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Top 5 Most Beautiful Natural Landmarks & Places in Lithuania

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About Lithuanian Landscape

One particularly interesting thing I’ve noticed while researching the different places found below in the article is that most of them were affected by rather active geological processes, occurred after the de-glaciation of the region. These are small “islands” found in Lithuania – a country that was shaped by the last Ice Age. Moving glaciers had flattened everything in their path. Hypothetically, even if there were cities in the area before the event, it wouldn’t have made much difference.

Having experienced the mightiest destructive forces nature has to offer, as a result, Lithuania has a rather flat & monotonic relief. As a matter of fact, Lithuania is the second-largest country without mountains in the world. Together with its neighbours: Belarus, Latvia, and Estonia, it forms a top 4. Being tired of the same landscape, many Lithuanians disregard the country as simply boring. I happen to disagree with the popular belief. Having travelled a lot and lived abroad, I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of Lithuanian nature and this is what I wish to share with everyone.

Kirkilai viewpoint tower opens up one of the most spectacular landmarks in Lithuania – a swarm of small karst lakes. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

1. Curonian Spit

Even the biggest sceptic of the beautiful Lithuanian nature would agree that the Curonian Spit is a wonder. Its sandy dunes, relaxing pinewoods, and white endless sandy beaches occupy a special place in the hearts of Lithuanians. I think the reason for all the love the Curonian Spit gets is its dramatic difference from the rest of the country. I bet if Lithuania was a sandy desert island, covered by pinewoods, a lake within a forest would be the most popular place in the country.

While sandy dunes are not unique to Lithuania, the struggle of the local people fighting them is a unique cultural heritage. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Nevertheless, Curonian Spit is the most sought holidays destination by Lithuanians. Naturally, many foreigners come here as well, especially Germans, whose roots are still tied to this area. Nowadays, the resort towns in the area are slowly losing their idyllic atmosphere in exchange for artsy corners and fancy dines – popular among the local youth. Despite that, the Curonian Spit is large enough for everybody to find their favourite spot, though that might cost a fortune. An alternative is day tours to Neringa from Vilnius or Klaipėda (ger. Memel.)

Main features:

Distinct Curonian and German architecture gives a feeling of being in a foreign land. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Historic Origins

The popularity of the Curonian Spit doesn’t surprise me but the monopoly of it – does. Maybe, the German architecture or its influences create a more idyllic atmosphere than the Lithuanian counterpart, or maybe it gives a feeling of being in a foreign land. We often forget that until the end of World War II, with a short exception during the Interwar period, the Curonian Spit was a part of German territories for about a consecutive 800 years. Before that, it was the lands of Curonians, a tribe of Baltic people, who were occupied by the Teutonic Order during the Northern Crusades. Sadly, the Curonian language is now almost extinct. Lithuanians tend to pretend that Curonian history is their history, though on the other hand, since its dawn, Lithuania has been the vanguard of Baltic cultures. There is nobody more suitable to do the job.

Curonian Spit has two shores: Curonian Lagoon to east and Baltic Sea to west. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Formation of Curonian Spit

While the legends attribute the formation of the Curonian Spit to giant Neringa, in fact, it was the currents from Neman Delta and the Baltic Sea that formed this peninsula around moraine islands 5.000 years ago.

The interesting part is that the same old Curonian legends speak of Karvaičiai Island – the birthplace of giant Neringa. Could it be that parts of it are not just fairy tales (as it is often treated) but rather ancient memory of the local people? We can only wonder.

Panorama from Parnidis dune in Nida, 2020. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

2. Lakes of Aukštaitija National Park

Though many locals consider Curonian Spit to be the only natural highlight of the country, to me, Lakes surrounded by primeval woods describe the uniqueness of Lithuania’s nature the best. There is no better place to look for that kind of landscape than Aukštaitija National Park. The abundance of such scenery is almost limitless in the oldest National Park of Lithuania. There are 126 lakes scattered in-between hills and woods. Not to mention all the hillforts, archeological monuments, ancient forests, 18 rivers of which the most important is Žeimena. All water bodies within the park belong to the basin of the largest river in the region.

This unique natural combination results in the greatest variety of flora in the country. In less than 1% of the country’s area, 59% of Lithuania’s plant species could be found. 48 species of birds live here and some of them are included in the Red Book of the country.

Lake Žaliasiai from Vilkakalnis (eng. Wolf’s mountain), Ignalina. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Main features:

History of the Natural Park

Aukštaitija National Park is the oldest park in Lithuania (1974) and was the third National Park established in the whole Soviet Union, falling short just after its Baltic neighbours Estonia (Lahemaa National Park, 1971) and Latvia (Gauja National Park, 1973). Thanks to its relatively long history, tourism is very well established in the charming lake district of Lithuania. While hiking and cycling are lovely, there is no way better way to experience this beautiful landscape than kayaking in Aukštaitija National Park. If you don’t have much time to spend in the lake capital of Lithuania, a guided day trip from Vilnius to Aukštaitija National Park is the best option.

Lake Alksnas from a kayak, Aukštaitija National Park. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Ladakalnis Hill

Arguably the most beautiful place in Aukštaitija National Park and one of the most spectacular hills in the whole of Lithuania. 6 lakes are visible from the top of this mythical ancient mound. Because of its name Lada (Goddess Mother Nature) + Kalnis (eng. mountain), some experts believe that the pagan Lithuanians used to make sacrifices to the Goddess on this hill. There is no scientific evidence to back this hypothesis, but it wouldn’t surprise many if it was true, knowing that nature-loving cultures have often used exceptional landmarks as their sacred places.

These days, there is a tradition to carry stones and put them by the oak, growing on the top of the hill.

There are 126 lakes scattered in-between hills and woods in Aukštaitija National Park. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

3. Čepkeliai Marsh

Čepkeliai Marsh is one of the wildest and most preserved natural corners of Lithuania. The area is a strict nature reserve, recognized internationally under the protection of such preservation programs like NATURA 2000 and the Ramsar Convention. Unfortunately, Čepkeliai Marsh educational hiking trail is currently closed for renovations. Without an authorized guide of park management, one can hardly walk around in the area. Therefore I highly recommend contacting Čepkeliai Marsh reserve authorities for a planned guided visit. +370 672 46388 or info@dzukijosparkas.lt. This might sound a bit too far-stretching, but the pristine beauty of the reserve is fragile and needs to be protected. There is a reason for Čepkeliai Marsh to be excluded as a specially preserved area in an already protected Dzūkija National Park. For example, it is forbidden to visit the area during bird breeding season between 1st April and 1st July.

Čepkeliai Marsh is one of my favourite places in Lithuania, if you want to learn more about this unique landscape you can read my full guide to Čepkeliai Marsh.

Čepkeliai Marsh from Viewpoint tower. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Main features:

Čepkeliai Nature Reserve

Sadly, or luckily, access to Čepkeliai marsh is very limited. It is a nature reserve after all. What cannot be seen, could be compensated Čepkeliai Marsh Nature Reserve Museum. Here you‘ll learn about the various plant and animal species found in the protected area, geological formation, and its significance to the local peoples. I imagine the ancient lands of Lithuanians looked somewhat similar to the area around Čepkeliai Marsh. Swamps were a natural barrier to protect my ancestors from incoming attacks, but most of them were drained during the annexation by the Soviet Union in favour of agriculture.

Currently, Čepkeliai Educational Path is closed for reconstruction. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Bird Sanctuary

As I mentioned before, the reserve closed for visitors from mid-spring till mid-summer to protect the breeding grounds of rather rare bird species like western capercaillie, its close relative – black grouse, black stork, corncrake, boreal owl,  Eurasian eagle-owl, short-toed snake eagle, and many others. In total, over 150 bird species find these pristine lands as their natural sanctuary.

 

4. Neman Loops

Located in the southern part of Lithuania, Neman Loops is a 60 km / 38.27 mi beautiful stretch in the middle river. Surrounded by deep forests, it has long been a mysterious place, frightening not a single river navigator. This exceptional region could be hardly missed on a map. For the longest time, the area was considered as a potential candidate for an establishment of a National park in Lithuania. Despite that, the nearby Punia pinewoods got reserve status first, and since 1992 it has formed a joint protected natural and cultural regional park.

The area consists of three large loops of River Neman. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Main features:

Formation of Neman Loops

The amount of loops is surprisingly high. While it is hard to tell exactly why Neman never made shortcuts, they must have formed due to conditions just after the de-glaciation as the newly emerged water flows tried to stabilize. Though today Neman is the axis of the regional park, it is not only the loops but the whole landscape worth attention. Simple hills are turned into mountains, as the river dug itself deep into the ground, opening beautiful idyllic valleys, and possibly natural springs of Birštonas. The most convenient way to observe the geological unique Ness of Neman Loops are from the high river banks or Birštonas viewpoint tower, but there is a possibility to rent a kayak in Neman for a changed perspective.

Mineral water buvette in Birštonas. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Birštonas

Birštonas have long been known to have magical waters, it was first mentioned by the Teutonic Knights as “a farmstead at the salty waters”. In the 14-16th centuries, noblemen visited the area for their hunting vacations. Officially, the resort was founded in 1846 and many people have visited Birštonas from Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Now, it is considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, SPA areas in the country.

The genesis of Lithuanian SPA town Birštonas began in 1921, Just three years after the Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania. Things moved fast, as anywhere else in the newly reborn nation, and just after a year of National ownership, the first SPA baths opened to those, who needed it most – veterans of World War I. Today, Birštonas is the center of the beautiful and remote natural area, surrounding Neman Loops.

Neman from Vytautas Hill in Biršonas during a winter. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

5. Heartland of Samogitia

Located outside the National Park of Samogitia, the heartland of the region is nowhere close to being less impressive than its neighboring counterpart. Though the Capital of Samogitia is considered to be Telšiai (Samogitian Telše), the much smaller village – Varniai (Samogitia Varne) is widely considered to be the Heart of Samogitia. The two of them form an axis to what I refer to in this article as the Heartland of Samogitia. The area contains many historical, almost mythical, mounds like Medvegalis, Šatrija hill and Bilionys – one of the proposed legendary locations of Pilėnai (Ger. Pillenen) Castle, where Duke Marginis and Samogitians committed mass suicide by burning down the hill fort after a heroic attempt to defend from much larger Teutonic Order forces.

Telšiai could be easily settled as the most beautiful town in Lithuania. 

Šatrija Hill – the Queen of Lithuanian Mountains – is one of the most mysterious, demonized and beautiful landmarks in Lithuania. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Another interesting tourist destination in the area is Sietuvos kūlgrinda – an underwater hidden stony road that proved to be very useful in defense against the same crusaders from the west. Today it is possible to cross the road on foot yourself.

Main features:

Varniai Regional Park

The ethnic-protected area of Varniai is located right next to Lake Lūkstas, which in popular culture is widely known for the long-standing music festival “Bliuzo naktys” (Blues Night). Nevertheless, there is much more to this area than modern and historical culture. Lake Lūkstas brings us much deeper into prehistorical times. It is the only lake in Lithuania to give amber. Gintaras trail (eng. Amber trail) was listed as the top destination in LRT’s 2021 list of 20 best hiking trails in Lithuania.

Lake Lūkstas is the only lake in Lithuania to give amber. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Birding in Samogitia

Varniai Regional Park is also a very important habitat of many lifeforms, most famously – birds. Biržulio-Stervo swamp complex is an area protected by Natura 2000 for the high variety of plants and many animals, who find it as their home. It has been a protected ornithological area since 1996.

Samogitia is famous for its swamps, which helped to protect the region from the Teutonic Knights. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

Notable Mentions

Of course, this shortlist doesn’t do justice to many other beautiful and mesmerizing natural corners of the country. Perhaps I’ll include them in the future, but for the moment if you are interested to learn more, I would love to suggest looking into Lake Plateliai, Neman Delta, Neris Regional Park, Labanoras Forest, Biržai Regional Park & Anykščiai for further research of undiscovered Lithuania.

All content and photos by Alis Monte. If you want to collaborate, contact me on info@ctdots.eu Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

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