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Curonian Spit Overview
From the Curonian Spit World Heritage inscription:
The Curonian Spit is a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooded cultural landscape on a coastal spit which features small Curonian lagoon settlements. The Spit was formed by the sea, wind and human activity and continues to be shaped by them. Rich with an abundance of unique natural and cultural features, it has retained its social and cultural importance. Local communities adapted to the changes in the natural environment in order to survive. This interaction between humans and nature shaped the Curonian Spit cultural landscape.
The Curonian Spit is perhaps the top natural attraction in Lithuania and one of the top attractions in the Baltic Region. I visited the Curonian Spit on a G Adventures tour of the Baltic States.
Most of the information in this article will pertain to visiting the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit, however, half of the spit is shared with Russia. The Lithuanian side is much easier for most tourists to visit unless you have gone through the process of getting a Russian visa. This article will deal mostly with the Lithuanian side.
Geologically, the spit is approximately 3 million years old. The spit is the remnant of a glacial moraine which terminated in the area. The spit stays in existence by a constant balance of sand deposition and transportation. Similar sand spits and barrier islands can be found around the world.
In mythology, the Curonian Spit was created by a giant named Neringa who was playing on the seashore. There has been evidence of a human presence on the spit for at least 1,000 years and a well-documented history going back to the 13th Century where the spit was the home to the Order of Teutonic Knights.
Fishing was always the most popular industry on the spit as the soil was poor for agriculture. In the 19th Century the spit became the location of an artists colony, especially
Today it is primarily a tourist destination.
What to see / Sights
The Curonian Spit is nothing more than a long sandy peninsula. As such, everything can be visited along a single main road which goes along the length of the spit.
- Beaches There are several public beaches along the length of the spit. There is an enormous difference between the Baltic Sea beaches and the lagoon side beaches. The spit protects the lagoon from the waves, and as such, the water is much calmer and slightly warmer. The Baltic (western) side has much rougher seas and higher winds.
- Bird Watching. There is a large colony of herons and cormorants outside of the village of Juodkrant?. All of the trees in the area are dead due to the bird droppings which have made the soil too acidic. The spit was home to the Rossitten Bird Observatory, which was the first dedicated bird observatory in the world. It operated from 1901 to 1944.
- Hill of Witches. Located in the village of Juodkrante is a collection of almost 100 wood carvings which show stories from Lithuanian folklore. The wooden sculptures show frightening and grotesque images from stories from Lithuania’s pagan past. (Lithuania was one of the last pagan countries in Europe.) The hill is open 24/7.
What to do / Activities
- Biking. The spit is rather flat which makes it a perfect place for biking. Many people will visit the Curonian Spit on cycling tours. If you do not have your own bike, you can rent a bicycle in Nida. They will drop you and your bike off further up the spit and let you ride your bike back to town. There are dedicated bicycle paths the entire length of the spit.
- Kite Surfing. The Baltic side of the spit is one of the best places for kitesurfing and windsurfing in the entire region. While it is a great spot for it, you will probably have to bring your own gear as there aren’t any rental companies on the spit.
The spit is pretty flat so there isn’t much in terms of dramatic landscapes available. Some of the following locations might get some great shots:
- Along the beach. Try to capture kitesurfers in the distance.
- Bicycle and hiking paths. They go through the pine forest on the spit and provide some interesting perspective shots.
- Climb the sand dunes south of Nida. They aren’t incredibly high, but they will give you one of the best vantage points on the entire spit.
- Visit the Witch Hill and focus on the details in the wood carvings. Consider creating black & white photos of the sculptures which bring out the drama in the woodwork.
Where to Eat
Check out Tik Pas Jona in Nida. They specialize in smoked fish. The entire menu for that day will be displayed before dinner and you can pick the fish you want to eat.
Other restaurants in the area will serve local dishes. There are no major chain restaurants anywhere on the Curonian Spit. If you haven’t had it yet, you should try cepelinai, which is a potato dumpling and is the national dish of Lithuania.
As this is near one of the biggest regions for amber production in the world, you might find some places with amber infused vodka. They simply take the bits and pieces of amber which come from preparing stones for jewelry, and they infused it in vodka for several months. The result is an amber colored vodka with a 25 million-year-old, slightly sweet taste!
The spit is open year-round as people live it on. However, the peak season for tourists is in the summer and many of the establishments which cater to tourists may be closed in the winter.
Where to stay
There are no large or chain hotels on the spit. All of the lodging options are smaller hotels and guesthouses. Hotels can fill up during the peak season during the summer months.
How to get there
The largest international airport would be in Vilnius (VNO), which is several hours away. The Kaunas Airport (KUN) is slightly closer and is serviced by flights from Ryanair. Both have car rentals counters at the airport.
To get to the spit by car on the Lithuanian side, you have to take a ferry. The ferries operate on a regular basis from the city of Klaipeda, Lithuania. Ferries leave every hour during the day. Fees for foot passengers are 1 Euro, and passenger cars are 12.50 Euro.
There are buses which go to Nida from Kaunas and Vilnius. Each of them makes a stop in Klaipeda before going on the ferry.
The Baltic Sea tends to moderate temperatures on the Spit. The winters seldom get below freezing and the summers are seldom very hot.
The signature item to get from the Curonian Spit would be amber. The area along the Baltic Sea is the biggest amber producing area in the world, especially the Russian province of Kaliningrad just south of the Spit. There are several stores that exclusively sell amber. As with other gemstones, prices can be quite expensive depending on size and quality, and in the case of amber, what other creatures are embedded inside it.
You can also buy a small bag of amber chips for about 20 Euro which can be used to infuse drinks such as vodka. The infusion process takes about 3 months, but in the end, you have an amber-colored vodka that is 25 million years old!