Curo­nian Spit, a placid refuge sur­rounded by wa­ter in Lithua­nia

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Jim Heintz

NIDA, Lithua­nia — At the edge of the Val­ley of Si­lence, the land­scape changes so sud­denly it’s like strolling to an­other con­ti­nent — from a placid, fra­grant pine for­est to a soar­ing wall of brown sand.

A short but steep 52-me­tre ver­ti­cal climb to the top of the Parni­dis Dune — known af­fec­tion­ately or hu­mor­ously as “Lithua­nia’s Sa­hara — re­veals a sweep­ing view of a re­mark­able and sooth­ing land­scape, the Curo­nian Spit.

On the map, the spit re­sem­bles a stray hair ris­ing from a child’s cowlick, start­ing in Rus­sia’s Kalin­ingrad ex­clave and gen­tly curv­ing north 98 kilo­me­tres to­ward Lithua­nia’s port city of Klaipeda, which it al­most touches.

As nar­row as 400 me­tres, thickly forested and thinly in­hab­ited, the spit is a refuge flanked by the smooth la­goon on one side and the blus­tery Baltic Sea on the other.

Nida, the prin­ci­pal town on the Lithua­nian side, has long at­tracted vis­i­tors in search of seren­ity, no­tably au­thor Thomas Mann who built a sum­mer home here when this was part of Ger­many.

But even at the height of the brief Baltic sum­mers, the spit re­tains an out-of-the­way air and its vast beaches seem to swallow up hu­mans. Nida, though a full-fledged re­sort, has only a hand­ful of large ho­tels; ac­com­mo­da­tion is largely in small, fam­i­lyrun ho­tels or gabled, brightly painted guest­houses.

No one comes to the spit for ex­cite­ment. The most spec­tac­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment may be the ex­tra­or­di­nary clouds that form as sea and dry-land air cur­rents mix to­gether.

The nois­i­est place on the spit is one of its prime nat­u­ral­ist sites. Count­less cor­morants and grey herons con­gre­gate in a forested area near the vil­lage of Juod­krante, fill­ing the air with a chat­ter of squawks and vo­cal­iza­tions that sound oddly like dogs bark­ing.

There’s a view­ing plat­form on the edge of the colony. Hu­mans who barge into the woods for a closer look may find the herons drop­ping fish from the air to dis­suade them; the birds value seren­ity as much as the tourists.

Although the north­ern tip of the spit is eas­ily reach­able by a five-minute ferry ride from Klaipeda, its most ap­peal­ing ar­eas around Klaipeda and Juod­krante re­quire an­other hour or so of travel by road. This dis­cour­ages pas­sen­gers on the cruise ships that visit Klaipeda from ven­tur­ing deep into the spit, re­in­forc­ing its seren­ity.

The spit is popular for bi­cy­clists for its rolling ter­rain, but cy­cle campers should be aware that the only camp­ground on the Lithua­nian side is in Nida; camp­ing in the rough is for­bid­den.

Lo­cated near Nida, Lithua­nia. On­line in­for­ma­tion, http://www.vis­it­ner­inga .lt. Mid-June to the end of Au­gust is high sea­son on the spit, with long hours of day­light and tem­per­ate weather.

Klaipeda, the main jumpin­goff point for the spit, has fre­quent bus ser­vice from the Lithua­nian cap­i­tal Vil­nius and the Lat­vian cap­i­tal Riga. Vil­nius is closer, about 3 ½ hours by bus. The pedes­trian-only ferry to the spit’s north­ern tip leaves ev­ery hour or so from a down­town dock in Klaipeda, within 15 min­utes’ walk from most of Klaipeda’s ho­tels; buses to Nida and Juod­krante meet all fer­ries. A car ferry runs from Klaipeda’s south­ern fringes; not rec­om­mended for those on foot be­cause it’s a long walk to the bus stop once on the spit.


Vis­i­tors re­lax on the shores of the Curo­nian La­goon, in Lithua­nia, with the Parni­dis Dune in the back­ground. The Curo­nian Spit, which extends from

Rus­sia to Lithua­nia, of­fers serene woods and vast empty beaches.

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