Manors of the Aukštaitija ethnographic region of Lithuania – from unique architecture to a wellness clinic

The Aukštaitija ethnographic region of Lithuania is famous for its manors. Each of them is different and reveals extraordinary twists in the history of Lithuania. The manors have a rich trove of  memories, secrets and stories that are well worth hearing and which offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about the culture of  manors, which were always an integral part of Lithuanian culture. Are you ready for an unexpected, remarkable experience packed with the most interesting activities?

Let us start from the small town of Pakruojis famous for Pakruojis Manor. Today it is the biggest country estate in Lithuania and attracts visitors year round. A “Live Museum”, flower and Chinese lantern festivals, concerts, an old photograph workshop, a handcraft workshop, and old hat parades – the manor offers many opportunities to see its different facets. You can stay overnight in the Manor’s stylish hotel – with ghosts, of course.

Unlike Pakruojis, you will find no ghosts at Paliesius Manor. The manor has been recently brought back to life and invites its guests to immerse themselves in an oasis of calmness and wellness. It offers special classical music concerts for the spirit and the Paliesius Physical Exercise Therapy Clinic for the body. Visitors come here to lose weight, treat diabetes, stress and insomnia. Special walking, cycling and skiing (in winter) trails in the surrounding forests quickly help you to leave your worries behind.

If you read the book of Ilzenberg Manor carefully, you will find all the most important moments that history had in stock for this manor. And the times could not have been more diverse. Today, the manor has been restored in the late Classicism style, the lakeside and ponds have been landscaped, a bridge has been built to the love island and the largest biodynamic farm in the Baltics now operates on the grounds and surrounding area of the manor.

It is hard to imagine today that people would give the country’s president a country manor as a gift. This was the case in the interwar period when the Lithuanian people gave the President of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, Užugiris Manor as a gift. The manor is located on the shores of Lake Lėnas and is more frequently referred to as the President’s Manor. You can taste the favourite dishes of President Antanas Smetona here.

Bistrampolis Manor offers a lot of activities, music and love for the past. During the restoration of the manor house, the owners retained everything salvageable and designed the interior décor according to the descriptions found in the manor books. They also took into consideration the needs of travellers with special needs by installing special slopes and lifts thus making it possible for them to move around the rooms of the manor house and the hotel.

At some point in time, Biržai Castle could compete in terms of architecture and décor with the most beautiful country residences of the rulers of European countries. It still surprises you today. The feeling that you are in a real castle is emphasised in the interactive rooms of the castle which houses Biržai Regional Museum; the museum offers educational activities.

Rokiškis Manor is where you will find 16 authentic buildings and a large park with ponds. The manor reflects the evolution of styles in Lithuanian architecture from Baroque to Classicism all through to the forms of modernism recognisable in the interior of the buildings. After visiting the manor, make sure you take the Cheese Trail, because Rokiškis is known for its cheese. In addition, you will be able to enjoy delightful window shutters painted by local artists.

Looking for peace and quiet: the romantic Curonian Spit, burn off calories and the miracle of Šiluva

The noise around us sometimes makes us pack our backpacks and head away from it. Nature is the best healer when it comes to restoring spiritual calm, whereas the unique combination of nature and human creativity is a blessing to the eye and source of creativity.

The UNESCO-protected Curonian Spit inspires painters, musicians and writers. This place of unique beauty attracts those who love nature, pine forests, and white sand dunes – they call you to stop, listen to yourself, slow down and just enjoy yourself. Walks by the sea and along the pine forest trail filled with wild berries is a healthy option to reboot your energy and an inseparable part of the holiday. Juodkrantė, Pervalka, Preila and Nida are famous for meeting the highest environmental requirements as indicated by its beaches Blue Flags. The beaches are accessible to people with disabilities.

The lapping of the sea, white-crested waves, pure air saturated with the scent of pines, stones, cliffs and forest trails on the Lithuanian seaside is a location for wellness holidays. In Pajūrys Regional Park, near the ethnographic village of Karklė, you will find special walking trails marked in different colours. Along the way signs will show how many calories you are burning off.

Further away from the hustle and bustle of Palanga, the biggest seaside holiday resort in Lithuania, is the town of Kretinga, which is known for its Franciscan monastery. In fact, the environs of Kretinga offer the visitor five monasteries, a winter garden in the former Manor House of Count Tyškevičius, the largest Japanese garden in Europe and the Baltic Mythology Park. Furthermore, the Holiday Park leisure and wellness complex offers geothermal swimming pools and the world’s first amber sauna.

Telšiai, nicknamed the “town of bears” because of the presence of many bears in the form of small sculptures in the Old Town of Telšiai, has lately become popular with travellers with disability or special needs. The town’s amphitheatre offers specially adapted seats for viewers and a special lift makes easy access to the shore of Lake Mastis. In the Cathedral Square of the town there is a model of the square for the visually impaired and a text in Braille depicting the town’s architectural landmarks. It is also possible to book a sign language tour in Telšiai.

The homestead of Kurtuvėnai Manor has been brought to new life. The most prized building in the homestead is the timber Baroque style 18th century granary. The building is a venue for concerts, exhibitions and festivals. The stables of Kurtuvėnai Manor house a Live Horse Museum and offer educational programmes, riding lessons, tours on horseback in the regional park. The stables have the only equine-assisted therapy centre in Lithuania, which welcomes patients from across Lithuania.

The small town of Šiluva is famous as the site of one of the first apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Europe in 1608. Since then, believers and pilgrims from around the world have been visiting Šiluva. The Indulgence Feast (the Feast of Šiluva) is a very special celebration that takes place in Šiluva every September. It is the largest event of its kind in Lithuania. The procession that moves through the town in the evening with people carrying lanterns is unforgettable. The pilgrimage centre in Šiluva is accessible to people with disabilities or special needs.

Nature therapy in the ethnographic region of Aukštaitija: ecological bare-foot path, water attractions and colourful lakes

Sometimes we forget that the natural world is so abundant with colours, sounds, odours, interesting forms and textures. Doctors today speak about the need to escape to nature to maintain the health of the body and the spirit.

In Anykščiai, you can enjoy the riches of nature and culture in Anykščiai Forest. The natural forest oasis offers everything that we seek in our lives today: peace, wellness, culture and active leisure. The natural wood bed of the ecological bare-foot path is an experience that you might have forgotten about, e.g. the feeling of cool dew or spiky pinecones as you walk barefoot along the path. Activities offered in Anykščiai Forest include conscious breathing, stress relief, aromatherapy and tea drinking sessions with locally collected natural herbs.

When you visit all the trails in Anykščiai Forest – the banks of the River Anykšta and the River Šventoji, Kalita Hill (also popular with skiers in winter), Lake Rubikiai with its 16 islands – you can also take a tour on the narrow gauge railway of Aukštaitija region. The route operates May–October and the timetable is available at Anykščiai Railway Station, the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum is open all year round.

The area around Zarasai with its 300 lakes is often called the “Switzerland” of Lithuania. The huge picturesque Lake Zarasas is actually in Zarasai town itself. There is also an architecturally unique 17-metre high viewing platform which offers magnificent vistas over the lake’s surroundings. After descending from the viewing platform to the shore of another lake – Lake Zarasaitis – you can try an open-air swimming pool or perhaps even take a plunge off a 10-metre diving platform.

From Zarasai you can travel to Gražutė Regional Park. The park has rivers, lakes and even a water reservoir in Antalieptė with bays, peninsulas, isthmuses and impressive steep banks. The park has many unique landscape elements formed by glaciers. You can fish off the 21-metre long pontoon bridge in Lake Luodys or take a paddle board down the lake or river of the park. Special floating beach wheelchairs allow people with disabilities to travel along the soft sandy beaches of the lakes, along forest trails, to float on the water or to go sledding in winter.

Lake Alaušas in Utena District is another of the largest and most picturesque lakes in Lithuania with pure water and unspoilt nature. In summer, Lake Alaušas becomes a real centre of attraction, because water tourism is almost a national Lithuanian sport. Canoeing, rowing, stand-up paddling, diving, swimming and beach games, comfortable public recreation areas, camp sites, and rural tourism homesteads are just some of the offerings available for tourists.

Meanwhile in Biržai Regional Park you will find entirely different lakes. The star of the park is the uniquely shaped Kirkilai observation tower. It offers views over karst lakes that change colour with the change of seasons and which are reminiscent of images from science fiction films. Unusual landscapes, unique natural formations, history of the region and the beer-making heritage of Biržai is a package of attractions to satisfy many.

On the fish route: from the River Neris, along the River Nemunas down to the Curonian Lagoon

It is estimated that there are 29,900 rivers and rivulets in Lithuania. Azure blue streams winding across our green countryside are not only sources of refreshment in hot summers, but also scenic vistas with wild flowers and grasses, active recreation on boats, canoes and catamarans. The streams and rivers take you along the route that fish take to reach the Curonian Lagoon or the Baltic Sea.

The route to Lithuania Minor, the Curonian Lagoon and the amazing Nemunas River Delta starts in the River Neris Regional Park. The educational trails of the park will take you past old oak trees, hill forts, boulders with thousand-year-old inscriptions and burial mounds of our ancestors. If you wish to learn about the deities of Baltic mythology, take the oak trail in Dūkštos. Oak trees considered sacred by our pagan ancestors have been growing in this place for a thousand years.

Visginai Village of Kaišiadorys District offers a peaceful and tranquil oasis near the forest – Atokampis Boutique SPA & Resort. Its owners have created a unique, highly personal recreation and SPA space where time has stopped. Timber cabins are equipped with bath tubs that operate in winter and in summer. Locally collected herbs and tree buds are used for massages and SPA treatments.

Near the confluence of two major rivers of Lithuania, the River Nemunas and the River Nevėžis, is Raudondvaris Manor Castle. It is a wonderful 17th century Renaissance architectural monument. The garden that surrounds the castle is renowned for its old varieties of roses. The renovated castle is the venue for concerts, conferences and other events. At Christmas the castle yard is decorated with thousands of Christmas lights, a beautiful Christmas Tree and also has a skating rink.

Further down the River Nemunas, near Jurbarkas you will find a real Renaissance gem – Panemunė Castle. It tries to preserve elements of the very modern culture at that time and you will be able to see them if you stay at the castle’s hotel.

Travelling along the River Nemunas and visiting small towns on the way will soon take you to a magical place admired by nature enthusiasts. At the Nemunas River Delta Regional Park there are often more birds than people. You will come across species of birds protected in Lithuania and Europe. They breed in the surrounding wetlands and meadows. There are days when around 300,000 birds fly past Ventė Cape. There is a small museum at Ventė Cape Ornithological Station. The region with its unique culture and the paradise of birds attracts bird watchers from across the world.

Lithuania Minor is hardly imaginable without birds and without fish. The residents of this area will certainly invite you to take the Culinary Fish Trail Cruise where you will learn about the history of fishing in the Curonian Lagoon and the lifestyle of fishermen and shipbuilders. The cruise starts with a special dish of six different types of fish while still on shore, and this is followed by the traditional dessert of waffles and coffee. The cruise will take you to Ventė Cape, the Lithuanian “Venice’ – the village of Mingė, Krokų Lanka and the Curonian Lagoon. The highlight of the cruise is tasting freshly smoked fish. You are unlikely to find a tastier experience.

EDEN’s best: a restaurant in a clinic, brewing education in a manor and smoked fish from Pamarys region

Lithuania is a green destination with a scent of meadows and taste of nature. Each region offers something that will appeal to your heart and that will make you want to come back. You can crisscross Lithuania as often as you like but each time be prepared to discover something new.

The 18th century Paliesius Manor is a recent project that has been brought back to life. The house of the steward of the manor is now a hotel and SPA and the barn and the stables have been covered with a glass roof to become a concert hall. A separate timber building houses the Paliesius Physical Exercise Therapy Clinic. Therapists at the clinic use nature, air, physical exercises and art therapy to treat obesity, diabetes, stress and insomnia.

Pakruojis Manor made the small town of Pakruojis in the north of Lithuania famous. A “Live Museum” invites visitors to turn the clock back a century and to feel the rhythm of the manor of that time, to see what activities there were, what dishes they made, how they enjoyed themselves and what penalties there were. Pakruojis has for a long time been known for its beer and beer has been produced at the manor since the 16th century. Today, a visit to the authentic 19th century brewery, meeting its host, the legendary beer-maker Žaldokas, and the Beer Trail programme are probably the most popular activities favoured by manor visitors.

Visit Lithuania and miss the traditional Lithuanian Tree Cake (Šakotis)? Hard to imagine, because Šakotis is like our visiting card. The legend says that it was German monks who brought this pastry to Lithuania. The ingredients look simple – eggs, sugar, flour, butter and cream – from which the Lithuanian pastry chefs produce this tree-shaped treat. Do not miss the baking process itself – the cake is made in a hot oven by pouring layers of batter on a rotating spit. The faster the spit rotates, the longer the branches of the tree cake are.

The old town of Telšiai is located on the shore of Lake Mastis. The town has its own unique architecture. Children and adults alike can make a game of counting the number of bear sculptures while walking in the Old Town. The bear is a symbol of Telšiai and the Old Town is dotted with small bear sculptures. In the Cathedral Square of the town there is a model of the square for visually impaired and a text in Braille depicting Telšiai Cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua, Telšiai Diocesan Seminary and the streets of the Old Town. You can book a sign language tour of Telšiai. A lift for people with special needs allows easy access to the shore of Lake Mastis. Telšiai is not only a town of sculptures, but also a town of delicious cheese. At the Džiugas Cheese House you can taste local well-aged hard cheese.

To find out who makes better cheese – the cheese makers of Samogitia or Aukštaitija – take the Cheese Trail. You will learn about the history of dairy production, tools for the fermentation of milk and beating of butter specific to each ethnographical region and you will taste 5-6 different types of cheese. The Cheese Trail is at Rokiškis Manor, which also has the  Rokiškis Regional Museum. The manor reflects the evolution of styles in Lithuanian architecture from Baroque to Classicism all through to recognisable forms of modernism in the interior of the buildings.

From Rokiškis you can head to Zarasai District. This area with 300 lakes, pine forests and hills is often referred to as the “Switzerland” of Lithuania. The resort town of Zarasai is located between the lakes. There is also an architecturally unique 17-metre high viewing platform which offers magnificent vistas over the lake’s surroundings. The water theme is all around Zarasai – from the splash wake park through to an open-air swimming pool in Lake Zarasaitis. In the village of Šlynika you will find a 300-year old mill.  The authentic grinding stone is still in operation and the traditional craft workshop next to the mill offers local rye and wheat bread. What could be tastier than a loaf of bread or a drink made from bread (kvass). Taste it.

The authentic bread made according to ancient recipes lasts a long time. It is not afraid of cold or heat, so put it in your bag and travel to the Nemunas River Delta Regional Park. Nature fans and travellers looking for authenticity call this place a paradise of birds and fish. More than 300 species of birds are found in the Nemunas Delta. Bird watchers flock to the park to see rare birds. They not only spend time in the meadows of the river delta, but also visit the unique fishing villages, cultural objects and taste traditional dishes of the region, mostly local fish. The most popular educational programme is the Culinary Fish Trail. Fish dishes also reign in local restaurants where you can taste fish snacks, an authentic coastal fish soup, fish stew or freshly fried fish. Guess what the secret of tasty fish is? Yes, it is best fresh.

If you do not like fish, try pancakes in Plateliai. They taste best at the end of winter, during the Shrovetide (Užgavėnės) celebrations, when Lithuanians, tired of cold and darkness have a tradition of giving winter a send-off. In order to scare winter off, people dress in masks carved from wood, sheepskin, fabric, woven material or paper. Plateliai Manor stables house an original collection of nearly 300 Shrovetide masks. The celebration of Shrovetide here is a long-standing tradition and entails dressing up Morė – an effigy of winter that is burnt on a bonfire – singing Shrovetide songs, playing games and frying pancakes. Samogitians make thick pancakes with yeast and serve them with hot herbal tea.