|LITHUANIA - LATVIA - ESTONIA - FINLAND |
Framed by the Baltic Sea to the north and west and their former Russian rulers to the east, the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have cast off the shadows of the past and embraced a brilliant spirit of independence, honoring their rich history and heritage while looking ahead to a prosperous future. The capital cities of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn sit amid spectacular Nordic landscapes and offer a unique insight into Northern Europe that is like taking a trip back in time, walking down peaceful lanes, where the locals are friendly, the food is hearty, and beauty is found around every corner. From medieval towns to the splendid Art Nouveau showcases, from magnificent fairy-tale castles to seaside resorts, and from meticulously restored palaces to wide spaces filled with canola flowers and birch forests, there is a wealth of art, culture, and the natural beauty in the region that makes these hidden gems shine like no place else.
The capital cities of the Baltic region are often overlooked in favor of more common destinations, but while London, Paris and Rome may look picture-perfect on a postcard, Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn boast some of the best hidden architectural gems in Europe. Leisurely avenues replace bustling streets, and the old coexists in harmony with the new, from the starkly medieval to the sleekly modern, with monuments to multiple eras in between.
The Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania is unlike any other pilgrimage site in the world, a uniquely sacral place revered by people of all different nations and religions. The exact origin of the practice of leaving crosses here is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were left by the family of rebels killed in the November Uprising of 1831. Formed on Jurgaicia mound, considered a holy place, crosses began to appear in great numbers beginning in 1863, after the Tsarist authorities banned the placing of crosses by the roadsides and in cemeteries.
Since ancient times, Baltic amber, or the "gold of the North," has been used to make jewelry, perfumes, various ornamentation, and medicinal folk remedies, as it has long been touted for its analgesic and anti-oxidant properties. Considered by experts as the finest type of amber, it can range from bright yellow to brownish-orange, depending on its age and location of discovery; in rarer cases, the amber can be red, blue, green, or black. Rubbing produces an electrical charge, and burning the amber gives off a pleasant smell of pines.
Traditional Baltic Bathhouse
Since the 19th century, the Baltic region has been home to sauna traditions that remain popular today, a ritual that can’t be missed when visiting. Bathing is done to alleviate stress, meant to cleanse the spirit as much as cleansing the body, and herbal therapy is a way to maintain both physical and mental well-being. While Scandinavian saunas are typically dry air bathhouses with very low humidity, Baltic saunas are usually wet air or steam bathhouses with built-in chimneys and a stove as the main heat source.
The Singing Revolution
Singing is a tradition firmly rooted throughout Baltic culture, as evidenced by practices such as the Estonian Song Festival, begun in 1869 and initially promoted as a means of encouraging Estonian as the national language. Beginning in the 1940’s, however, Soviet occupation of the Baltics forbade patriotism through art and song, and public performances were heavily censored. While the Song Festival was allowed to continue under the strict Soviet eye, Estonians slipped a sense of nationalism through the censors by singing Communist-approved lyrics set to melodies handed down through generations of choral tradition...
Cuisine in the Baltic States
Lithuanian cuisine is meant to keep you warm in the cold climate, relying upon hearty foods such as potatoes, rye bread, meat and dairy products. Fish recipes can be found in seaside areas, but pork is the meat of choice, followed by beef and chicken. Cepelinai (zeppelins): The national dish of Lithuania, originally called didzkukuliai but changed in the 20th century because of their resemblance to zeppelin airships. Cepelinai dough is made with potatoes, and the filling is pork with sour cream and bacon sauce. Vegetarian versions are also available.
Shopping in the Batlics States
Amber is the national gem of Lithuania, and can be found in plentiful quantities throughout the country. Sold as both uncut chunks and carefully crafted ornamentation, Baltic amber makes for fine jewelry as well as purportedly carrying healing properties. Honey is holy according to Lithuanian mythology, and it’s a popular edible souvenir in addition to hard white cheeses with caraway seeds and herbs, as well as Lithuanian black bread and local biscuits. If you’re looking to quench your thirst, starka is a traditional, slightly sweet vodka made from rye; mead is a high-quality local favorite.
10 Days / 9 Nights
Tour starts in Vilnius and ends in Tallinn
This tour may be combined with the Imperial Russia tour