Very well in the reach from the capital Vilnius are the rich nature areas of the Aukštaitija – literally “highlands” – in Lithuania, with the oldest national park of Lithuania
Well, I know, the most cyclists try the direct connection from Vilnius to Riga.
But that’s a route we do not recommend: it is quite boring, flat, “nothing special” leading you through industrial and agricultural areas.
So, what we recommend is to turn a bit more to the East and visit the reach nature areas of the Aukštaitija – literally “highlands” – in Lithuania, with the oldest national park of Lithuania and the East of Latvia called “Latgale”. Together they build what is called “The Baltic Lakeland”
North East Lithuania and South East Latvia
Pictures of this region
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From the BaltiCCycle.eu Route descriptions:
The Lithuanian capital, occupying an area of 392 km2, is situated in the Eastern part of the country. Vilnius lies at the intersection of several geographical highlands and the confluence of the Vilna and Neris Rivers. The historical center of Vilnius, i.e. a 360 – hectare old city, is among the largest in the Eastern Europe, serving as the most valuable heritage for Lithuanian history and architecture. What more, in 1994, the old city of Vilnius was included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
Some history: With the name first mentioned in the early 12th century, Vilnius City was granted the status of city in 1323. Later on, in 1579, Vilnius witnessed the foundation of a university which was the first higher school both in the Grand Principality of Lithuania and the whole region. As a center of European culture, Vilnius was open for the nations of the East and West and, eventually it became home for Polish, Russian, Jewish, German and Karaime communities.
VERKIAI REGIONAL PARK
This regional park is situated to the northeast of Vilnius. Over 800 plants grow on the morainic hills and ravines in the shadow of the city. Many are rare and do not grow in any other part of Lithuania. The park boasts lakes which lie among the pine woods. because of the green color of the water they are called the Žalieji (Green) Lakes. Not far from the lakes is Verkiai, which was first mentioned in the records of 14th century. Residences for bishops were built there in the 17th century. A place, rebuilt in the middle of the 19th century, now stands in the park. Vilnius Kalvarijos (Stations of the Cross), known since the 17th century, are in woods not far from Verkiai.
Vilnius kalvarijos (Stations of the Cross) symbolizes the way of Jesus to Golgota (known since the 17th century).
EUROPOS PARKAS. MUSEUM SET IN NATURE
Europos Parkas was founded in 1991 due to the initiative of Lithuanian sculptor Gintaras Karosas. The exhibition spans an area of 55 hectares and is visited by over 40,000 people annually. The goal of the museum is to give artistic significance to the geographic center (as determined by the French National Geographic Institute in 1989) of the European continent.
The Open – Air Museum of the Center of Europe seeks to present the most
interesting creations of international artists. The sculptures are permanently exhibited amidst beautiful rolling hills, woodlands and grasslands dotted with natural springs. The yellow blossoms of the grassland in the spring time and the faded colors of the misty autumn add an atmospheric backdrop to the sculptures. This harmonious whole with the light changing as the day progresses makes a lasting impression.
The open – air museum exhibits over 70 works created by artists from Armenia, Byelorussia, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Peru, Russia, the USA and Venezuela.
In Europos Parkas you can:
to touch the Center of Europe
Get to know all 44 names of the European capitals and distances to them from the center of Europe
Create harmonious interaction between nature, man and object of art,
see the sculpture, which appear as if it could fly.
Get lost in the Labyrinth of Memory
to find the largest chair in the World full of water
to meet Mexican women looking at the Moon
on one side of the sculpture see sunrise and on another – sunset
to sit under the largest web in the World
First chronicles in 1338, the town built its first church in 1387. The town planning structure as the center of a district of villages has been retained since the middle of XVI c. The town had its own parish school. Significant growth occurred after the World War II, and the town served as a regional center for a length of time.
9th day – Saturday (22 07 2000)
You are entering Aukštaitija, Lithuania’s largest region by land area. Eastern Aukštaitija is hilly and dotted with lakes, whereas the western regions are characterized by plains. Aukštaitija’s inhabitants are said to be merry, poetic, ambitious farming people.
Two types of multiple – voiced songs, centuries apart in age, are characteristic of Aukštaitija. Ancient sutartines, unique to northeastern Aukštaitija still survived at the beginning of the twentieth century. The verb “sutarti” means to agree, to be in concord, or to sing harmoniously. Only groups of women who were quite close to one another sung sutartines together. Here is the beginning portion of a simple example: This is a keturine sutartine song by two alternating groups of women. Dvejines were sung by one pair, whereas trejines were performed canonically by three women. Approximately a third of sutartines contained elements of dance. These dances were quite simple and were usually performed by three or four women as they sang the sutartine.
Unique genres of singing exist in this region. These include valiavimai (hay harvesting songs performed by men), flax – working and resounding feasting songs. They were especially common in northwest Aukštaitija which is also famous for its delicious home – brewed beer.
Musical instruments in Aukštaitija are: small, usually five – stringed kanklės found in this region are the most archaic Lithuanian stringed instruments. Men played skudučiai and ragai on their way to work in the fields, while resting during this work, or during gatherings. Skudučiai are similar to disassembled pan – pipes. Ragai are wooden horns which are produced in sets of five. Daudytės differ from ragai only in their form which is straighter and considerably longer.
During the second half of the XVI c. the town and several small industrial enterprises were established on the lands belonging to the Pabradė Manor. The occupying Red Army used the town for a huge military base until 1993.
On the western shore of Lake Arinas is Joniškis, mentioned since the XVII century. The town features a wooden church from the middle of the XIX century. By the church is a monument built in 1928 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of regaining independence, which reminds one that in the 1930’s and 1940’s Joniškis was a settlement at the border of Poland.
On the other shore of Lake Arinas is the old estate of ARNIONYS. The XIX century architectural ensemble is surrounded by a geometrically planned park declared a natural monument.
the southern edge of the Molėtai lake district, among the Lakes Galuonai, Gėluotas and Išnarai is the old town of Inturkė. The XVIII c. wooden church and bell tower are an interesting monument of folk architecture. The interior of the church is beautiful, boasting quite a number of art monuments.
The wooden chapel with a belfry in the cemetery of the Rudesa village, situated near Inturkė on the western shore of Lake Baltieji Lakajai, is also an architectural monument of the XVIII-XIX c.
The environment of Inturkė is also well known for two natural monuments: a two – trunk pine-tree grows in the Kertuoja forest, while the forest of Alkūnai has an old and thick oak (2.1 m in diameter, 28 m high).
Molėtai, counting its seventh century, is situated in the center of a wonderful lake district, at a busy intersection of six roads. The river Siesartis flows through the town. In the east and the south Molėtai is surrounded by Lakes Dūriai, Luokesa and Siesartis. Farther east lies the Lakajai lake district consisting of Lakes Bebrusai, Baltieji Lakajai, Juodieji Lakajai, Kertuoja and Gėluotas. The distance from Vilnius is only 63 km.
People lived in the neighborhood of Molėtai as early as before Christ. The first mention of this settlement in historical sources dates to 1387. Molėtai has been the center of the rural district since the middle of the XIX c. The current St. Peter and Paul’s neo-Baroque church was built in 1905. The downtown area features red – brick trade houses of Jews dating from the late XIX and early XX c.
Recently a cross was put up on Pavasarininkų Hill, where activities of various Catholic youth organizations used to take place between the wars. By the river Siesartis is a restored statue of St. Jonas Nepomukas.
1991 saw the establishment of the Molėtai land museum, the hall of which house art exhibitions. The museum introduces Molėtai history, customs and places of interest.
MINDŪNAI FISHERY MUSEUM
There are more than 300 lakes in Molėtai land, so people earning their living by fishing from of old times. In this museum ther is exhibiting fishing tools and trophies.
10th day – Sunday (23 07 2000)
LABANORAS REGIONAL PARK
Labanoras regional park (LRP) is founded in 1992. It reaches a watershed of the rivers Žeimena and Šventoji. It covers an area of about 50,000 ha. LRP has 216 settlements of different types with about 1,800 inhabitants. There are 2 large reservation and 24 smaller restricted areas. Its main part is the forest of Labanoras. From the scientific, cognitive, and recreational points of view the landscape is very valuable. People like to spend their holidays on banks of such lakes as Juodieji Lakajai, Baltieji Lakajai, Aisetas, Stirnias or one of the other 250 lakes. Popular to visit are the center of Ethnocosmology, the Observatory, and the museum of fishery in Mindūnai. Everybody can look around the center of Ethnocosmology and listen to lectures, or celebrate Lithuanian national feasts.
Also you visit special trees of Labanoras – the pines of Labanoras: ”Queen Pine”, “Six Labanoras Pine trees”.. Such pines grow only in the forests of Labanoras.
Several fortified hills remind us of Lithuania’s dramatic past, and the graves of the fighters in the 1863 uprising attest to the nation’s struggle for independence, as do the postwar partisans’ battles in the forests.
Also Labanoras is known for his special music instrument – the bagpipe of Labanoras.
LRP is home for 54 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, 5 species of reptiles and 11 species of amphibians as well other species included in the Lithuanian Red Data Book.
Also Labanoras is known for his special music instrument – the bagpipe of Labanoras.
The Labanoras Forest is not only a geographical but also a spiritual center of the region. The forest is rich in natural resources. One can see an Osprey gliding over the lakes and a Capercaillie in pine forests or hear a Black Grouse in the swamps. It is also possible to hear Capercaillies in the Swamps of Kanys or Didysis, and the trumpets of Cranes in bogs piercing an autumn cal m. In parts of the undergrowth one may meet a surprised Gaze of a Moose or a Roe Deer
Salmon, Trout and Cisco are found among great numbers of common fish in the rivers and lakes. The territory of LRP is famous for its 5 mound – hills, 19 burial mounds, 4 ancient settlements, 5 ritual freedom buildings and architectural monuments, and battlefields of fights for Lithuanian
The settlement has been known of since the 16th century. Kaltanėnai is famous for its livestock fairs. The old square is an urban achievement. Tourists often visit the old oak tree which is considered a natural monument. There is an interesting classic – style granary still standing on the grounds of the former estate. The granary is believed to be over 100 years old.
The village’s ancient castle of the same name has been recorded since 1357. A church was built in 1517, and the locale received official sanction to develop as a small town in 1534. At the end of the XIX c. The population had exceeded 800.
Aukštaitija National Park
Lithuania’s first national park – Aukštaitija National Park – was designated in 1974 and covers an area of 40570 hectares. Over 70% of its territory is pine stands hilly terrain abounding in lakes and having ethnographic villages; it contains quite a lot of other cultural monuments. Scattered among the woods and hills are some 100 smaller and larger lakes, often interconnected by rivulets and streams. Baluošas features seven islands, one of which has a little lake of its own, feeding the Baluošas waters through a small stream.
Aukštaitija National Park abound in rare plant species, including a number of plants that are listed in the Red Data Book of Lithuania and are protected as endangered species.
There are about 100 settlements in Aukštaitija National Park. Three types of architectural planning are dominant: one-street, scattered and detached.
The very first settlements were mentioned in the 14th century: Stripeikiai – in 1357, Linkmenys and Gaveikėnai – in 1377. After the Valakas Land Reform in the second half of the 16th century, one-street villages became predominant. Farmsteads are distributed next to each other on one or both sides of the street. A dwelling house stands perpendicular to the street on one line with the cattle – shed behind it. In front of the dwelling house the granary and the cellar forms the another line. The barn stands far behind. This kind of planning is typical for Ginučiai, Vaišniūnai, Meironys and Gaveikėnai. The most interesting are Šakališkė and Kretuonys – which is state protected ethnographic village.
Smaller settlements appeared in the 18th century. So – called “užusieniai”- settler farms – gave rise to the m. Settlers mostly were foresters and their families. Those settlements were spreading and grew up into villages. A small number of farmsteads, free siting of buildings and the absence of clear street – network are typical features for this kind of settlement. A dwelling, a granary and a cattle – shed form the central core of the farmstead. Barns usually lay beyond these. Due to the authenticity of architecture, five ethnographic villages are protected by the state; those are: Šuminai, Strazdai, Vaišnoriškės, Salos II and Varniškės II.
In 1909, after the Stolypin Land Reform, some villages were transferred into detached farmsteads. The best examples for detached farm villages are Pelakas, Pabiržė, Darželiai and Gineitiškis.
STRAZDAI. A place of rare beauty, protruding from the water are 7 islands, one of which has a lake of its own. When the village was mentioned for the first time in 1783, it had name of Balošekuliai. Since 1798 it has had the present name which comes from the family of foresters who lived there. The village was famous for its barn theater. For some time it was like a cultural center for peasants. Three dwellings and two barns are left from the 19th century. Thatch – the traditional roof cover – was changed to shingles and wood planks at the beginning of the 20th century.
STRIPEIKIAI. This is the oldest village in the park. It was mentioned for the first time in 1357. Later it belonged to the Labanoras Estate of the Vilnius Bishop. At present in the village the Ancient Apiculture Museum is located. Buildings of the museum are built in traditional style, roofs are covered with thatch. The Tauragnėlė River runs through the village and the sky-blue Lake Šaminis lies there. BEE-KEEPING MUSEUM in a farmstead on a small hill in Stripeikiai. The museum exhibition are supplements by artistic and cognitive wood sculptures which depict various scenes from the life of a bee-keeper.
ŠUMINAI. For the very first time this village was mentioned as Pabaluošė in 1784, although the first farmstead appeared there much earlier. Later it got named from the family which lived there. Currently all families in the village have the surname of Šuminai. 300 years old pine-tree, standing in the center of the village, remember its history. There are many maples – it makes this place very attractive during the autumn season. The most interesting old building is the barn with a dry-house. Its wooden hinges tell about construction in ancient times. One dwelling is presented to visitors as a fisherman’s home. The movie about the “Lithuanian Robin Hood” – Tadas Blinda – was filmed in Šuminai.
KRETUONYS. The abundance of archeological findings and monuments testifies that people in this area had been living here since the 1st millennium B.C. The village was founded during the Valakas Land Reform in the 16th – 17th century. Kretuonys is a one – street village with strip – plots, built – in on one side of the street. The most interesting buildings are considered granaries with little balconies and other traditional buildings erected in the 19th century. Several hundred – year – old trees decorate the environment of the village.
VARNIŠKĖS II. The four Varniškės villages are located on the eastern – end of Lake Tauragnas. More than 300 years old, Varniškės II preserved its previous appearance. Barns with dry – houses, granaries and a smithy have remained since the 19th century. There are some very old trees in the village. The oldest oak and linden – tree are preserved as nature monuments.
SALOS II. Two villages have the name of Salos. Both of them are located in the peninsula surrounded by lakes Asalnykštis, Linkmenas, Alksnas and Alksnaitis. The only way to the peninsula is from Antalksnė. Historical sources show the family of Kudabos had been living in the Salos II settlement, which latter grew up into a village. Descendants of this family currently live there. Due to the unique architecture, the village has been declared as a Cultural Reserve. Unfortunately only the dwelling and the granary survived from the 19th century. Other buildings were built in the beginning of the 20th century. It is possible to get there by foot from Ladakalnis crossing the bridge over the stream which connects the lakes.
DARŽELIAI. On the way to Antalksnė from Linkmenys, one branch – road to the left leads to Darželiai. One would find here no village, but only a few isolated farmsteads. There is the Linkmenys Mound right next to it. Local people sometimes call this mound “Pilalė”. It is the best place to observe the Benediktavas Landscape Reserve.
PALŪŠĖ. A village, which is the tourist center of the Aukštaitija National Park, was first mentioned in written sources in 1651. It still boasts an octagonal wooden church dating back to 1757.
Other places of Interest:
GINUČIAI. It is believed that Ginučiai Hill was the setting for Linkmėnai Castle, which was destroyed by the knights of the Sword in 1373. The hill has recently been cleaned up, and steps have been constructed on its slopes. From the top of the hill there is a nice view of the surroundings area. There is an old water-mill in Ginučiai which people say is known for the pranks of devils. Apparently, evil spirits used to spill bags of grain and steal horses from people who were riding by…
Not far from Ginučiai looms the famous LADAKALNIS – a hill among the lakes which serves as a unique survey tower. From the top of the hill, there are lakes separated by bluish folds of forests as far as the eye can see.
You can look around the Miller”s Museum arranged in an old 19th century water mill. If you are brave enough you can check whether devils are still living there.
The Town of Ignalina, the administrative center, is located 110 km. from Vilnius and 63 km. from Utena. The name is connected to a legend about lovers Ignas and Lina from a Lithuanian folk tale.
Region was populated during the Stone Age, with remnants from early camps discovered throughout the countryside. On the Rudakampis Peninsula, stood wooden castle, burnt by the Crusaders in the 12th century. Near the Winter Sports Center, there are mounds (9-12th century), which according to the legends were “poured together with the caps of Napoleon’s soldiers. “
When Lithuania was under Russian rule in the 19th century, the Russian emperor ordered a railway line built from St. Petersburg to Warsaw via Vilnius. Ignalina became an important railway station in the1860’s, which triggered a dynamic development of the region. During the World War I, Germany required that another railway line be built from Ignalina towards the front line.
Unfortunately, the old Jewish Synagogue and Orthodox Church, as well as a wooden railway station (built in 1886) have not survived. Therefore, the oldest building here is the stone tower of the railway station, dating back to 1872.
Now Ignalina and the District encompass over 200 lakes. The City is surrounded by lakes, and topped with the forested Vilkakalnis Hill (208 m), upon which are TV and fire towers. Small roads and trails connect the lakes and nearby forests.
The Ignalina Region is a miniature version of Lithuania, with 1/3 of the area covered with beautiful forests and with over 200 lakes, filled with 30 varieties of fish. Opportunities for both summer and winter recreation are unlimited. The largest portion of the Aukštaitija National Park, founded in 1974 to protect the Eastern Lithuanian natural, cultural and historical heritage, is located here. There are also 12 regional parks and 4 unique historical villages.
ATTRACTIONS of Ignalina:
Ignas and Lina Memorial – 5 m. wooden sculpture carved by G.Černius depicting the legend of Ignalina
Memorial Cross to the Exiled (near the train station) -19 m. wooden sculpture carved by J. Jakštas
Ethnocultural Center (Taikos 11) – traditional and contemporary folk art exhibits, historical information. Sales gallery and handicraft shop.
St.Mary’s Church (Bažnyčios a.) – noted modern structure designed by R. Krištapavičius.
Public Beach (Gavys Lake, Turistų g.) – sand, large docks, water slide and food concession.
Lithuania Winter Sports Center (Sporto g.) – Beach and boat rentals on Žaliasis (Siekštys) Lake; tennis courts; 7.5 km. paved hiking, bicycle and ski trail, 50 m. ski jump; 50 m. downhill ski slopes with 130 m. tow and 278 m. trail; café and overnight accommodations. Ski and boat rentals available.
TARZAN, 1 km. north on east side of road to Visaginas. Residence of Lithuania’s own Tarzan who tells educational stories and demonstrates his skills in nature and photography.
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Visaginas.
Library (Atgimimo – located in a former church), interesting woodwork, reading room.