Dzūkija is the least fertile, but the most forested region of Lithuania. So forests have traditionally been the main source of livelihood for many: Dzūkians sell the mushrooms and berries that they gather in forest.
Dzūkija is proud of its stunningly beautiful pinewoods full of good things to eat, ethnographic villages, and rapid, clear spring water rivers, which are popular kayaking routes.
You can admire Dzūkija's beauty not only while kayaking but also while hiking and driving. We rode our bikes on the sandy forest paths around the village of Musteika, famous for its ancient beekeeping traditions, visited Marcinkonys Ethnographic Museum, and chatted with the local village inhabitants.
Dzūkians are very hospitable and love to socialize. Dzūkians say guests are like a gift from God.
It doesn’t take long to be invited to their table, where you are offered nothing short of feast. We are treated by some locals to soup made of freshly-picked mushrooms in a carved out breadloaf, apple cheese and buckwheat pie... and got a bag of dried boletus mushrooms, to boot!
Dzūkija is a true paradise for tourists with the capital Vilnius and the resort town Druskininkai.
It’s a misty morning – perfect weather for a walking tour. Our Maitre d’ tells us Vilnius has the largest old town in Eastern Europe, with architecture dating back to the Middle Ages.
In a quaint Old Town bakery we savour some fresh croissants and coffee, then we wander the maze-like streets of this intricate Medieval town. We pause to admire the artwork on the Artists’ Wall in Literatų Street and stop by Vilnius University (next to the Presidential Palace) for a tour of its ornate library.
Shopping is next. Stylish creations of wool and linen, all with that particular Lithuanian flair... hand-made wooden toys and sculptures, jewelry, ceramics... hard to resist buying everything!
I was tired of walking so I found the nearest Cyclocity Vilnius bike rental station and rode an orange bike back to the hotel for free.
The Gates of Dawn house a chapel bustling with pilgrims and others who have come to see the sacred icon of the Virgin Mary and Child, believed by many to have miraculous powers. The Historic Town Hall, neo-classical Cathedral, with its ancient crypts, and the newly reconstructed Royal Palace are also on our list of places to visit, along with an ascent to the top of the bellfry of the Church of Saints John the Baptist and John the Apostle. The belfry is the highest building in Old Town, and the view is spectacular!
The sun breaks through the clouds just as we ascend Gediminas Hill by cog railway. When we reach the top of the old castle tower, the view is simply breathtaking – sun-lit rooves of Old Town beneath our feet, steeples everywhere pointing upward towards the sky, squares and courtyards overflowing with greenery, and those winding, narrow streets tucked in between. No wonder Old Town Vilnius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Tired but very happy, we all went our separate ways as evening was approaching. We were pleasantly surprised that Vilnius is so alive at night. Bars and restaurants are full of beautiful, happy people speaking a variety of languages, live music can be heard in outdoor cafes, people are getting acquainted, and no one is in a hurry to go home.
The Dzūkian town of Druskininkai is Lithuania’s most popular spa destination, with several resorts that provide wellness and medical treatments, as well as saunas, pools and waterslides for fun and relaxation. Looking at the menu of treatments, it was hard to decide what to choose. A bath in mineral water or a mudbath? Perhaps a honey mask, or maybe some amber therapy?
Druskininkai resort is open year-round. Visitors can stay in hotels that range from simple and cosy to chic and fancy... or at a campground in the centre of town. We choose this option for the night. The air is fragrant with the scent of pine and the relaxing walk is just the thing before bedtime.
The next day, we visit Grūtas Park. The owner of the park collected as many Soviet-era sculptures as he could, preserving them as a memento of that dark period in Lithuanian history.
Then, we decide to go wild. We spend some time on rollerskates, then climb to the treetops at ONE Adventure Park and then... you won’t believe this... we went to the ski slope! In the middle of summer!
The Snow Arena in Druskininkai is one of the largest indoor mountain ski slope complexes in Europe. But we’re not done yet. In the evening, we hit the waterslides at Druskininkai Water Park and indulged ourselves in the sauna - there are actually twenty different types of them there.
Vacation in Lithuania is definitely active!