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A Worldwide Journey Across Cultures, Flavors and Art

GLORIOUS MEDIEVAL CAPITAL CITIES OF ESTONIA, LATVIA AND LITHUANIA; BALTIC STATES

Estonia, Tallinn, Old Town

Latvia, Riga, Doma Laukums

Lithuania, Curonian Spit, Sand Dunes

Lithuania, Vilnius, St. Anne's Church

Travel Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive Tallinn, Estonia

There are direct flights to/from Tallinn, Estonia from the European hubs of Amsterdam and Frankfurt.  We arrive to Vilnius Airport, meet our driver and transfer to our hotel.  We check in the hotel, then walk to the nearby Town Hall Square to sample Estonian cuisine.  Note: We use one single company to schedule all the transfer services (car and driver) for our Baltic States Itinerary.        

Day 2 – Tallinn, Estonia 

In the morning, we take a short trolley ride to the Kadriorg Palace, a historic residence of the Russian Emperor.  We visit the Kadriorg Art Museum and the surrounding palatial park.  After visiting for a few hours, we return to Tallinn’s Old Town, admiring its medieval City Walls and the Town Hall Square.  We visit the 15th century Town Hall Pharmacy, then climb the Town Hall Tower to enjoy panoramic views of the city.  A stroll on Pikk Street showcases the ancient merchant houses and passes by the Maiasmokk Café, a lovely venue for a light meal and dessert.  After lunch, we visit the 13th century St. Nicholas’ Church, then walk to Toompea Hill.  The quaint cobblestone streets guides us to the Toompea Castle and the nearby Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  A short walk to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform rewards us with the lovely views of Tallinn’s red rooftops and the Gulf of Finland in the distance.  In the evening, we sample Estonian cuisine in the Old Town before returning to our hotel.

Day 3 – Arrive Riga, Latvia

We schedule transfer services (car and driver) to travel from Tallinn in Estonia to Riga in Latvia.  We depart Tallinn at 8:00am and arrive in Riga around noon.  We get settled in our hotel, then walk to the Ratslaukums (Town Hall Square) and have lunch in the Old Town.  We stroll through the square, discovering the historic House of Blackheads and the medieval St. Peter’s Church.  We walk to the Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square) to see the lavish pastel colored houses and the Riga Dome Cathedral.  A pathway toward the Pils Laukums (Castle Square) passes by the historic Riga Castle, the official residence of the President of Latvia.  At the nearby Bastejkalns Park, we explore the quaint pathways, bridges and fountains, then take a leisurely cruise along the Pilsētas Kanāls (City Canal) and Daugava River.  After the cruise, we visit the nearby Freedom Monument, then return to Town Hall Square for dinner. 

Day 4 – Riga, Latvia; Arrive Palanga, Lithuania 

In the morning, we go to the Old Town’s main square, hosting an outdoor artisan market.  Next, we walk 20 minutes to the Esplanade Park to visit the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral and the Latvian National Museum of Art.  The nearby Elizabetes Street and Alberta Street showcase a spectacular collection of Art Nouveau Architecture.  We return to the main square and have lunch at a seafood restaurant, serving local fish specialties.  In the afternoon, we schedule transfer services (car and driver) to travel from Riga in Latvia to Palanga in Lithuania (approximately 4 hours).  We get settled in our hotel in Palanga, then walk to the Bridge of Palanga for its views of the Baltic Sea, and walk to Basanaviciaus Street to have dinner.  

Day 5 – Palanga, Klaipeda, Curonian Spit (Lithuania)

Today, we schedule transfer services (car and driver) for the whole day.  In the morning, we drive to the center of Palanga to rent bicycles, then visit the Gothic structure of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Church.  We ride bicycles on Basanavičiaus Street, then follow the cycling routes on the Meilės Alėja toward the Botanical Gardens and the Tiškevičiai Palace. We visit the Palanga Amber Museum and its surrounding gardens.  We return our bicycles in Palanga, then drive half an hour to Klaipėda to visit its historic Old Town and the picturesque Old Castle Harbour.  We drive to the Port of Klaipėda to take a quick ferry to Smiltynė, a village on the Curonian Spit.  We drive south to visit the seaside resort village of Juodkrantė and the nearby Raganų Kalnas (Hill of Witches), a wooden sculpture park.  At the most southern part of Lithuania’s Curonian Spit is Nida, a charming resort town with colorful wooden architecture.  We visit the Parnidis Dune to admire the wild beauty of the Curonian Spit.  We take the ferry back to Palanga and enjoy a relaxing dinner.  

Day 6 – Trakai Island Castle; Arrive Vilnius, Lithuania

We schedule transfer services (car and driver) to travel from Palanga in Lithuania to Vilnius in Lithuania, including a stopover in Trakai, Lithuania.  We depart Palanga at 8:00am and arrive in the village of Trakai at around 11:30am.  We explore Trakai’s wooden architecture, browse for souvenirs and have lunch at a restaurant serving the regional Karaites cuisine.  We visit the restored Trakai Island Castle set along Lake Galvė, listening to the tales of Lithuania’s historic battles with the Teutonic Knights.  We take a leisurely cruise on Lake Galvė, admiring the beauty of the Trakai National Historical Park.  After our visit, we drive half an hour to our hotel in Vilnius Old Town and enjoy a delicious dinner in our hotel’s Restaurant Telegrafas.     

Day 7 – Vilnius, Lithuania

We step outside to the Cathedral Square and visit the 13th century Vilnius Cathedral, its bell tower and the crypts.  We climb to the Gediminas Tower, the remaining 13th century castle and explore the Vilnius Castle Museum.  Atop the hill, we admire the views of the Old Town and the Hill of Three Crosses.  We walk back to the Cathedral Square, then follow the narrow streets to Vilnius University and visit its historic courtyards.  We stroll by the Presidential Palace, the official office of the President of Lithuania, then visit the nearby St. Anne’s Church.  Next to St. Anne’s Church, the statue of Adam Mickiewicz symbolizes a historic gathering place of the Lithuanians protesting against the Soviet Occupation.  We have lunch at the high-end Stikliai Restaurant, located in the Stikliai Hotel.  After lunch, we walk to the Dawn Gate (Aušros Vartai), an important religious pilgrimage site.  We wander around the Old Town, discovering its architecture, lovely cafes and restaurants serving traditional Lithuanian cuisine for dinner. 

Day 8 – Vilnius, Lithuania Departure

After breakfast, we transfer to Vilnius Airport to take our international flight home.

Estonia, Tallinn, Kadriorg Palace

Latvia, Riga, House of Blackheads

Lithuania, Klaipėda, Old Castle Harbour

Lithuania, Curonian Spit, Raganų Kalnas

Special Places

Tallinn, Estonia – Estonia, a country in North-Eastern Europe, borders Russia by the Lake Peipus, Latvia, Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea.  Estonia’s close proximity to Scandinavia impacts its culture, cuisine, language and economy.  Estonia’s topography is defined by its long Baltic Sea coastline, abundant lakes and winding rivers.  Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is a beautiful seaport along the Baltic Sea.  Tallinn’s Old Town, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has winding cobblestone streets and preserved medieval architecture, dating back to the 13th century.  A short trolley ride or a relaxing stroll from the Old Town takes visitors to the picturesque Kadriorg Park, the palatial park with flower gardens, museums, sculptures, ponds and palace.  The Kadriorg Palace is a historic residence of the Russian Emperor Peter the Great and his wife Catherine I.  The baroque palace with multi-colored façade houses the Kadriorg Art Museum.  The expansive gardens and courtyard create a beautiful setting for the nearby Presidential Palace that serves as the President’s Office and residence.  The park’s walking pathways run along pretty gardens, fountains and the surrounding forest.  After the visit, we return to Tallinn’s Old Town, admiring its preserved limestone City Walls encircling the Old Town.  The City Walls are medieval fortifications built as a defense against enemy invasions.  The towers and entryways are magnificent symbols that greet visitors arriving in the Old Town.  The Town Hall Square is the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, defined by pastel colored buildings with classic red rooftops.  In different seasons, the market square hosts various festivals, holiday markets and lively outdoor cafes.  The Tallinn Town Hall, the oldest town hall in the Baltic States, serves as a museum and concert hall.  The Town Hall is designed in Gothic style, displaying the emblem and a dragon head extending from its structure.  We climb the Town Hall Tower to admire the panoramic views of the Old Town and its red rooftops.  The Town Hall Pharmacy, both an operational pharmacy and a museum, dates back to the 15th century.  A stroll on Pikk Street reveals ancient merchant houses, such as the Gothic style houses of Three Sisters, the unique façade of the House of the Blackheads and the historic Maiasmokk Café, preserving its martsipan making traditions.  The medieval architecture is visible in the 13th century St. Nicholas’ Church (Niguliste Kirik), used today as a museum and a concert hall.  A visit to the limestone Toompea Hill (Castle Hill) reveals Tallinn’s political, cultural and religious symbols.  The cobblestone streets take us atop the hill to the Toompea Castle, a magnificent medieval fortress that presently houses the Riigikogu, Estonia’s Parliament.  The nearby Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a grand Russian Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod and the Estonia’s defeat of the Teutonic Knights.  The cathedral is an impressive structure with onion-domed cupolas topped with gilded iron crosses.  A short walk to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform presents views of Tallinn’s red rooftops and the Gulf of Finland in the distance.      

Riga, Latvia – The Republic of Latvia, a country situated in North-Eastern Europe, borders Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania, and is bound to the west by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga.  Latvia’s topography is defined by forests, nature reserves and a large network of rivers, including Daugava River, its largest.  The Gulf of Riga provides a picturesque setting for Riga, Latvia’s seaport and capital city.  Riga’s Old Town retains its medieval heritage with its cobblestone alleys, historic squares and magnificent churches.  The pedestrian pathways guide visitors along its historic sites, lively squares, tranquil parks and waterways.  The Ratslaukums (Town Hall Square) is a reconstructed square (the original square was destroyed during the World War II), featuring the House of Blackheads, stunning building that belonged to the guild of unmarried merchants.  The nearby St. Peter’s Church, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Lutheran church with a tall tower.  A walk to the Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square) reveals the quaint cobblestone square with the lavish pastel colored houses.  Located in the square, the Riga Dome Cathedral displays a multi-architectural style and serves today as a concert hall.  A stroll toward the Pils Laukums (Castle Square) takes us to the historic Riga Castle.  The Riga Castle is set on the bank of the River Daugava and serves as the official residence of the President of Latvia.  A visit to the Bastejkalns Park offers a tranquil space with winding pathways, small bridges, pretty fountains and the City Canal.  The Pilsētas Kanāls (City Canal) is Riga’s defensive moat dug in medieval times to protect the city against invaders.  At the Bastejkalns Park, we take a leisurely cruise along the City Canal and the Daugava River, admiring Riga’s architecture.  A walk to the Freedom Monument reveals the marble obelisk with a woman holding gold stars, symbolizing Latvia’s fight for freedom.  The manicured gardens at the Esplanade Park provide a lovely setting for the Latvian National Museum of Art and the Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral, featuring a Neo-Byzantine style.  Riga has an astonishing collection of Art Nouveau Architecture.  A walk along Elizabetes Street and Alberta Street showcases magnificent houses with intricate designs decorating their façades.

Vilnius, Lithuania – The Republic of Lithuania, a country in North-Eastern Europe, borders Poland, Kaliningrad in Russia, Belarus and Latvia.  Lithuania, one of the three Baltic States, is set on the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea.  Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and the heart of the country.  The Neris River runs through Vilnius, creating a natural separation between the Old Town and the modern new city.  Vilnius Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a beautiful medieval town with an impressive architecture, monuments and churches.  Situated in the Cathedral Square, Vilnius Cathedral was established in the 13th century and is the symbol of the Catholic Religion in Lithuania.  The cathedral exhibits a Neo-Classical façade with large columns and a free standing bell tower.  Kings, prominent royals and the Grand Duke of Lithuania are buried in the crypts of the Vilnius Cathedral.  A pathway from the Cathedral Square guides us to the Gediminas Tower to visit the remaining 13th century castle and the Vilnius Castle Museum.  Atop the hill, there are sweeping views of the Old City and the Hill of Three Crosses, a symbol of hope.  After descending back to Cathedral Square, we follow charming alleyways along historic buildings, churches and shrines.  Arriving at Vilnius University, one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe, we explore its many courtyards, displaying various architectural styles: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classic.  The Presidential Palace dates back to the 14th century and is the official office of the President of Lithuania.  St. Anne’s Church, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Roman Catholic Church and a Gothic masterpiece constructed with red clay bricks.  According to the legend, the Emperor Napoleon admired so much the beauty of the church that he wanted to take it back to Paris “in the palm of his hand”.  Next to St. Anne’s Church, the statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the famous Polish writer and poet, symbolizes the gathering place of the Lithuanians protesting against the Soviet Occupation.  The historic importance of the Virgin Mary as the protector of Vilnius is visible at the remaining gate of the city walls.  The Dawn Gate (Aušros Vartai) is the city gate and a pilgrimage site for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox worshipers.  Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn Sanctuary exhibits the portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  An excursion to Trakai, a charming town situated southwest of Vilnius, enchants visitors with the restored Trakai Island Castle set on Lake Galvė.  The visitors to Trakai learn about Lithuania’s historic battles with the Teutonic Knights, take a leisurely cruise on the Lake Galvė and sample the regional Karaites cuisine.    

Lithuanian Coastline – Lithuania’s Baltic Sea Coastline is a biodiverse ecosystem, distinguished by white sand beaches, sand dunes, meadows, wetlands and pine forests.  In season, the coastline serves as a natural migration route for a large population of diverse birds.  The Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a thin sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon to the east and the Baltic Sea to the west.  The northern portion of the Curonian Spit belongs to Lithuania, while the southern portion is part of Russia.  The coastal towns and villages are a prime tourist destinations from May to September.  Palanga is Lithuania’s largest and the most popular seaside resort town, best explored on bicycle.  We rent bicycles and visit the Gothic structure of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, then continue to Basanavičiaus Street, lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes.  We arrive at the Bridge of Palanga to admire the long stretch of white sand beach and the Baltic Sea.  The cycling routes run along a beautiful forest and the Botanical Gardens to the Tiškevičiai Palace, hosting the Palanga Amber Museum.  South of Palanga, Klaipėda is a historic German town that became part of Lithuania.  Klaipeda’s Old Town has a German style architecture, art statues and quaint cafes along the Danė River.  We stroll to the picturesque Old Castle Harbour where once stood the medieval castle tower.  Next, we drive to the Port of Klaipėda to take a quick ferry to Smiltynė, a village on the northern part of the Curonian Spit.  Farther south of the Curonian Spit, the seaside resort village of Juodkrantė enchants visitors with its magnificent white sand beaches.  The nearby Raganų Kalnas (Hill of Witches) is a sculpture park with a large collection of carved wooden statues depicting Lithuanian legends.  A nearby pathway guides us to the lookout point in the forest to observe large colonies of cormorants and grey herons nesting on the tops of the trees.  An excursion farther south takes us to Nida, the most southern part of Lithuania’s Curonian Spit.  Nida, a charming tourist town, is adored for its colorful wooden houses, beautiful beaches, golden sand dunes and laid back atmosphere.  The Parnidis Dune overlooks the wild beauty of the Curonian Spit.

Lithuania, Trakai Island Castle

Lithuania, Trakai Island Castle

Lithuania, Trakai Island Castle

Lithuania, Trakai Island Castle

Favorite Adventures

Trakai Island Castle – Trakai is a historic town situated approximately 30 kilometers southwest of Vilnius. The Trakai Island Castle, set along the picturesque Lake Galvė, is a popular day trip destination. The Trakai National Historical Park encompasses picturesque lakes, islands, forests, villages and the historic town of Trakai. A few boats are docked on the shore of the Lake Galvė, offering tranquil cruises along the lake and the surrounding islands. A small bridge serves as the pathway to the Trakai Island Castle. We visit the castle’s main courtyard and the interior chambers, observing its artifacts and symbols. In the afternoon, we walk to the historic town of Trakai, pausing at the wooden stalls selling regional souvenirs and handcrafts. Karaite Street is the main street of this small town, distinguished by its traditional wooden architecture and restaurants serving the regional Karaites cuisine. We sample the specialty of Kibinai, savory pastries filled with different types of meat with onions, mushrooms, cheese, or other tasty fillings. After our visit, we return to Vilnius.

Estonia, Tallinn, Smoked Baltic Herring, Kama

Estonia, Tallinn, Grilled Baltic Herring

Latvia, Riga, Blood Sausage

Lithuania, Vilnius, Cepelinai

Selected Cuisine

Estonian Cuisine – The Estonian cuisine is a combination of simple peasant food and culinary influences from its Scandinavian and European neighbours.  The grains, fish, meat and dairy products are the staple foods in Estonia.  At breakfast time, we sample a Semolina Porridge, light, flavorful and aromatic.  Baltic Herring, grilled, smoked or marinated, is very popular in the Baltic States and in Scandinavia.  In Tallinn’s Old Town, we sample different Estonian food, including a delicious Elk Liver Pâté served with fresh bread.  Yet, our favorite food is the Rye Bread, a nutritious dark brown bread made from fermented rye flour, an essential accompaniment in Estonian and Eastern European cuisines.   

Latvian Cuisine – The Latvian cuisine is enriched by its diverse ingredients, such as grains, potatoes, meat, fish, wild mushrooms and forest berries.  The Grey Peas (Pelēkie Zirņi), a Latvian specialty, are brown-colored legumes, traditionally prepared with bacon and onions.  In the Old Town of Riga, we sample delectable grey peas made with bacon, onions, celery and kefir.  The Blood Sausage is another Latvian dish, traditionally made with buckwheat groats, pork blood and spices.  Across Europe, blood sausage recipes differ in cooking style and types of ingredients.  In Riga, we degust a delicious blood sausage flavored by apples, adding a subtle fruit flavor to a hearty dish.

Lithuanian Cuisine – Lithuania has an ample supply of potatoes, grains, root vegetables, mushrooms and wild berries.  Potatoes are a primary ingredient in many Lithuanian dishes.  Cepelinai, a national dish of Lithuania, are dumplings made with grated potatoes, traditionally stuffed with minced meat and served with bacon and a sour cream sauce.  In the charming town of Trakai in Lithuania, the Karaites are a small minority community known for its excellent cuisine.  The Kibinai are savory pastries filled with meat and onions, or other tasty fillings.  We select the Kibinai stuffed with wild mushrooms that perfectly unify all the flavors.  The Kisiel (Kisielius), a popular Eastern European fruit dessert, is made with fresh or frozen fruit, water and potato flour.  While exploring Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius, we drink a nectarous Cranberry Kisiel made from fresh cranberries.

Estonia, Tallinn, Hotel Telegraaf

Estonia, Tallinn, Hotel Telegraaf

Latvia, Riga, Grand Palace Hotel

Latvia, Riga, Grand Palace Hotel

Preferred Accommodations

Hotel Telegraaf (Tallinn, Estonia) – In the heart of Tallinn, Hotel Telegraaf is housed in an impressive building built in 1878.  This elegant hotel is located on Vene Street, within walking distance to historic sites, restaurants and cafes.  The collection of tastefully decorated rooms and suites offer luxury, relaxation and views of the Old Town’s architecture and cobblestone streets.  In the morning, the scrumptious breakfast buffet offers a selection of regional dishes.  In the evening, Tchaikovsky Restaurant serves a superb cuisine, inspired by Russian, French and Estonian culinary styles and ingredients.  Hotel Telegraaf epitomizes the European charm, elegance and style.

Grand Palace Hotel (Riga, Latvia) – The Grand Palace Hotel is a lavish boutique hotel, situated on a quiet street leading to Riga’s Old Town.  The hotel’s original building was used by the Central Bank of Latvia.  The Grand Palace Hotel charms guests with its beautiful building façade, luxurious accommodations and exclusive location.  The hotel offers a selection of rooms and suites, featuring an elegant décor, spacious setting and a relaxing atmosphere.  The lovely Restaurant Orangerie, open from morning to evening, prepares a delicious breakfast.  The Grand Palace Hotel is an exemplar of classic luxury in a historic Eastern European city.

Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius (Vilnius, Lithuania) – In Vilnius Old Town, the Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius epitomizes luxury, elegance and sophisticated style.  The hotel is housed in a restored historic building, situated on the Cathedral Square, within close proximity to all historic and cultural sites.  The collection of rooms and suites offers a stylish décor, spacious layout and views of the Old Town or of Cathedral Square.  A traditional English High Tea is served in Le Salon, the hotel’s stylish lobby bar and lounge.  The exclusive spa is a relaxing space with an indoor pool, steam saunas and quality spa treatments.  The Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius provides a taste of grandeur and luxury in the Baltic country.        

Gabija Hotel (Palanga, Lithuania) – Palanga is Lithuania’s popular seaside resort with an array of accommodations, such as resorts, bed and breakfast and private accommodations.  The Gabija Hotel, a modern and comfortable hotel, is situated within close proximity to the Baltic Sea, spectacular beaches and the center of Palanga.  Our selected Apartment with Balcony is situated on the higher floor and overlooks the surrounding forest.  The Gabija Hotel offers comfort and tranquility.

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