Given that my last stop in Latvia was on the country’s southern stretch of coast, it made sense to stick to the Baltic coast for my first stop in Lithuania. This worked out well, as I had remembered reading an inflight magazine that talked about an interesting destination on Lithuania’s coast, the Curonian Spit.
The Curonian Spit is effectively a long, thin spit of sand that runs for almost 100km halfway across Lithuania’s coast and down into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Simply looking at it on a map you realise – this place is unusual. As always, I like unusual places so I decided to stay in the nearby city of Klaipeda so I could venture to this uncanny landmass.
After spending the first day arriving in Klaipeda and taking a look around, I made it my plan to visit the Curonian Spit the following day. Only thing was, I knew very little about what there was to see and do there. By the time I got to the Tourist Information Centre in Klaipeda it was closed, so it was off to the Internet to try to figure out what I was going to spend my day doing.
I already knew that I had to take a short ferry ride over from the Klaipeda port to the northern tip of the spit, but that was effectively it. Little did I know, that it was in fact a UNESCO heritage-listed place, with its great natural and cultural importance landing it on the much coveted list. Beyond that, I learned that it was an intensely popular local beach destination, home to beautiful forests and last but not least, some epic sand dunes. It soon became clear, that I wasn’t going to be able to see it all with my one day, but I tried!
Forest and Beach
After making the short ferry crossing over from Klaipeda, I followed the surprisingly large crowd of beachgoers from the Smiltynė dock and into the forest. Immediately I was swept up by the beautiful pine trees and the almost fairytale atmosphere they had. As everyone else marched on towards the beach, I stopped frequently to take photos or duck off onto the minor trails.
Once I’d followed the path through the forest, I came up the top of the small dunes above the vast beach that stretches far along the western coast of the spit. With beautiful, soft white sand and plenty of space, I could see why so many people had come over for the day from Klaipeda to enjoy the beach. Definitely made me wish I had brought my swimming gear and didn’t have a plan of seeing more of the spit. Alas, there went my last opportunity for a day at the beach during my Baltic visit.
The Lithuanian end of the spit is mostly uninhabited, with its largest town Nida being just shy of the Russian border. Once I’d seen enough of the beach, I made my way back to Smiltynė for the bus to Nida. The trip from the ferry dock at Smiltynė down to Nida understandably takes quite a while, given the distance. With the single lane road passing through the spit’s forest and a few stops, the trip takes a little over an hour.
The trip is worth it though, for Nida is a thoroughly quaint seaside resort. The town boasts plenty of colourful, traditional houses that are often rented out to holidaymakers. It seems like a popular spot with Russians, people from the Baltic States, not to mention a few Brits as well.
It won’t take too long to explore the small town, admiring the brightly painted houses as you go. When I visited there was some sort of fair going on, with a mock, inflatable theatre and even people dressed in armour and duelling. One of the more common reasons people seem to come to Nida is for their lunch break, as there are many restaurants to choose from, particularly serving local seafood.
What was also cool, was that while the gap between the spit and Klaipeda at the north was small, the mainland was nowhere to be seen down by Nida.
The big highlight of a visit to the Curonian Spit is the great drifting Parnidis Dune. Just south of Nida, this 67 metres high dune is part of the Great Dune Ridge and a remarkable sight. The name “Parnidis” is believed to possibly mean “having crossed Nida”, as the dunes are known to drift unbelievable distances. This drifting dune is believed to have swallowed forests and even settlements as it has spread over the spit.
From Nida, you must first walk through more gorgeous forest to reach the Parnidis Dune. Here the trees are even higher than up north and the forest even more engaging and beautiful.
The Great Dune Ridge came about due to mass deforestation during the 16th century. As the deforestation was such a big factor, there was a concerted effort to stall the dune growth by the planting of much of the pine forest seen about the area. This has caused the dunes to decrease by 10 metres over 30 years and so, due to human and natural impact, the white dunes are slowly disappearing. While it will be a while before the dunes either disappear or are transformed, there are also other dunes on the spit like those further north at Nagliai.
At the summit of the dune is a panoramic viewpoint, as well as a modern Sundial sculpture. The sundial was created in 1995 and indicates the local time through shadows projected on a series of steps that surround it. It’s position atop the dune is an ideal spot for this type of sundial, as the sun both rises and sets over water, in the east over the lagoon and the west over the Baltic Sea.
From the panoramic viewpoint you’re able to spy the town of Nida to the north past the forest, but also can see over the border into Russia, not far away to the south. The sand in the distance in the bottom picture is over in Russia. The closest yet I’ve gotten to Russia, and made quite a last stop before making my way north to catch the ferry to Klaipeda.
- Nida and Klaipeda seem your best bets for accommodation suitable for visiting the Curonian Spit;
- Buses running south from Smiltynė to Nida seemed to be lined up with the ferry times, with no information I could find online. Cost is 3.4€ one-way;
- There are some small villages in between Smiltynė and Nida, with more dunes and other attractions but I simply ran out of time to explore them;
- There are plenty of hiking trails and cycling routes, making the spit a perfect place for recreational exercise.
Have you been or even heard of the Curonian Spit before? What do you think was, or looks to be, the best part about visiting this curious place? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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