Idyllic Ischgl, located in the Austrian Tyrol, is renowned for its ski slopes and apres-ski nightlife. However, it also makes an ideal destination for a luxury summer holiday. The picturesque mountain backdrop, with valleys and waterfalls, is the perfect place for adrenaline junkies, whether you love mountain biking, hiking, rafting or canyoning. The best bit? There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a little pampering at the numerous spas and luxury hotels. Check out the highlights below…
Most people will have heard of Lithuania; many may even be aware that Vilnius is the country’s capital city. However, it may be a surprise to find out that Lithuania actually boasts some award-winning beaches and stunning UNESCO World Heritage sand dunes. The resort towns of the Curonian Spit have been attracting tourists for many years and with the fall of communism in 1991, Lithuania’s attentions have turned to the West.
A visit to the Curonian Spit is not as simple as jumping on a plane for two-and-a-half hours, but it is well worth that extra effort. Fly with airBaltic from London Gatwick South Terminal to Riga in Latvia, and then hop on a short flight to Palanga in Lithuania. Both Gatwick South Terminal and Riga have luxurious lounges in which passengers can relax before boarding the planes. It is well worth the investment, with complementary drinks, snacks, and in Riga, an impressively well-stocked water bar with water from thirty different countries. On arrival in Palanga, simply take a taxi or public transport to Klaipeda, the region’s largest city.
Although Klaipeda is quite industrial it is home to a particularly quaint old town and luxurious hotels, none of which has a particularly hefty price tag. Located in the up-and-coming port district, The Old Mill Hotel is one example of a brand new hotel, with lavish rooms, which does not come at a high price. With great public transport links to the resort towns of the Curonian Spit, Klaipeda is an ideal destination to base oneself. However, the city itself does have some interesting attractions, including the air-raid shelter at Memel-Nord where a rather animated local guide talks visitors through the history of the region and then demonstrates amber fishing. Lithuania is renowned for its amber. After dark stormy nights it is even possible for amateur amber enthusiasts to find small pieces washed up on the beach, but to be truly wowed, watch the pros.
Just a short ferry journey from Klaipeda visitors will find the Sea Museum which boasts an aquarium, dolphin shows and even a giant performing sea lion, named Pirate. A trip to Lithuania’s most visited museum will certainly keep children amused. Similarly, visiting Klaipeda’s castle ruins and watching members of the local war society re-enact marching, shooting and even firing canons will keep children thoroughly entertained and enthralled.
While wandering the streets of Klaipeda, for a truly authentic Lithuanian experience look out for local festivities. During festival times traditional, local folk bands play music and dance in the street. Even outside the festivals there is a great deal of merriment to be had in Klaipeda. To take in the city as a whole a beverage or two must be consumed from the top of the recently refurbished Amberton Hotel. The new block is one of the highest buildings in the area and gives visitors a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, port and surrounding countryside.
However, for those who want to embrace laid-back Lithuanian life, take a short ferry ride to the Curonian Spit and stay in one of the resort towns, such as Nida. With its UNESCO World Heritage status, Nida is particularly strict with any new buildings and even refurbishment. All buildings are painted in certain colours, generally red, white and blue. Nevertheless, essential regeneration is taking place in Nida, and hotels such as Nidus have been thoroughly renovated to provide visitors with a comfortable place to stay.
Walking around Nida is the best way to see the sights. Visits to the lighthouse on Urbo hill (an area which during summer months plays host to a summer cinema festival) and a trek up the Parnidis dune are well worth the hard work on the thighs. From both vantage points visitors cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular views. It is here in Nida that the real Lithuania can be found – here that countryside and the seaside are combined. This is, quite simply, visually spectacular.
Heading on to the beach, facing the aggressive Baltic Sea, is the only way to start the morning. While the wind whips through your hair and the sun beats down on your face, join in with the locals at the free
summer yoga sessions. Nevertheless, there is something for adrenaline junkies too. Irklakojis offers blokart (land-sailing) sessions, as well as kayaking, sailing, hiking and cycling tours. The provisions for cycling, be it on a tour or independently, are impressive in Nida and the surrounding resort towns. To take in the dramatic amalgamation of coast and forest hire a bike for the day and cycle the 50 kilometre cycle path which will take you through the pretty resort towns of Nida, Pervalka and Juodkrante. If in need of refreshments, stop off in Juodkrante to enjoy a refreshing Svyturys beer on board the town’s very own pirate ship.
During a stay in Nida a boat trip is a must. Local boat tours take tourists right up to the border of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave. It is from the sea that it is finally possible to comprehend just how impressive the sand dunes are. Walking through the white sand of the Dead Dunes (do not stray from the path, as they are protected and hefty fines can be incurred if caught doing so), located between Pervalka and Juodkrante, may be as initially breathtaking as the Sahara desert but it is only from the sea that their sheer scale can be grasped.
For an awe-inspiring holiday consider visiting Lithuania’s Curonian Spit. Whether searching for a holiday with real value for money, rest and relaxtion or an action-packed adventure, Lithuania’s Curonian Spit has something to please everyone.
Flights: airBaltic fly directly from London (Gatwick airport) to Riga and Vilnius and offers connecting flights to Kaunas and Palanga. Prices for flights from London to Vilnius start at 57 EUR per person including all taxes if purchased online at www.airbaltic.com.
Airport: To book your place in the No 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick South Terminal visit www.No1Traveller.com.
Last week I visited Lithuania with several other British journalists. First we visited the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site Nida on the Curonian Spit, then the industrial town of Klaipeda. Check out highlights and sights from the trip here…
I recently came across the company UTracks who offer active walking, trekking and cycling tours throughout Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Romania and Transylvania. There are tours suitable for all capabilities from those seeking something of an introductory level, all through to those seeking something a little more challenging; yet all offer unique opportunities to discover the untrodden Europe, spanning postcard landscapes, centuries-old culture, rural lifestyles and tempting culinary delights. In short, they’re flexible, unique adventures of undiscovered corners, offering you a great deal of independence yet providing support when you need it. Best of all, they start on virtually any day of the week, so you can combine any tour to create exactly the holiday you want.
The six-day Transylvania Castles and Mountains tour includes a trip to Bran Castle to learn about the legends of Dracula, time for discovering unique villages, a walk along limestone ridges to take in the stunning landscapes of Piatra Craiului and plenty of cultural exchanges with local people.
The tour itinerary:
Day 1 – Arrive Bucharest, train to Brasov and transfer to Zărneşti
Day 2 – Walk in Piatra Craiului (Royal Stone) through the Zărneşti Gorge (5hrs, 15km +800m, -600m)
Day 3 – Continue on foot through Piatra Craiului mountains and rural villages (4hrs, 13km +450m, -450m)
Day 4 – Walk to Bran Castle home to the origin of the character known as “Dracula” (4hrs, 12km, +350m, -600m)
Day 5 – Ascend the Bucegi Mountains with stunning views (6 hrs, 18km, +650m, – 900m)
Day 6 – Transfer from Bran to Brasov where you take the train to Bucharest. Trip concludes on arrival in Bucharest.
During the trip you will be accommodated in rural pensions which are rated as 3 stars in Romania. These are traditional guesthouses which while simple, provide a unique dimension to the cultural experience of travelling in the region.
This May UTRACKS are launching a new trip through Slovenia lasting 10 days. Slovenia encompasses a wealth of stunning natural features: this self guided cycle journey takes in all of the highlights while allowing for time to appreciate the unique culture and culinary delights. From Lake Bohinj and the delightful lakeside town of Bled, the cycle continues around the Julian Alps, with a white water rafting experience on the vivid blue waters of the Soca River! In the wine growing region of Brda enjoy a special dinner and wine tasting before heading to the massive Skocjan Caves with its underground gorge. Ending in the capital city of Ljubljana, there is time to explore the old town and sample the local cuisine. Departs: Every Monday from May to September 2010. Price: £1,190 per person
To book a UTRACKS trip, complete the booking form which can be downloaded from their website www.utracks.com