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.