in 2008 - the latest year for which there are figures.

100 percent of Greece’s coastal waters meet mandatory standards and stricter voluntary standards (Photo:

The uptick is in line with a two-decade long trend of otherwise steadily improving waters, according to the European Commission’s annual publication of a report on bathing water quality, put together by the European Environment Agency.

The report is based on results supplied by authorities in each member state, of tests for the presence of faecal bacteria, residues of petrol-based mineral oils, detergent, toxic acids such as phenol and overall water colour. Other tests can investigate the presence of salmonella in the water, and its acidity.

Member state authorities are encouraged to publish data for 2009 within weeks of having received it, but this is not required.

Some 96.8 percent of coastal bathing waters in the EU complied with mandatory safety rules in 2008, an increase of 1.1 percent on 2007, according to the report put out on Thursday (11 June).

Meanwhile 88.6 percent of coastal waters complied with what are termed “guide values” - thresholds that are more stringent but not mandatory. This is up 2.5 percent on 2007.

The safety of inland waters was up last year as well. More than nine in ten ponds, lakes and rivers complied with mandatory rules, up 3.3 percent on 2007, while the percentage of inland waters complying with guide values was up 10.7 percent.

Nevertheless, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, in presenting the report, warned member states that they must clean up their beaches or else face legal action.

“They have to clean the beaches up. If they do not, then they face infringement proceedings from the commission,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Poland is the worst country in Europe to go bathing in, whether at the seaside or lakeside, with 14.4 percent of all bathing waters non-compliant with mandatory standards.

Belgium is the second worst, with 10.3 percent, and the pebble-beached UK came third from the bottom, with 4.1 percent of its waters not up to scratch. According to the report, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany and Latvia also had significant number of non-compliant waters.

The scale changes slightly if one splits up non-compliance rates between coastal and inland waters. For coastal waters, Poland had the highest non-compliance rate, at nine percent, followed by Bulgaria, Slovenia, Ireland, and Latvia.

For inland waters, Ireland far and away is the biggest scofflaw, with 33.3 percent not meeting mandatory standards, although it only reports nine spots where people go swimming. Next up the list is Slovenia, on 27.8 percent, followed by Poland, Belgium and the UK.

Additionally, the number of sites at which swimming has been banned in Italy continues to climb, with the number of beaches that had been closed to swimmers amounting to 553 in 2008, up from 300 the year before, 263 in 2006 and 125 in 2002.

Furthermore, while Romania has a relatively high rate of compliance with mandatory standards, on 98 percent, only two percent of its bathing sites meet the stricter guides.

At the other end of the scale, the safest places to go swimming at the seaside are Belgium, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania and the Netherlands, all of whom have a 100 percent compliance rate with the mandatory standards. In terms of the stricter guide values, Lithuania, Cyprus, Greece, France and Malta are the top scorers, with Lithuania the sole country to score a perfect 100 percent compliance rate with both the mandatory standards and guide values.

Six countries have 100 percent compliance with mandatory standards for inland waters: Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Finland. On the tougher guide values scale, Greece, France, Finland, Sweden and Germany are the top scorers, with Greece the sole country to score a perfect 100 percent compliance rate on both set of standards.

En junio en los quioscos Españoles de las zonas turísticas, se encontrarán publicadas 85 páginas dedicadas a Lituania en la popular revista  “Turismo y Aventuras”. Se publicaron ochenta y cinco mil copias (85.000).
“Es gratificante que en este momento tan difícil la buena gestión del proyecto de Lituania ha contribuido al negocio del turismo. Esta es una clara prueba de que con la unión de todos los esfuerzos se puede lograr mucho. En este proyecto se han unido: el Departamento de Estado de Turismo con las principales ciudades de Lituania y resorts junto con los centros de información turística, hoteles y empresas. Gracias a ellos más el respaldo financiero del proyecto, esto ha sido posible ” - dijo el jefe del Departamento de Estado de Turismo Nijole Kliokienė.
”El Diario de la ejecución “da la bienvenida al lituano Centro de Información Turística (TIC) en Barcelona, con su director Raimundas Michnevičius.
En los últimos 3 meses, el Departamento de Estado de Turismo de Barcelona y su funcionamiento dan la invitación de Lituania en el  TIC la cual fue visitada por 14 periodistas procedentes de España.
Después de la gira de estudios en junio, en nuestro país se han impreso artículos de publicaciones en español: “Diario de Zamora”, “tendencias”, “Turismo y Hostelería”, “Travelport”.
En este año, la actividad del Departamento de Turismo y los Centros de Información Turística en el extranjero ha sido excelente. Se han organizado los esfuerzos de 36 periodistas extranjeros para que conocieran Lituania.
El país fue visitado por los 36 representantes de los medios de comunicación procedentes de 16 países de Europa, ofreciendo Lituania y su potencial turístico.

web de  l'huma
Une mezzo-soprano lituanienne installée en France ressuscite les chants et instruments médiévaux de son pays.

Envoyé spécial.

Apriori, un concert de musique médiévale dans une église, inspiré des oeuvres d’une mystique allemande du XIIe siècle et intitulé Extases de Hildegarde de Bingen, n’est pas le genre d’événement propre à déclencher la ruée du grand public. Pas en Lituanie.

Il est près de 23 heures ce 20 juin. La nuit blanche culturelle, un des programmes phares de « Vilnius, capitale européenne de la culture 2009 », bat son plein. Dans le centre de la vieille ville, près de l’université, la foule se presse aux abords de l’imposante église baroque Saint-Jean. Longs cheveux de jais, la Lituanienne Biruté Liuoryté-Gambus tient dans ses mains un kanklès, très vieil instrument à cordes lituanien aux allures de cithare. À côté d’elle, se trouve la Française Catherine Schroeder. Les deux artistes sont accompagnées par deux violonistes. Au fond, des photos des illuminations d’Hildegarde de Bingen défilent sur un écran géant. Succès total. Installée en région parisienne avec son mari français et ses trois jeunes enfants, Biruté Liuoryté- Gambus fait revivre le passé médiéval de la Lituanie à travers sa voix et ses inlassables recherches. Difficile pour elle d’expliquer son amour pour le kanklès. Autrefois, « c’était l’homme qui jouait de cet instrument dans les maisons. Il calmait les esprits. Le son du kanklès est très doux, propre à la méditation », ajoute cette mezzo-soprano.

Pendant ses études de direction de choeur à l’Académie de musique de Vilnius, elle parcourt la campagne lituanienne pour coucher sur le papier tous ces chants transmis oralement depuis le fond des âges. « J’ai rencontré des grand-mères qui connaissaient 500 chansons par coeur », se souvient-elle. Arrivée en France pour étudier la musique médiévale à la fin des années quatre-vingt-dix, elle obtient le premier prix de chant grégorien et de direction de choeur au Conservatoire national de Paris. Puis elle enchaîne avec un DEA de musicologie avant de diriger l’atelier de musique médiévale à l’université de Jussieu (Paris-VI) de 2000 à 2007. « En Lituanie, nous avons un million de chants collectés. J’essaye d’en connaître les origines pour les classifier  », raconte-elle. Au cours de ces dernières années, elle s’est aussi produite dans des groupes tels que les Nymphéales, Discantus ou bien Baltik. Elle a sorti quatre CD dont trois sont disponibles en France. On pourra l’écouter le 15 septembre au Centre culturel syrien de Paris.

Damien Roustel.

web de  l'huma
LITUANIE. Vilnius, capitale européenne de la culture en 2009, expose le plus illustre des peintres et musiciens du pays, figure du symbolisme.

Vilnius, envoyé spécial.

Qui connaît Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911) ? Les amateurs du Musée d’Orsay se rappelleront, qui sait ? de la première rétrospective consacrée à un obscur peintre balte à la fin de l’année 2000. Mais rien n’est moins sûr.

Le peintre et compositeur lituanien Ciurlionis reste encore très méconnu en dehors des frontières de son pays où il est considéré comme un « héros », un « génie » ou bien encore un « trésor national ». « Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis devrait être une figure de légende. S’il n’était né dans une Lituanie opprimée par l’occupation russe, puis soviétique, si la quasi-totalité de son oeuvre n’était conservée par le musée des Beaux- Arts de Kaunas – d’où elle n’est guère sortie jusqu’à l’indépendance de son pays natal –, il occuperait dans l’histoire du symbolisme européen la place qui lui revient : celle du possédé foudroyé », affirmait en novembre 2000 le critique d’art Philippe Dagen.

Désignée capitale européenne de la culture pour l’année 2009, Vilnius a décidé de braquer cet été les projecteurs européens sur son artiste le plus illustre. Celui qui influencera des peintres comme Kandinsky, qu’il croisera à Saint- Pétersbourg en 1908, est la figure centrale de l’exposition « Dialogue des couleurs et des sons » dans la toute nouvelle galerie nationale des Beaux- Arts de Vilnius, inaugurée pour l’occasion. Né en 1875 à Varéna, il intègre l’École des beaux-arts de Varsovie en 1904. Installé à Vilnius en 1906, il organise la première exposition d’artistes lituaniens. Il se rend à Saint-Pétersbourg où ses toiles seront exposées ainsi qu’à Moscou. Travaillant jusqu’à l’épuisement, il est lâché par ses nerfs. Envoyé en 1910 au sanatorium de Pustelnik, près de Varsovie, pour y soigner une dépression nerveuse, il y meurt un an plus tard d’une pneumonie.

Au total, Ciurlionis a peint près de 300 tableaux, essentiellement entre 1903 et 1909. Il a également composé près de 300 oeuvres musicales. Pour lui, ces deux arts ne faisaient qu’un. Les titres de ses peintures sont évocateurs  : Sonate du soleil, Sonate des étoiles, Prélude et Fugue… Son travail le plus connu en Lituanie, Sonate de la mer, est composé de trois tableaux intitulés Allegro, Andante et Finale. Ciurlionis y dépeint une mer agitée, puis calme, et enfin complètement déchaînée. Dans Finale, une immense vague dont l’écume forme les initiales du peintre lituanien est sur le point d’engloutir des embarcations en forme d’ailerons de requins.

À mi-chemin entre le symbolisme et l’abstraction, Ciurlionis est difficilement classable. Les surréalistes n’auraient pas renié certaines de ses toiles. Les amateurs de fantasy apprécieront ses cités futuristes et sa série Contes de fées (les Rois, le Château et la Forteresse). Chez Ciurlionis, qui admirait la brume, la nature revêt des formes humaines inquiétantes. « Je voudrais faire une symphonie du bruissement des vagues, des paroles mystérieuses de la forêt séculaire, du clignotement des étoiles, de nos chansons populaires et de ma langueur infinie », écrit-il en 1908 à sa fiancée Sofija. Ceux qui rateront l’exposition, qui s’achève à la fin du mois, pourront visiter le musée Ciurlionis de Kaunas, deuxième ville du pays, où l’on trouve plus de cent tableaux de ce « prophète en son pays ».

Damien Roustel

Couverture du N° 18

From panic to peace in Lithuania



Last Updated: 12:01am BST 03/09/2007

In urgent need of a quick break yet short of time to plan one, Fiona Duncan hits a new website's 'emergency' button

We are in the queue for departures at Heathrow, but we haven't a clue where we're going. Or rather we know what it says on our tickets - Palanga, via Copenhagen - but beyond that we're pretty much in the dark.
The Curonian Spit is an easy day-trip from Palanga

We trudge through the security checks and into the departure lounge, and are ready for a little light airport shopping when our stress levels, hovering around acute, soar back up to alarming: our flight to Copenhagen is delayed. When we get there, we'll have only 15 minutes to catch our connecting flight to Palanga. Was this trip really going to de-stress us?

I won't bore you with how my friend Leonie and I came to find ourselves in a last-minute bid for sun, sanity and soothing surroundings, but suffice to say that mounting work loads combined with school holidays, the ghastly British weather and the need to convene (we work together, but from our separate homes) were driving us to the brink.

Do we have to meet in Basingstoke again, I moaned (it's equidistant). Let's get away somewhere sunny, somewhere different, for a few days. We had no time to research destinations, so the moment had come to press that panic button, the one I noticed on

Black Tomato is a savvy new travel agency that has as its shop window not brochures but a slick website, full of ideas for short breaks all over the world, pigeonholed into Action Time, Sports Time, Stylish Time, Intrepid Time and so on. Normally I dream up my own perfect break, but Black Tomato's panic button is there to provide urgent inspiration with a few days' notice.

With some trepidation, I filled in the detailed questionnaire on the home page and pressed the button. Within minutes I received a phone call from an adviser on the panic desk. Within hours we'd plumped for a three-night stay in a country we'd never been to (Lithuania), a town we'd never heard of (Palanga), with an equally obscure natural wonder, the Curonian Spit, nearby. Within days we were off, Black Tomato having taken care of our flights, transfers, hotel and hire car. The tickets arrived in the nick of time, with two gifts: a CD and book of our choice.

When we land at Palanga it's late, we're tired and although we made the transfer at Copenhagen, our bags didn't. However, the efficient staff at the tiny airport issue us with survival kits to get us through until morning when our bags, we hope, will appear.

Palanga is Lithuania's premier Baltic-coast resort: part colourful playground with a carnival vibe, full of bars, clubs, live music, tacky stalls and fairground rides; and part calm oasis, with houses hidden in a forest of scented, sky-high pines, a huge and beautiful botanical garden and a superb beach carpeted by the most luxuriant sand I have ever set foot on, stretching for miles.

We love our contemporary hotel, an elegant construction of curving glass almost obscured by the trees that surround it. Our standard room, with balcony, is comfortable and spacious, the staff are exceptionally friendly, and the food, we discover, is excellent: fresh, contemporary and inexpensive. And there's a swimming pool and spa (pre-book treatments).

Breakfast is more characteristic of the region than dinner: an amazing spread of curd cheese with jam and cream, poached salmon, stuffed eggs, frankfurters and salads - plus all the usuals, too. We set off, stuffed, to explore the Curonian Spit.

It's an hour's easy drive from Palanga, including a short ferry crossing from Klaipeda, Lithuania's second city, to the start of the spit. You can hire a car, or take a driver or, as we did, take a guide as well. Either way, you'll find an extraordinary and fragile landscape: a 60-mile lick of sand dividing the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, it has given shelter to Crusaders crossing the winter ice, provided a through-route for the coaches and fours of European postal services, and been the summer home of Thomas Mann, whose wooden house is now a museum. Mann wrote of the spit's beauty and its fantastic dunes.

The sweeping, shifting sands, responsible for burying a number of villages, are the spit's highlight, but it has other charms: the sense of calm; the scent of pines; the herons in the tree tops; and the intricate weather vanes that once adorned family fishing boats.

We lunch in the village of Nida, with its colourful houses, its fabulous beach (equal to Palanga's, without the crowds) and its remarkable cemetery. The Curonians had only sand and pinewood at their disposal, so their tombstones are in wood, carved by relatives of the deceased. The graves lie in a tranquil glade, and are still smothered in flowers and greenery.

It's been a busy day. We'd thought we needed to flop, but we find that plunging into another world, one quite outside our experience, is far more cathartic than lying prone on the beach. And anyway, next day, back in Palanga, we get our share of sunbathing, as well as cycling gently through the botanical gardens and ambling round the intriguing Amber Museum, where million-year-old flies can be seen trapped in golden coffins made of pine resin.

Waiting for each of us at home is a package from Black Tomato containing a £25 voucher for an upmarket takeaway and a copy of The Week so we can catch up with the news. That's a nice touch, too, but what we're really grateful for is a panic button that worked.

From The Sunday Times

January 14, 2007

Baltic beauty: basking on Lithuania's coast

Still haven’t found a beach? Andrew Quested tries something completely different

After decades of being knocked from pillar to post, surviving in the shadow of history’s most oppressive moustaches, and various other miscellaneous hardships and humiliations, Lithuania has wound up being the largest of the Baltic states, but having the least Baltic sea frontage. Ripped off! The mere 60 miles of Lithuanian coast, however, should not be overlooked. Geography, creativity and something that can only be described as Lithuanianity have conspired to leave Europe’s quirkiest little country with mischievously good beachy bits.

You want a whey-hey-hey beach party with a cast of extras from Baywatch? No problem. You want to kick back in a seaside shanty and buy smoked fish from a man with a smoked face? Step this way. Or maybe you just want to stroll on a squeaky beach until your own footsteps drive you styrofoam-insane? You can do that too. And here’s the best bit: if you’re not sure what you want, these various options are so close together that you can easily flit between them.

So you don’t even have to make up your mind... apart from the “going to Lithuania for a beach holiday” bit.

Such variety is possible because two-thirds of the Lithuanian coastline is shadowed by the Curonian Spit — a long, thin strip of dunes pinned down by hand-planted pines. The spit originates in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, to the south, thrusts up along the Lithuanian coast and comes “that close” to touching the mainland, but doesn’t actually make it. (A five-minute ferry ride bridges the gap.) In effect, it extends the Lithuanian coast by about 80 miles and adds a string of calm lagoon beaches that are just a short flip-flop away from vast, untouched sea beaches on the other side.

The spit is too narrow to support any real development, but it has sprouted a few villages and towns big enough to offer the essentials for a laid-back holiday: good services and accommodation, not much to do, and beautiful environs to not do it in. Pottering about seems to be the most popular pastime here, but it is often interrupted by sitting about in pleasant cafes, restaurants or waterside gardens, enjoying good food and a cool drink.

On the mainland, a half-hour drive from the point where the spit almost touches, is Palanga — party central for Lithuanians in summer. As warm weather approaches, locals move into broom cupboards and rent rooms out to holidaymakers, and the place goes bonkers. The beach and promenade are constantly swarming with mildly delirious and arrestingly beautiful people, making Palanga a good choice for those who like the lively burble and fizz of constant action, and don’t mind the high probability of tripping over one gorgeous, scantily clad body while trying not to look at another. Try-hard trendies come here to show off in the sun, cool off in the water and bask in each other’s marvellous presence. It’s all very Dolce Banana.

Palanga offers a quieter side. too. Deviate from the maindrag and you’ll discover the beautiful botanical gardens and an amber museum housed in an old mansion. It also has a few tucked-away cafes and bars that have, despite what can seem like a moronslaught on the main street, carved out their own quirky niche and offer a subtly spellbinding atmosphere.

Regardless of which beach you choose to sift through your toes, the summer climate on the Lithuanian coast is almost always superb. The sun won’t fry you and the Baltic Sea, filled as it is with low-salt glacial runoff, is mountain-stream cool and fresh. So you won’t go home looking like a cooked and salted prawn.

Page 2: travel brief

()Travel brief

Getting there: Air Baltic (00 370 5-235 6000, flies to Vilnius from Gatwick and Dublin. FlyLAL (252 5555, flies there from Gatwick and Shannon, and once a week from Dublin to Palanga. Fares start at £70. Ryanair (0871 246 0000, flies to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, from Stansted, Liverpool and Dublin; from £54. Buses run from Vilnius and Kaunas to the port city of Klaipeda — from which a ferry shuttles passengers to the Curonian Spit for about 50p — and direct to Palanga.

Where to stay: in Palanga, it doesn’t get much better than the five-star Palanga Hotel (00 370 4-604 1414,, a looming luxury cruise ship of a building moored in the forest just 50yd from the beach and a five-minute walk from all the action; a double costs £100 in high season. Or there’s the cosier Vila Ramybe (605 4124,, a family-run guesthouse with one of the best bars and cafes in town; doubles from £60.

In Nida, on the Curonian Spit, Vila Banga (695 1139, offers thatched-roofed fishing-village charm, with clean, simply furnished doubles from £56 in high season. Or try Nidus (695 2001,, a subtly stylish hotel, midway between the lagoon and sea beaches; doubles from £70.

Where to eat: in Palanga, you can feast on fish at Zuvine (604 8070), where a belt-bursting meal with wine will cost about £15pp.

In Nida, Eserine (695 2757) is the place to try local fish; about £20pp.

Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page P02

Lithuania Experts

IN YOUR discussion of Lithuania ["New Old World: 10 More for the EU," April 24], you mentioned the tour company Visit Lithuania. Having recently returned from a trip to that country, I can report that our Visit Lithuania trip was truly outstanding. One member of our group called it the trip of a lifetime, another said it was the best trip she had ever taken, and the rest of us shared in the delight of a wonderful experience.

Five members of my extended family had decided to visit Lithuania to pursue our heritage. In discussions with a U.S. representative of Visit Lithuania, Rimas Chesonis, we agreed on a 10-day tour by van with a driver who would also serve as our guide.

The tour was marvelous. Our driver, a wonderful fellow always anxious to please, did not speak English. Consequently, depending upon where we were, we were provided -- at no additional cost -- two tour guides, both very knowledgable and charming, to assist us. We saw major cities and experienced their centuries-old atmospshere, visited numerous ancient churches, stopped at old villages. We saw the Hill of Crosses, the Witches' Hill and Gruto Parkas, where massive Soviet era statues have been assembed in the wooded setting. We viewed the Baltic Sea, high atop a sand dune, and delighted in the Amber Museum.

Our hotels were very nice and the breakfasts generous and delicious. Our other meals were very good and the beer was exceptional. And the cost of all this was, in comparison with U.S.-based tour companies, quite reasonable. For anyone interested in visiting Lithuania, we highly recommend Visit Lithuania (585-216-9714,

Loren Karacki

Derwood, Md.

Write us: Washington Post Travel section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Fax: 202-912-3609. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Provide your full name, town of residence and daytime telephone number. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity.

La nuova EUROPA  TUTTOTURISMO 2004 MARZOTra due mesi l'Unione Europea allarghera i propri confini con l'ingresso di altri dieci Paesi. Andiamo a conoscerli. Uno per uno di Paolo GALLIANI

Friday, April 30, 2004
History, beauty lure visitors to Lithuania
By Gary Lee and Andrea Sachs

Where: Northern Europe, bordering Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Russia.

Why go: The Old Town of Vilnius, the capital city, is one of Europe's most attractive town centers. With its medley of architectural styles (Gothic to classical), cobblestone streets and brown-brick facades, it offers a near-perfect glimpse into the past. Kaunas, the country's second-largest city, is an alluring enclave of well-preserved buildings dating from the 14th century.

Don't Miss: the intriguing cultural attractions of Vilnius, such as the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, which documents the extermination of the city's vibrant Jewish community during WWII; the KGB Museum, where thousands of Lithuanians were interrogated and tortured during the Soviet occupation; and Paneriai, a small museum with a memorial to WWII victims outside the capital in a beautiful forest; the stebuklas tile between the Vilnius cathedral and bell tower, which marks the beginning of a human chain that some 2 million Baltic citizens formed between Vilnius and Tallinn in 1989 to protest the Soviet occupation; the Hill of Crosses, near Siauliai, blanketed in thousands of crosses; Gruto Parkas, near Druskinin-kai, an outdoor museum of notorious Soviet political figures; the sea resort of Palanga and its Amber Museum, with thousands of examples of "Baltic Gold"; the Hill of Witches in Juodkrante, a site of wooden sculptures based on legends and folk tales.

Sample Packages: Visit Lithuania has a host of land-only packages that range from a weekend in Vilnius to a week traveling from the city to a sea resort.

The "Lithuanian Experience," a 10-day escorted tour, includes the Dzukija National Park, a drive along Panemune castle road and a climb up the Hill of Witches. The price of $1,460 includes accommodations, some meals, transfers, tours and more. Departures are May 28, June 18, July 2, Aug. 6 and Sept. 10.

The buzz of the new Europe
The EU has just expanded and an exciting new era of travel has dawned. Adrian Bridge goes east to explore.
(Filed: 01/05/2004)

As of today, the floodgates will open. The removal of borders between western and eastern Europe will mean that what has so far been a trickle could become a torrent. With travel restrictions lifted, it will be easier to slip in unnoticed and, once in, to move around more freely. And as more and more people successfully make the journey — and like what they find — so sisters and brothers, cousins and friends will follow in their wake.

No, we're not talking about eastern hordes about to invade these shores. On the contrary, it is eastern Europe that is bracing itself for an onslaught of tourists from the West. At least that's the hope from Tallinn to Bratislava as eight countries from the former Communist bloc — plus the Republic of Cyprus and Malta — become full members of the European Union.

New bars and hotels have been opening in anticipation of the rush for new sights and experiences, from flying fighter jets in Lithuania and luxuriating in Turkish baths in Hungary to looking for Andy Warhol in Slovakia. And the no-frills airline revolution is already making deep inroads into the region.

EasyJet has started services between Luton and Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia — the first of the former Yugoslav republics to join the EU. Today, the airline begins flights between Luton and Budapest — a city to which SkyEurope, a Bratislava-based airline, has been flying from Stansted since November. Wizz, another newcomer to the budget-airline scene, earlier this year opened up a service from Stansted to Katowice in Poland.

"We have noticed a huge surge of interest in Poland and lots more people from Britain are inquiring about travelling there," said Eva Birkin of the Polish National Tourist Office in London. "After years of being seen as a rather cold place full of sad people in grey jackets, eastern Europe is acquiring colour. It is no longer terra incognita. It has rules and regulations that western Europeans recognise. Rather than all this talk of swarms of eastern Europeans coming to Britain, the movement will be the other way."

Refreshing: diving from a floating sauna in Estonia

Ian Morgan, a 27-year-old entrepreneur based in London, certainly thinks so. To coincide with the EU expansion, he has set up a company ( ) specialising in clubbing weekends to Warsaw and Krakow, to which he will be sending his first group later this month.

"I couldn't believe how beautiful Krakow was when I first saw it," he said. "It has a wonderful castle, a huge market place and a real buzz. We want to send people there who want to combine some great nightlife with great culture. This is an exciting time to go: Krakow is on the cusp."

Julian Tall, another British travel entre-preneur, is also confident there is going to be an explosion of interest in the region. He, too, has set up his own company, Baltic Adventures, specialising in holidays to the Baltic states with an emphasis on activities such as paintballing, firing Kalashnikovs, river rafting — and even playing cricket on ice in Estonia. In part, his venture is targeted at the growing number of Britons looking for exotic venues — and activities — for stag- and hen-party weekends. But Tall hopes the appeal will extend much further.

"The Baltic states still have something of a special ring to them," he said. "For people who have been to Madrid, been to Barcelona, been to Nice, they are something a bit different, somewhere to talk about when you get back to the office.

"They are also fascinating for anyone who grew up during the Cold War. The Baltics were part of that huge unknown Soviet world out there, which you can still see and sense — especially when you get out of the capitals. And, of course, there's another great reason to go. They are incredibly cheap."

Low prices have always been one of the main attractions of eastern Europe. Although holidays there are no longer as ludicrously inexpensive as in the Communist era, it is still possible to eat well for as little as £2 to £3, travel cheaply on trains and find perfectly comfortable hotel rooms for £30 to £40 a night — or less. Standards have moved a long way, however.

While you may still catch glimpses of the old Soviet order, cities such as Prague and Budapest now boast designer hotels and restaurants serving fusion food. But unlike during the Communist era, there are now many modestly priced establishments that, in terms of quality, are light years away from the surly service and drabness of the Soviet past.

Also long gone for British travellers are the need for visas and complicated money-changing procedures: although the east European countries joining the EU today will not simultaneously become part of the euro zone, the currency is widely accepted throughout the region and there are no longer any difficulties obtaining local currencies.

Of course, cities such as Prague are hardly undiscovered. But it doesn't take long to get beyond the obvious attractions and to explore what are still, for most British travellers, virgin territories. From the pristine beaches of the Baltic to the bison-inhabited forests of Poland, from the mountains of Slovakia to the brewery havens (or heavens) of Bohemia, there are lots of new travel experiences which — from today — will be much more accessible. Here are just 10 of them:

Loop the loop in Lithuania
The Cold War may long be over, but if you want a taste of how things used to be — and fancy covering a lot of ground quickly — strap yourself into a fighter plane for a high-speed tour of the countryside surrounding the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Rides, which can include looping the loop, a barrel roll and dives at up to 500mph, are in an L29 — a Czech-built jet aircraft — which takes off from an old Soviet airstrip. Like the other Baltic states, Lithuania used to be home to thousands of Soviet troops and the country is still a point of transit between Russia itself and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad . While you're there Take in a game of basketball (Lithuania are one of the world's top teams); walk along miles of pristine beach on the Curonian Spit; be moved by the symbols of resistance to Soviet rule at the Hill of Crosses at Siauliai ; and, in Vilnius, admire the bust of the late Frank Zappa: the zany musician had no link to the country but that didn't stop fans showing their appreciation.

Guardian Unlimited

Robert Nurden @ Vilnius
Monday May 3, 2004
The Guardian

An exact spot marks the centre of Europe. It's in Lithuania, 15 miles north of the capital, Vilnius. So it was inevitable that this tiny Baltic country, on the day it joined the EU, would make the most of its geographical position, pinpointed by the French National Geographical Institute in 1989.

Latitude 54 degrees and 54 minutes north, longitude 25 degrees and 19 minutes east is not a remarkable spot: a patch of boggy woodland just off the road to Moletai. On Saturday Lithuania's acting president, Arturas Paulauskas, presided over the unveiling of a white granite monument, with the flags of the 25 EU countries fluttering nearby. Speeches were made and the wind sighed through the silver birches before everyone piled back into their people carriers.

I asked our 21-year-old driver, Tautvidas Narusis, if he was proud to be a member of the EU. "Not really. Should I?" he asked. "It's a sensible thing but I don't feel I want to rejoice."

His less-than-enthusiastic response to his country's new-found role had been echoed by the events of the previous evening. As we walked towards Cathedral Square, with EU membership just 90 minutes away, the crowds were swarming in the opposite direction. "Where is everyone going?" we asked a reveller. "They are going home," she said. "The concert's over." These sensible Lithuanians were making sure of a good night's sleep, harbouring no sentiment for the symbolism of midnight. Besides, it was getting cold.

You can't really blame them. They've had a lot to think about recently. Lithuania's acceleration towards a market economy has not been matched on the political front. Parliament voted in early April to impeach its rightwing "kamikaze" president, Rolandas Paksas, for giving citizenship to Russian businessman Yuri Borisov in return for a financial leg up. Paksas's critics say the incident points to the way the Russian mafia plans to use Lithuania as an entree to the EU.

Given this constitutional upheaval, the lukewarm response to union makes sense. It is, as Tautvidas says, merely the right course of action, nothing to get worked up about. So national issues continue to predominate, particularly as their ousted stunt-pilot president has vowed to stand again in fresh presidential elections on June 13.

In the wider European community, the episode has raised fears of political instability within the accession countries. News, too, that the Paksas family regularly consult a cranky Georgian mystic, who claims to heal ailments by using strips of toilet paper, have only added to concerns about stability - in this case, those of a psychological nature.

Grutas Park must be one of the world's weirdest museums, a display of 70-odd Soviet sculptures of Stalin, Lenin and lesser-known local communists. The memorabilia are exhibited along with electric fences, wooden guard posts and loudspeakers blaring out Soviet propaganda. At the entrance you pass a cattle truck, one of many used to deport 360,000 Lithuanians to Siberia.

Millionaire owner Viliumas Malinaskas, ex-mushroom farmer and one-time wrestler, wanted to build a railway line to ferry visitors in a cattle truck so they could experience deportation at first hand. Lithuanians objected, and the project dropped.

Sporting a large, tasteless KGB tie like a 1980s footballer, Malinaskas claimed his theme park was "tasteful and educational", even as the turnstiles clicked.

We were lucky. To mark May Day, actors had been recruited to dress up and march around as Soviet pioneers, singing paeans to the dignity of work; Stalin waved his pipe and delivered tedious speeches; and Lenin sat on a bank fishing. Surreal it was, but suddenly Paksas seemed slightly less bizarre.

Travel agency Visit Lithuania instagram @visit_lithuania

    Fly & Lease of campers in the Baltic.

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