Trip Highlights:
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are three small but remarkable
countries known as the Baltics.



Located on the edge of the Neris River, Vilnius is surrounded by
green pine clad hills, an idyllic location which perhaps partly
explains why the locals are so friendly and welcoming. The Old
Town is the largest in Eastern Europe and is a fascinating place
to explore with its twisting narrow cobbled streets, hidden
courtyards and lovely old Gothic and Barque buildings. There are
dozens of churches – it is said that you can see a church spire
from every street, and the remains of the old castle stand sentinel
over the old town. You can climb Gediminas Hill for amazing
views over the town, stroll through the craft market looking for
unusual souvenirs or try some traditional food at one of the many
excellent restaurants.


Trakai was the capital of Lithuania in the fourteenth century and
you can still see the remains of two of the castles built at that time
to defend the city from marauding German knights. The Island
Castle is particularly impressive, set in a gorgeous position in the
centre of a lake, linked to the shore by narrow footbridges. The
castle has been beautifully restored and makes for an excellent
day trip from Vilnius.


In this National Park we have an excellent opportunity to see the
rural side of Lithuania and there are some lovely trails that we can
follow through the most scenic areas of the park. There are 126
lakes here, many of which are dotted with small islands;
surrounding them are miles and miles of thick forest, with pine
and spruce trees that fill with the sound of extensive birdlife.
There are also small traditional villages within the park


A small two-humped hillock has been covered with thousands and
thousands of crosses. These come in every size, shape and
material possible. There are thought to be more than two hundred
thousand in total but no one really knows. Nor do they know how
this place came about, but it has become a symbol of Lithuanian
nationalism. Under Soviet occupation the number of crosses
multiplied in a gesture of resistance – despite the fact that placing
a cross here was sufficient crime to be arrested by the KGB. It
was bulldozed at least three times but the crosses kept coming
back. This is an eerie place to explore, with no sound but the faint
wind as it whistles across the flat plains and rattles the crosses
on the hill.



Riga has an extraordinarily rich history dating back to 1201, and
as you walk the streets of this beautiful old city, this history is
distinctly palpable. There are gothic buildings, baroque churches,
classical halls, art Nouveau houses and much much more. The
buildings are painted bright colours and are adorned with
gargoyles, sculpted angels and lions and all periods of history are
represented. The narrow winding streets offer a range of
restaurants, shops and small bars and you will be sure to pass
street musicians. There are churches, like the magnificent St
Peters where you can take a lift to the top for truly spectacular
views over the roofs of the old city, a fascinating museum all
about Latvia’s recent occupations which is not be to be missed,
extensive parks, jam packed markets and through the centre of it
all runs the Daugava River.


In Sigulda you are back in the land of fairy tales, with a selection
of medieval castles surrounding the town and many caves with
legends to go with them. One of the most poignant is the tale of
the beautiful ‘Turaida Rose’ a young girl whose legendary beauty
led to her downfall, slain at the hand of one of her suitors.
Perhaps the most atmospheric of the castles are the ruins of the
‘Knights stronghold’ at the edge of the town. This is largely
unreconstructed and sports excellent views across the valley to
Turaida castle. Sigulda itself is situated on the edge of a heavily
forested section of the Gauja National Park and there are lots of
lovely walks available.



Estonia’s largest national park, Lahemma takes in a stretch of
deeply indented coast with several peninsulas and bays. There
are 480 sq km of forested hinterland including 14 lakes, rivers,
waterfalls and several villages, plus 220 sq km of marine area.
The park is an alluring, unspoilt section of rural Estonia with
varied coastal and inland scenery.


One of the most striking things about Tallinn is the many brightly
coloured buildings. There are pinks, yellows, blues, red and
greens all conspiring to make this city seems like something
straight out the medieval past. Stroll the streets and you will find
yourself continually taking pictures thinking that surely this must
be the most picturesque place in all of Tallinn… until you round
that next corner! Explore both the lower Town and Upper town
‘Toompea’, built on a hill in the centre of the city, which provides
magnificent views over the old city. Or climb Olav Church tower
and marvel at the old city itself, with its beautifully preserved
mass of medieval walls and turrets, churches and narrow cobbled
streets. It is easy to get lost in these streets but what could be
more fun?
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The Baltics - June 2006