In the south-eastern part of Lithuania, between the forests and the wetlands, between the sandy hills and the lakes hidden in the woods, live the people of Dzūkija, who can boast of their old traditions, their remarkably preserved neighbourly customs, their love of the environment and all living things, and their mushrooms and berries. The authentic villages grouped together in the woods are an amazing opportunity to go back a century, feel the power of the forest, and immerse yourself in the tranquil, slow life of nature.
There is no mistaking the Dzūkian dialect. Even those who don’t understand Lithuanian will catch the constant sound of “dz”. There is a saying in Lithuania that “if the mushrooms and berries weren’t there, the girls of Dzūkija would all be bare”. And nobody gets angry about it because indeed – for many people in Dzūkija, the mushrooms that grow in the thick of the forests, the berries that ripen in the sunny glades, and the honey brought by bees are their business and life, and the thing that puts food on the table. Just like their hospitality, generosity and desire to show off the best of what they have in their region – nature, authentic crafts, and resounding songs. If you want to find out how people lived in wooden houses in nature’s refuge more than a hundred years ago, travel to Dzūkija.
One thing is for sure – the people of Dzūkija know how to put the gifts of nature on the table. And there is definitely a chance that you will be served what you don’t usually eat. Like maybe mushroom cheese! Don’t turn it down – the locals really do know how to prepare mushrooms and are not trying to kill you. They use them to make soup and stew, they fill pastries and dumplings with them, and they dry, cure, pickle, and marinate them in preparation for winter. In Dzūkija, be sure to try a banda – a traditional savoury cake made from potatoes or buckwheat and baked on a cabbage leaf. Look for a place where they are served straight out of a wood-burning oven. If you like it, ask for a piece of buckwheat babka to go with your forest tea – this is a sweet cake flavoured with honey.
People who live in Vilnius are sometimes surprised to be called Dzūkians. But in fact, Vilnius – as well as the nearby historical capital of Lithuania that is famous for its lakes, Karaim and Tartar dishes, and the beautiful Trakai Castle – are geographically located in the region of Dzūkija. You won’t be able to cover Dzūkija in a few days – save time for Baroque Vilnius and enjoy the tranquillity of Trakai, and only then travel on towards Alytus and Merkinė, and the resorts of Druskininkai and Birštonas, with their abundant mineral springs and fresh pine air. If you want to get some exercise and give your mind a rest, look around for boat or kayak rentals. A trip down the swift Ūla River could become the biggest adventure of your trip. And be sure to see for yourself what it means to pick a basket-full of wild blueberries in the forest on a hot summer day, or count the brown-capped bolete growing under an oak tree. If you dare – go to the marsh in the Čepkeliai Nature Reserve, which is one of the largest marshlands in Western Europe. Spectacular photos are guaranteed!
When Helen Mirren walks into her home as Catherine the Great in the new HBO mini series named after the famous Russian Empress, she’s not really in the actual rooms of the famed Tsarskoye Selo palace just south of Saint Petersburg. She’s actually in the historical Vilnius University Library in Vilnius, Lithuania. This and many more secrets are shared in a new guide entitled Vilnius On Screen. It’s a perfect read for those interested in what goes on behind the scenes of the latest productions by the likes of HBO, Netflix, National Geographic, Sky TV, and many more. The guide invites readers to take a deep dive into renowned film and television titles like War and Peace, Jack the Ripper, the Conductor, and more – and shows them how Vilnius provided the setting they needed to bring their stories to life.
Lithuanians drink amber tea, nettle wine, blueberry kvass and dandelion coffee, and they extract so much mineral water they can bathe in it. And, every spring, they drink juice from the trees.
Seasonal food is the main characteristic of Lithuanian cuisine. The sap from maple or birch trees has for a long time been the first natural treat of the year. The time to enjoy this slightly sweet nutritional drink, one sip of which embraces an entire waking forest, is the month of March.
Last year was a record one for the Lithuanian tourism sector. In 2018, 3.6 million tourists travelled in our country and spent at least one night here: of these, 1.7 million were people from abroad, while 1.9 million were from Lithuania.
It is now possible to travel back in time to when Vilnius was known as the Jerusalem of the North. Unlocking the Jewish cultural heritage deeply embedded into the city’s streets, buildings, and history has just become a lot easier thanks to the new free guide entitled, Discover Jewish Heritage in Vilnius.
Your urban birding can start right in the centre of the old town, that is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. While admiring the medieval architecture, also dish out equal admiration for the Black Redstarts that adorn many of the city’s pinnacles.