10 gems of the Baltics not to be missed
Liepāja and the Kurzeme Coast
Liepāja’s second name is the city of wind, and finding out the reason for this title is quite easy – a 30-minute flight from Riga will deliver you straight to the mighty coast. You must see Karosta – the military port of Liepāja, which was a closed area during the soviet times. Nowadays, you can explore the underground labyrinths with a torch in hand and spend the night in a real prison. An hour and a half’s drive away you’ll find the village Jūrkalne with an irresistible offer – two sunsets in one night. See one standing on the sea shore, and catch the other one on top of the 20-metre tall bank. It is one of the rare places where the blue cows graze, also called sea or moon cows.
Tērvete Nature Park
Those who still believe in fairy tales must visit the Fairy-tale Forest in Tērvete. A dwarf village is hidden among the trees, a miniature train winds through the forest, and a wooden observation tower rises in the sky like a huge beanstalk. Kids can have fun on the air trails made of ropes and study the world of insects in the tropical butterfly house where summer reigns eternally. And among the bright flowers, an iguana feasting on fruit and berries can be spotted.
The city that is also known as Venice of the North plays the sound of a gurgling river against a backdrop of historical buildings. You will see no plastic windows and doors here, so it will seem as though time travel has become reality. The narrow cobbled streets lead to the widest waterfall in Europe – the Venta Rapid. Roll up the legs of your trousers and don’t be afraid to wade to the other side. For a deep shoulder massage, stand beneath the wall of water and allow its force to do its job.
Fans of history and architecture will appreciate the Rundāle Palace, which is surrounded by a French garden with a fantastic collection of roses in it. Francesco Rastrelli, the architect of the palace, is also known for the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the rebuilding of the Hermitage. Part of the interior of the palace was designed by the German sculptor Johann Michael Graff – his artistic touch is present in the marble panel of the Gold Hall and the Duchess’ Boudoir.
Palmse Manor and Open-Air Museum
The exquisite rococo style building sits by the Gulf of Finland, and all historical buildings and gardens have been carefully restored to their former glory. The manor used to belong to the Balto-Germanic Pāleni family, but now its atmosphere is reminiscent of a museum’s repository, with splendid cockle stoves, and antique furniture and household items everywhere. After a wine tasting session take a walk through the orangery, go horseback riding or hop on a boat. Plus, you can forge your own coin of fortune in the smithy!
The seventh largest island of Estonia is full of treasures – its traditional dress, language and music are all part of the UNESCO cultural heritage. About 700 people inhibit the island, and you’ll see local ladies riding motorbikes clad in folk costumes. Enjoy the sunset by the white lighthouse that was brought here in 1864 from Great Britain and still serves as a guide-post for fishermen.
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In the spring and autumn the bog comes alive with thousands of voices of water birds, thanks to the dark lake in the heart of it. With a convenient access and tiny islands, an unforgettable stroll is guaranteed – when have you ever picked lingonberries along a nature trail and eaten them by the mouthful? In the summer, go for a swim in the milky water of the tiny lakes. The bog is completely untouched by humans, giving you a wonderful chance to see the true essence of nature.
The narrow stretch of land that reaches into the Baltic Sea is a wonder created by the sea, the wind and the sand, and is known by the name of the Baltic Sahara. Nida used to be a fishermen’s village, but nowadays it charms visitors in a heartbeat; the writer Thomas Mann spent several summers in Nida and wrote his novel Joseph and His Brothers there. His residence is now a museum, and you can try to channel your inner Thomas Mann while you’re there.
For the ultimate relaxing experience, come to Birštonas. The mineral water that flows from the depths of the earth is available for drinking free of charge. To improve your health, visit the mineral water pavilion or one of the sanatoriums for some restorative procedures. Make sure to climb the highest observation tower in Lithuania – the view from the 45-metre high platform to the arching river and the nearby villages is stunning.
In the region that prides itself on its beer brewing traditions, the classical-style Pakruojis Manor is a must-see. There is a unique water mill and a restored dolomite arch bridge – Europe only has two of those in total. Guests can learn to fleece sheep and make clay pots, and marvel at flower sculptures, some of which are up to 6 metres tall, until the end of September.