This trip is the perfect introduction for first time visitors to the Baltic States. Explore the three capital cities, and enjoy a beer tasting and overnight stay at the historic Pakruojis country manor estate. Vilnius - Explore the city on foot and learn about Lithuania's troubled Soviet past at the KGB Museum Riga - Discover the old town and shop for food specialties at the huge Central Market Tallinn - See the stunning medieval architecture and go under the city walls in the Bastion Tunnels.
Arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital city, where you can get a first taste of the city's vibrant cafe and restaurant scene. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Vilnius at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Vilnius International Airport (VNO), which is about 10 minutes' drive. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the compact old town area on foot. The majority of visitors to the Baltic States will be surprised by the quality, variety and value of food and drink on offer. The majority is locally sourced and part of the regions heritage is being able to forage for food and make local brews. Walking through the forests you will see locals passing the time picking mushrooms and gathering berries. There are a lot of traditional restaurants, with influences from Germany and Russia. There's a wide variety on the menu including soups, casseroles, salads, meat and fish dishes. Beer is locally brewed and you can find light and dark beers, filtered or unfiltered all for a reasonable price. You can also find flavoured wines such as raspberry and cherry wine and each country has its own herbal liquor which is a popular after dinner tipple.
The Catholic influence on Vilnius is very evident from the numerous Baroque churches. By the turn of the last century, Vilnius also had an 80,000-strong Jewish community. However, by the end of World War II, it had been completely decimated. During our morning orientation walking tour of the capital, we'll visit the ancient university founded by the Jesuits - a centre of the Counter Reformation and a source of Lithuanian culture. We'll also see the cathedral and Church of the Dawn. In the newer part of Vilnius lies the main shopping street with the opera house, parliament building and a number of cafes. During our city tour we'll visit and enjoy the festive atmosphere at the biggest Christmas Market in the city, which is centred around the large Christmas tree in Cathedral Square. Here you can browse for traditional gifts and sample seasonal staples like herbal tea, mulled wine and pastries. This afternoon we'll visit the KGB Museum, which is located in the former KGB Headquarters and has exhibits documenting the crimes that were planned and committed from this very spot during Soviet rule. The displays show how the Lithuanians fought back to re-claim their independence and we'll be able to see the inner prison cell that has been preserved in the same condition as when the headquarters closed in 1991. As the perfect end to a day spent exploring the city we'll go to the Dziugas Cheese House for a tasting of a few typical Lithuanian cheeses accompanied by honey, jam and biscuits along with a glass of wine.
Our first stop this morning on our full day's journey will be at Trakai Castle set on an island in Lake Galve. Trakai is the former capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and this splendid red brick castle dates back to the 14th century. You'll have the opportunity to go inside to view some of the interesting museum exhibits that it houses including one on pre-war Lithuania. On some departures due to functions taking place it may not be possible to go inside Trakai Castle, so instead we will make an additional stop at Rundale Palace. Built in the 18th century by Anna Empress of Russia for her lover Count Biron. The architect, Bartholomeo Rastrelli, also built the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The 138 room palace is richly decorated and is an example of the fusion of German and Russian society. We continue our drive to Kaunas where we'll have free time for lunch. Kaunas was the country's temporary capital between 1920 and 1939 when Vilnius was forcibly annexed by the Poles. Situated in the heart of Lithuania, it is often regarded as the most characteristic city in the country. Many of its buildings date back to the 17th century, when the Jesuits bought tracts of land here and built a large monastery. Some buildings are older, with impressive examples of Gothic architecture. Later this afternoon we arrive at Pakruojis Manor where we will be spending the night. The manor consists of 34 buildings including the main house, a stable block, mill and perfumery all set in a beautiful park setting, which is now a living museum that shows how the residents and staff would have lived and worked in 19th century. You'll have the opportunity to explore these historic buildings before we have a traditional dinner and an included beer tasting - all brewed on site.
Before leaving Lithuania we'll make a stop at the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai where a vast number of rosaries and crosses adorn a small hill. Both German and Soviet troops in the past have tried to crush this symbol of national and religious fervour, but images of the Virgin and literally thousands of crosses always reappeared despite their best efforts to destroy them. This afternoon we'll arrive in Riga, Latvia's capital, and take an orientation walking tour. Most of the important sights in Riga are concentrated in a small area, so walking is the most effective way to explore. We will take in the Freedom Monument, Gunpowder Tower, Saint Jacob's Church and the city's cathedral. Buildings have been painstakingly restored over the last twenty years and commanding Gothic structures sit adjacent to Baroque and lavish Art Nouveau architecture.
This morning we'll visit Riga's huge and lively Central Market, which sells traditional produce, such as smoked fish, sauerkraut, pickled garlic and crusty cheeses. The rest of the day is free for you to discover more of the city. Riga is an old Hanseatic city on the banks of the Daugava River and is arguably the most beautiful in the Baltics. Its skyline is pierced with spires, towers and weather vanes, making the streets a joy to amble through. The Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum and Riga Castle are well worth a visit or you may choose to enjoy a long lunch in one of the many restaurants. Cheese and meat filled pastries served with wild berry preserves are popular, especially when washed down with a local beer or perhaps a glass of Riga Black Balsam, a traditional herbal liqueur and an acquired taste! The Christmas spirit really glows in Riga, making it the perfect place for us to spend Christmas Eve. The tradition of decorating Christmas trees began in the city way back in the 16th century and there's nothing quite like going to the exact spot where the first decorated Christmas tree once stood. This evening before dinner our Explore Leader will take us to visit the charming Riga Christmas Market where we can find a variety of local crafts and arts for sale. Here we'll enjoy a hot drink and a traditional sweet treat to keep us warm, as we stroll around the stalls. Tonight we will have a three course dinner at a local restaurant.
On Christmas Day morning we will bid farewell to Latvia and head for Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. After we've crossed the border we'll make a stop in the pretty seaside town of Parnu on the Gulf of Livonia. This Baltic coast spa resort has been popular with tourists since the 1830s with people flocking to its clean sand beaches and to revitalise in the Parnu Mud Baths. After time here for lunch we continue our journey to Tallinn; in total today's drive takes us around five hours. With just half a million citizens, Tallinn is not a sprawling metropolis. This adds to its charm, as it is easy to explore on foot, with minimal traffic. Famed for its medieval architecture, the Old Town is one of the best preserved Hanseatic city centres in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has a huge range of restaurants, pubs and wine bars and tonight to celebrate Christmas together we will enjoy a three course dinner at a local restaurant.
We will spend Boxing Day discovering Tallinn. Less than 100 kilometres across the water from Helsinki and midway between St. Petersburg and Stockholm, Tallinn has come under several different cultural influences since the first stronghold was built in the 10th century. Linguistically and economically, Estonia's closest ties are to Finland, despite the best efforts of other nations. In 1561, as a coveted trading port, it was seized by the Swedes and held for 150 years until the Russians took over and industrialised much of the medieval town. Perched on a hill overlooking the sea, we'll explore the cobbled Old Town on foot this morning. The colourful houses of the crooked streets reflect the German, Scandinavian and Russian periods of Tallinn's history. We'll walk through the quarter where merchants once traded and take in the historical and architectural highlights. The busy town square is a hectic mix of pavement cafes and shops, dominated by the 14th century Gothic Town Hall. The pink Parliament buildings and Toompea Castle lie near the imposing deep yellow Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This afternoon we'll take a tour to learn about the secrets of the white monks at the Dominican Monastery. In the Middle Ages the influence of the Dominican religious order was enormous, as the monks were the confessors of the kings. We'll be met by a monk at the monastery who will give us an insight into what it would have been like in the city and to be a monk in medieval times. There is almost no electricity in the monastery, so our tour will be conducted by candle light and, of course, we will get the chance to try the traditional monastery liqueur. After exploring the monastery we'll go to a well-known local cafe where we'll be taught how and have the opportunity to paint our own marzipan figure. Marzipan has been made in the city since medieval times and is an especially popular Christmas sweet that comes shaped like everything from bears to elves and from cats to mushrooms. Before enjoying a three course dinner at a local restaurant we'll go with our Explore Leader to the Christmas Market. Christmas time is wonderful in Tallinn with dozens of festive and seasonal attractions and at the market we can get into the festive spirit. The market is an absolute must-see attraction. It spreads out from the Town Hall Square where we can see the brightly lit Christmas tree that is surrounded by stalls shaped like little houses that are also all shining with Christmas lights and selling a variety of Christmas delicacies and folk craft products.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tallinn. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tallinn at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport (TLL), which is about 10 minutes' drive.
7 Break Fast(s) 4 Dinner(s)
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