The best kept secret of the North

Sep 11, 12 The best kept secret of the North

When people are considering vacation destination, most of them turn their attention to ocean shores during the summer and snowy mountain peaks during the winter season. Spain or Portugal or even the south of France are among the top choices, although the luckiest ones fly off to the Caribbeans or the Grand Canaries, while for the cold season Switzerland and Canada are becoming more and more popular. As far as cultural destinations go, people are still hung up on the traditional Paris, London, Rome or Vienna. You don’t hear a lot of people talking about preparing a vacation to the Baltic Countries, which is such a shame, as the three former Russian states, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, make an amazing destination from all points of view. Having preserved their medieval cities well, the three states are a cultural oasis, teaching tourists great lessons on civilization, education, sophistication and erudite progress.

Despite their common history and geographical closeness, the countries are very different in both culture and language, each presenting its charms and wonders to the audacious tourists who decided to leave the beaten path aside for once and check out the best kept secret of the North. The permanent changes in the states’ political climate did in no way impede their progress and their ability to maintain a perfect touristic ambiance and today, having gained their independence for 15 years now, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are each and all the best choice one can make when it comes to a vacation. The countryside of all three states is an awe-inspiring stretch of thick forests and beautiful lakes. You will be amazed by the sheer amount of natural wonders you will be able to admire. In Lithuania alone, there are almost 3 000 lakes, most of which are glacial and you can see in the shrubs of thicket parks like the Aukstaitija and the Zemaitija.

If you really want to see something unique, make sure to visit the Gauja National Park in Latvia, where you will be able to admire not only lush vegetation, but also an incredible wildlife, with wolves, lynx and the largest beaver population on the entire Europe. But what will truly sweep you off your feet will be the majestic vestiges of the castles and fortresses. In Gauja, you will also have the chance to visit the Guttman Cave, the oldest and biggest cave in the Baltic Countries. Not a fraction beneath the beauty and grandeur of the park in Latvia, the Laheema National Park in northern Estonia is a must see, providing visitors with gorgeous sights and landscapes, including cliffs and forests, lakes and waterfalls, rivers and many more. Furthermore, Estonia has 1500 islands for you to explore and discover.

 

The Baltic Sea coastline is another common feature of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, one that greatly appeals to tourists, as the Amber Coast is absolutely dazzling. UNESCO has declared the Curonian Spit, which is a 98 km long sand dune deposition land form in Lithuania, a World Heritage Site and for good reason. You will be amazed by miles and miles of pine forests, interposed between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea Coast. Furthermore, the forests house several small fishing villages, which are not only charming and scenic, but also full of energy and vivid, with fascinating locals, eager to share their stories.

Estonia, on the other hand, is proud to show its precious settlements along the archipelago, starting with Hiumaa, which was brought into existence by a meteor, continuing with the UNESCO matriarchy Kihnu, exemplified for the august marriage ceremonies, and Saarema, mentioned widely across the Scandinavian sagas due to its brave withstanding in front of the Viking attacs, and ending with Muhu, a secluded destination, perfect for quick getaways.

In Latvia, the little towns on the Baltic Coast offer you wonderful beaches, as well as firendly locals and darling restaurants and cafes, where you can enjoy the exquisite local cuisine. Make sure you hit Ventspils or Liepaja, as well as Ainaži, where you can visit the Seafaring Museum and learn about the Baltic traditions in ship-building and Latvian sailors.

 

But natural wonders and mesmerizing scenery are not the only attractions in the Baltic States. All of the three capitals are mind blowing cultural sites, Tallinn being the oldest capital in the north of Europe. Strategically placed as to rule over the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn still bears a lot from the medieval time, when it was a fortified town and walking down narrow streets and alleys of the World Heritage city will certify to that.

The architecture of the city is a flawless mix of Scandinavian, Slavic and Germanic influences, in the midst of which traditional Estonian magnetism resonates.

The largest of the Baltic Countries is Lithuania, which also has the largest population of the three. The capital of Lithuania is Vilnius, established in the 14th century. Its unique history, exclusive location and emblematic political content have made Vilnius a veritable cultural metropolis. Among its rich legacy, you will be able to distinguish Gothic influences, Baroque remnants and Renaissance imprints, all of which contributed to the city being recognized as a World Heritage site. Another particularity of Vilnius is its world renowned religious tolerance, which most likely came as a result of cultural melding, making the capital a diverse and unequaled European city.

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is located on the Daugava River, being the second largest port in the area. The city has a rich history, dating as far back as the 13th century, and has come to be a very intriguing, Art  Nouveau city, with a spectacular architecture that you will not be able to find anywhere else in Europe. Widely compared with Paris, Riga has plenty to offer to a tourist, from the amazing bridges over the Daugava, the Town Hall Square and the National History Museum to excellent bus tours for sightseeing, taking you to St Peter’s Church, the Dome Cathedral or the Convent Courtyard.