THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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The Nida resort at the Curonian Spit is the place
to go to recharge you batteries.
Finding the balance between relaxation and a cultural experience on holiday can be a challenge, but the friendly Lithuanians of the Curonian Spit have mastered the vacation battle, according to Daniel Andrews of Travelbite.co.uk.
White sand beaches, wind swept dunes and the dancing forests of pine, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers Europe's most preserved touch of natural paradise. Known for the highest drifting sand dunes in Europe, the 5,000-year-old, 97km peninsula, split between Kaliningrad (Russia) and Lithuania, provides a sense of tranquillity and an assortment of natural wonders.
Being so protected from development, it isn't the easiest place to get to. But once you are there, you'll be glad you made the trip. airBaltic provide flights from London Gatwick South to Riga, Latvia, where you can catch a connecting flight to Palanga, a 45 minute journey via taxi or public transport to Klaipeda, the start of any journey to the Curonian Spit.
According to the National Tourism Office, Klaipeda offers a true reflection of Lithuanian life. A stay at The Old Mill Hotel, situated in the up and coming historical port area of the city, provides luxurious comfort at an affordable price. Minutes from the hotel you'll find the Castle Museum, built in the remains of Memelburg Castle, dating back to 1252. The restored underground tunnels hold the entire history of the oldest city in Lithuania.
Take a walk along Aukstoji Street, beautiful 18th century warehouses line the old cobbled lane and is a great place to start exploring the old town and its unique architecture, which houses some of the cities many museums and galleries. One museum definitely worth a visit is the Blacksmith's Museum. Established in 1993, the working blacksmith's holds an impressive selection of craftsmanship.
Rescued iron grave markings from the city's old cemetery, after it was levelled by Soviets, make for interesting viewing. After a walk around the museum, take a seat in the workshop and try your hand at crafting their own piece of jewellery, but be patient, it's harder than it looks.
If you are in the city on a Sunday, make sure that by midday you are in the old Post Office courtyard. For 30 minutes a carillon of 48 chromatically tuned bells provides the city with an inspiring concert of sound ranging from the old classics to this years chart toppers. Before leaving, make sure you take a peak inside the red-brick neogothic Palace, built in 1893. It is one of the most impressive buildings in Klaipeda.
For something to eat, head to Friedrich Passageway, the western European styled street has something for every taste. For the adventurous types try Friedrich Pub which serves traditional food dishes like eel in white wine, Cepelinai (potato dumplings filled with meat - despite looking like an alien egg, it is actually quite enjoyable). If the traditional cuisine isn't to your fancy, the nearby pizzeria or Mediterranean Friedrich provide a fine selection of western dishes.
After a good night's rest, hire a bicycle and take the five minute ferry ride over to the Curonian Spit. Described as a Mecca for artists and the recreational oasis for the tired, the tourism brochures are not far off the mark.
A dedicated cycle path weaves its way through the pine forests between the small settlements and is a great way to explore the natural sites. If you are extremely quiet, amongst the small deer that inhabit the island you might spot the pair of Elk which are said to have crossed the frozen Baltic sea.
Your first port of call should be the small town of Juodkrante. Lithuania is famous for its amber and on the bay of amber, after stormy weather, small pieces can be found washed up on shore. Further into the town, have a unique refreshment stop on board Kogas, a pseudo pirate ship moored in the harbour. Here you can enjoy a cold glass of Svyturys beer and some light lunch while looking out to the Baltic Sea.
Continue by bike through the pine forests that line the Baltic Sea side of the peninsula before crossing the Nida-Klaipeda road. A short distance from the crossing you will find one of the most fascinating sites of your stay, the Dead Dunes. Over hundreds of years the rolling dunes have engulfed villages which remained buried below the white sands. Make sure you stick to the specially laid boardwalk, which takes you up to the vantage point, or face a hefty fine. From the top you can view the Baltic Sea on one side and the Curonian Lagoon on the other.
For a relaxed night's stay, call in at Villa Queen Luise, named after the Prussian Queen who stayed at the site's original inn in 1807 before it had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1829. The views from your private balcony out across the Curonian Lagoon are stunning. The hotel also offers row boats for an evening on the lagoon or a Swedish sauna in the open air.
Next morning, head out for the final cycling stretch to Nida, the region's largest settlement. The path takes you through the forest before winding around the lagoon bay.
The best way to see Nida is by foot. Stop in at the local supermarket for refreshments and then head up to the lighthouse. During the summer months a number of festivals and open air film nights take place here, but head up early to beat the crowds. Continue through the forests towards the Parnidzio dune. At the top from storm damaged sundial calendar, the true beauty of the Curonian Spit can be admired.
Head back into the town, winding your way down the sand dunes and visit one of the many amber museums before taking a sunset cruise along the shoreline. Local boats take you right along the coast, up to the Kaliningrad border, and from here you really appreciate the size of the sand dunes as they tower above you.
Make sure you get up early the next morning and join the locals for a free early morning yoga session starting at 8am. An hour of gentle exercise on the soft white sand, with the wind massaging your skin, prepares you for the more invigorating blokart. Irklakojis offer the land sailing tours, wind levels provided, along with kayaking, sailing and hiking.
No visit to the area is complete without a taste of amber vodka or tea, enjoy your final Lithuanian sunset from one of the bars or cafes lining Nida bay. A perfect end to a culturally relaxing holiday.
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