Lithuania is a country with rich history, beautiful scenery and Baroque architecture that will undoubtedly soon be a firm fixture on the destination hotlist. The small Eastern European nation joined the EU 10 years ago and is the home to the historic capital city of Vilnius. There are many charms lying within easy reach of Vilnius. One of the most popular day trips from the capital is to Trakai.
Trakai lies a quick 28 km (17 m) west of Vilnius Part of the pleasure of the journey there is the wild, lakeland terrain scattered with forested islands. The town sits sandwiched between the waters of lakes Totoriskis, Lukos and Galve. In medieval times it was the capital of Lithuania and home to the ruling Grand Dukes. The city is sprawled along the lake’s shoreline on finger-like peninsulas. Start your morning by exploring around the colorful wooden architecture, Baroque churches and multi-cultural stores and restaurants.
In the 13th century, Trakai was ruled by the father of Lithuanian society, Grand Duke Gediminas, and was a melting pot of nationalities including Lithuanians, Russians, Poles, Jews and a Turkish sect known as the Karaims, who still live there today. Find out all about their history while lunching on kibinai (spicy pasties) in one of the town’s Karaite restaurants.
After meandering around the town and eating lunch, head out to Trakai Island Castle, a confection of pink and red brick with defense walls and fortified towers that was built in the middle of Lake Galve by Grand Duke Kestutis in the 1430s. For several centuries it was the center of Lithuania’s political life but when the capital was moved to Vilnius in the 16th century, the castle slowly fell into disrepair. Today it has been restored to its full grandeur and is home to an inspiring history museum as well as a theater and the Trakai Medieval Festival, which takes place in June. If you’re visiting in summer, take a trip over to the castle on a brightly painted traditional wooden rowing boat, or if you’re there in winter, the castle looks particularly spectacular when Lake Galve freezes over and visitors can walk across.
For visitors staying a little longer than a day, Trakai sits among a landscape of rolling hills and more than 200 lakes and offers tons of activities. In the summertime, the city is a center for water sports like sailing, rowing and fishing in the summer, and is a year-around hiking and cycling destination. It is surrounded by the Trakai Historical National Park, protected for the marshlands and forest-fringed lakes formed during the last Ice Age, as well as its own position as the historical heart of Lithuania.
– Contributed by Sasha Heseltine