True Lithuania

Nature of Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuania is a lowland country. Its highest point is merely 294 m above sea level (in fact Lithuania is the world's largest country without locations above 300 m). The lack of mountains on the horizon is compensated by lush forests and countless lakes. There is lots of empty space and much of it is accessible as the law limits obstructions by land owners. With 55 people per square kilometer population density Lithuania is sparsely inhabited compared to the Western European heartland.

National parks

The most impressive scenery of every region is safeguarded in five national parks.

Curonian spit (Kuršių nerija) national park is rightfully the most famous one. This UNESCO-inscribed 98 km long narrow Baltic Sea peninsula, now spanned by two countries (Lithuania and Russia), is unique both naturally and culturally. The powerful dunes that used to bury entire fishermen villages were tamed by planting pine forests. Much of the both worlds remain, with endless possibilities for hiking, swimming, sailing and cycling as well as meeting some wild animals that roam the forests.

The sun is setting into the Baltic Sea over the dunes and pine forests of the Curonian Spit (picture from the top of Parnidis dune in Nida). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the opposite shore of the Curonian Lagoon there is the annually flooded delta of Nemunas, Lithuania's main river. The lower valley of this river, full of castles, is also beautiful. Both lack the National park status but are popular among naturalists.

The national parks of Aukštaitija and Samogitia are well known for their lakes. They receive many visitors in summer. Lake Plateliai in the Samogitian NP is the largest lake completely in Lithuania while Tauragnas of Aukštaitijan NP - the deepest (62,5 m). Aukštaitija has many lakes outside the national park area.

Dzūkija National Park in the southeast is covered by a dense forest. Population density there is mere 2 people per square kilometer. It is a popular place to gather berries and mushrooms as well as kayaking in its streams. Nearby Čepkeliai swamp is a great representative of yet another typical feature of Lithuanian landscape.

The fifth national park, Trakai, is dedicated to the historically important Trakai town rather than natural scenery. However, its numerous lakes are also popular among tourists especially because of their easy reach from Vilnius (27 km).

Pleasure boats in Lake Galvė in Trakai Historical National Park. As many Lithuanian lakes, Galvė is surrounded by woods and plains. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Unlike some of their Western counterparts the Lithuanian national parks are not completely devoid of human habitation. Homes do exist - such as the wooden fishermen huts in the Curonian spit. Limitations on new construction mean that the villages within the park limits remain more authentic.

Flora, fauna and natural activities

Nature-lovers will not be left without activity outside the National Parks as well. There are possibilities for active tourism - e.g. walking a physically demanding route through a swamp. Angling is very popular, including the winter angling through special holes drilled in the ice layer (ice thickness needs to be checked as there are casualties every year). Foraging is another popular pastime with berry picking prevalent in summer and mushroom picking in autumn (city dwellers may ride 100 km in train for accessing the best forests).

While driving you may see wild animals, including rabbits, foxes, boars, deers, elks and squirells. These encounters are not very common however - but birds are. Pašiliai European bison sanctuary (near Panevėžys) and Ventė ornithology station (Nemunas delta) are good fauna-watching locations.

The most common trees are pines, spruces, birches and alders (in that order), though oaks are especially venerated.

The cultural landscape of Lithuanian countryside is a guaranteed sight, with its roadside chapels and elaborate wooden crosses (Lithuanian cross making is part of UNESCO world heritage).

Map of the main natural wonders of Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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