This day was for sure one of the highlights of our Lithuanian road trip. Lots of outdoor, sun, nature, wild life, a blend that we’re always looking for.
Being an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Curonian Spit is a unique and vulnerable, sandy and wooden 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 history of the Curonian Spit is dramatic: 5,000 years ago, a narrow peninsula (98 km in length and 0.4-3.8 km in width), the Great Dune Ridge separating the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon, was formed on moraine islands from sand transported by currents, and later covered by forest. After intensive logging in the 17th and 18th centuries, the dunes began moving towards the Curonian Lagoon, burying the oldest settlements.
At the turn of the 19th century, it became evident that human habitation would no longer be possible in the area without immediate action. Dune stabilization work began, and has continued ever since. By the end of the 19th century, a protective dune ridge was formed along the seashore to prevent inland sand migration, and the Great Dune Ridge was reinforced using trees and brushwood hedges. Currently, forests and sands dominate the Curonian Spit. Urbanized areas (eight small settlements) cover just about 6% of the land.
Since its existence, the Curonian Spit has been known as the ‘Lithuanian Sahara’ because of its constantly moving sand dunes. Some of its fishing villages used to be ephemeral, no less than 10 of them being known as having been consumed by the moving dunes. The former fishermen villages that still exist now have turned in the last century into famous resorts, leaving the fishing techniques and main source of income aside.
The Curonian Spit is one of Lithuania’s most important tourist attractions. Not that easy to reach (meaning you have to take a ferry boat to take you there) and a bit expensive to visit it (you have to pay an entrance fee, which is quite high if wanting to visit by car), still this place offers all you need for a perfect vacation: sandy beaches at the Baltic Sea (and yes, during July and August, on a good weather you can swim and relax in the sun), hiking and biking trails (quite easy ones, as the land is mainly flat, with no ups and downs), wild life watching, shady pine trees forests, a couple of resorts with lovely small guesthouses and nice restaurants serving mostly fish dishes. And all this in basically a small strip of land.
We spent a full day exploring the Curonian Spit, on a perfect sunny day, but next time we would for sure offer it a bit more time. Here are a few of the places we checked out :
The Dead (Grey) Dunes
Ranging up to 60 meters in height, the Dead Dunes have covered with their shifting sands, between 1675 and 1854, 4 villages and 2 cemeteries, when the dunes were traveling 0.5 to 15 meters per year.
As to not interfere too much with the existing ecosystem around these dunes, visitor access is restricted to built wooden paths. Even so, a few tones of sand change their position every day because of the people walking around.
There’s a path from next to the main road (where you can park your car or bike) taking you to the sea. For the last few hundred meters, you will have to take your shoes off and walk directly on the sand. Nice and relaxing workout for the legs.
Just outside Juodkrantė on the way towards Nida, there’s a big colony of herons and cormorants, with about 500 pairs of herons and 2000 pairs of cormorants nesting and living their daily life in and around the trees of the Garniu Hill.
Old fishermen villages
There are still a few inhabited villages on the Curonian Spit (not covered yet by the sandy dunes) which now mostly rely on tourism. Small colorful wooden houses, nice promenades by the sea, restaurants with summer terraces, forests nearby and lots of outdoors activities for every type of tourist.
We walked a bit around Nida and Judokrante. Nida is the main resorts of the Spit and it can get quite crowded during the summer months and weekends. Judokrante is more relaxed and perfect for a sunny afternoon.
The hill of Witches
After a heavy lunch in Judokrante, a good option to get back in shape is to have a walk in the forest towards the Hill of Witches. You will find nearly 100 carved wooden sculptures, illustrating Lithuanian folk tales. It’s a circular path through woods of about 30 – 40 minutes long.
Being a narrow strip of land between the waters of the Baltic Sea, seems quite normal to have some fish while on the Curonian Spit. There are plenty of restaurants around the main resorts. We stopped in Judokrante at the Zuvele Restaurant, a nice place with a summer terrace, perfect for the sunny afternoon we had. Lithuania has lots of smoked fish options, but also the jellied versions are to be tried.
Map of Curonian Spit: