THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Text: Liisa Leitzinger
Countryside in the city – what can you find in the beautiful Valakupiu forest park just a few kilometers away from the Vilnius Old Town??
Any Vilnius resident will start having trouble finding things to do during the long winter weekends. During summer, we keep ourselves happy and busy just walking around the beautiful old town, sitting in cafes or driving to Trakai and countryside homes for weekends. Here comes the winter and by February, we are fed up with shopping centers, seen all the movies and just discouraged by the amount of clothing needed for a short stroll around the town. I myself keep dreaming about winter weekends in cozy country inns, but the reality of driving on icy country roads trying to reach the destination before early sunset has made me prefer staying within the save city limits for the winter time. Fortunately, Vilnius is a human size of a city, which means that countryside can be reached 5 km from the Cathedral Square!
The city area called Valakupiu is located between Neris river and Nemencines plentas road, about 5 km from city center after Antakalnis area. Actually two names are used for this area. Valakupiai name is the old and official name, known from 18th century Polish form Walakupie. However, in Lithuanian language the form Valakampiai is more common and many residents seem to prefer Valakampiai from the official choice of linguistics, Valakupiu. Location among Neris river and landscape of pine trees has made this area favorite picnic location not only summertime, but also during winter. Only less than ten years ago, I remember cows grazing next to the main road. Cows are gone now, but some of the little wooden homes still keep chicken and one local keeps a little pony, seen eating grass during summer and working to carry wood during winter. Valakupiu is truly countryside within city!
Bus number 15, although travelling only once an hour from Antakalnis and circulating slowly around the area, makes Valakupiu area reachable for citizens without cars too. The area has two beaches by Neris river maintained by Vilnius city. The first beach is larger area, with several sandy sports fields, barbeque areas, two children’s play areas and café. The second beach is still kind of a free spirit area, where ladies can sunbathe in their underwear, retirees play games of chess all day and dogs run free mixing with little children and drunken teenagers. The action at the Valakupiu beaches does not stop for the winter, on the contrary. All weekends Vilnius residents set up barbeques and take out thermoses of hot drinks to enjoy a day out in the snow. On Sunday mornings, sports enthusiasts gather for soccer games, some of the groups being together for games for over 10 years!
Endless little roads and pathways among the pine forest make the area great for walking and skiing. Weekends are filled with groups of friends and families, some walking quietly along the river, enjoying the nature, some taking out Nordic walking sticks for a real exercise or jogging along the roads. The area has plenty of large fields and forests for dogs to run free. Skiing is also very popular in Valakupiu. It is not the organized kind of skiing we have in my home country Finland, where the city will maintain hundreds of kilometers of specially made ski tracks, which are lit up for the evening and only used for skiing. No, skiing in Valakupiu is for the brave, making their own tracks and going where they want to in a beautiful, snow covered forest. Of course, none of the forest tracks and roads have names or signs! That is part of the attraction and adventure of out door sports in Valakupiu. Actually it is almost impossible to get lost. The area is between Neris river and Nemencines road, so eventually the lost sportsmen will run into one or the other landmark.
The area Valakupiu has of course developed and changed from the countryside and rehabilitation area into desirable residential living area. The old wooden villas have new company from modern, expensive homes hidden in the pine woods. Fortunately, the area did not suffer from excessive building, even during the times of economic housing boom. Building sites are very large and new homes stay hidden in the pine woods. Some walkways in the woods could almost be like Hollywood tours looking for houses of the rich and famous. Many wealthy Vilnius citizens have built magnificent residences in Valakupiu, hiding along the banks of Neris river and pine woods.
The service infrastructure and hotel development in the area also started during the economic rise. As many of the restaurants from the Soviet times had long been closed down and demolished, new entrepreneurs looked into the possibilities to cater residents and visitors to the area. The most visible restaurant – café at the first beach by the road is “Valakampiu Svetaine”, Lizdeikos street 46. Hugely popular and busy during summer, it remains closed during winter season. Newcomer in the area is restaurant ”Vaidilutes 24”, www.vaidilutes24.lt . Specialized in private parties, this family restaurant has become very popular and remains reserved most weekends for weddings, birthdays and work parties. Originally the owners planned to build a small guest house in the connection with the restaurant, but this development is still waiting for better times. Very popular and open all season is “Plento baras” at the main road Nemencines pl. 33. Owned by the Cili restaurant chain, the menu is good Lithuanian home cooking in rustic country interior. Plastic surgery center ”Vitkus Clinic” www.vitkusclinic.com offers a bit different type of services, concept taken from California directly to Lithuania, cosmetic surgery operations close to nature, offering quiet healing time and luxury accommodation for patients. The real gem and hidden secret in the Valakupiu service sector is “Valakupiu rehabilitation center” www.reabilitacija.lt, at Vaidilutes street 69. This huge center offers medical services and accommodation for people with severe or moderate physical disabilities and professional training for handicapped. Doctor’s note will lead you to modern facilities and very reasonably priced services from specialized massages to thermal baths.
The most serious development in Valakupiu hotel scene was Hotel Vila Valakampiai, www.vilavalakampiai.lt by the first beach, Vaidilutes street 6A. The building itself was started almost ten years ago, then left empty and unfinished, until opening to public with 29 luxury rooms, conference center, upscale restaurant and outdoor terrace. At this time, the hotel and restaurant are closed. Obviously, the Vilnius market remains very competitive in restaurant and hotel area. Also, the concept of Hotel Vila Valakampiai might have been slightly wrong for the area. The hotel rooms were quite plain business like, whereas I would imagine most people choosing remote location for a hotel stay, would have preferred more romantic and spa like rooms. The restaurant interior was beautiful and elegant, but maybe the expensive dinner menu was not right, as wine bars were just becoming popular and people were looking for a place to go out, have a drink and socialize, not sit down and eat.
Would I stay in a hotel in Valakupiu area? Is there a customer segment for resort hotels in city park areas? Are we going to see the existing hotel open and running again and new ones opening in Valakupiu? I do hope so. I would definitely take my husband or the whole family for a get away weekend in the nature, just to get out of the house during winter. But to do so, many details had to be just right. The right price. The right atmosphere. Activities. Company. Food. Who will be the next entrepreneur trying to get all the details just right for a hotel in the city park?
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