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Curonian Spit

Lithuania's and Russia's Shifting Dunes


Curonian Spit

Curonian Spit

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
The Curonian Spit is a site of shifting sand dunes that occupies territory in Lithuania and Russia. For Lithuanians, the Curonian Spit, its municipality Neringa, and the fisherman’s village (now resort) of Nida are desirable vacation destinations. The Curonian Spit is only accessible via ferry in Lithuania, and the country’s third-largest city, Klaipeda, acts as a gateway to the spit.

The Curonian Spit is a UNESCO-protected strip of land that separates a lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It is famous for its tall sand dunes, beaches, and pine forests, the latter of which were planted in an effort to reduce the effects of the shifting dunes on local populations. Hiking, sunbathing, bird watching, swimming, and cycling are all popular pastimes for visitors to the spit.

The spit was long inhabited by Baltic tribes who fished the waters of the Curonian Lagoon. The Spit was eventually invaded by Teutonic Knights, who built castles there to dominate their territory. Prussians found ways to industrialize the spit, and the destruction of its natural tree cover and other environmentally unsound practices deteriorated the stability of the dunes, which began to cover fishing villages. In the 19th century, reforestation efforts repopulated the spit with pine trees that help to maintain the integrity of the land and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Forest fires are a threat here; visitors can see where fires ravaged wooded acreage in the past.

How to Get to the Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is accessible by ferry from Klaipeda, and both vehicle transport ferries and pedestrian/cyclist ferries exist to take visitors to the spit. It’s possible to drive or cycle the length of the spit to view scenery, take a break in villages, or stop for smoked fish along the way. An entrance fee is required for those who travel beyond Smiltyne, officially a part of Klaipeda, where the Maritime Museum and Aquarium is located.

Villages on the Curonian Spit

Nida is the most famous village on the Curonian Spit. Its dunes, topped by a monumental sundial, are legendary in Lithuania and beyond. Small cottages in Nida are highly coveted by vacationers and must be booked months in advance. Locals also rent out rooms to those who prefer not to stay in a hotel.

Smiltynė is the northernmost settlement on the Curonian Spit. It is home to an aquarium, housed in a former fortress. Travelers in Klaipeda searching for a beach can go to Smiltynė, where the beach is wide and clean.

Juodkrantė, a former German resort town, is one of the larger villages on the Curonian Spit. Its Hill of Witches displays wooden sculptures depicting themes from Lithuanian tradition and fairy tales.

When to Visit the Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is most popular during the warm-weather months, when the sun and sand combine to create the relaxing atmosphere that vacationers seek. However, traveling on one of the shoulder seasons can be just as nice: an absence of tourists means you might have the dunes or the beach to yourself despite some wet or slightly chilly weather. How else can you get postcard-perfect photographs?

The Russian Side of the Curionian Spit

Not all of the Curonian Spit belongs to Lithuanian territory; the Kaliningrad Oblast includes the southern portion of the dunes in its territory. This part of the spit is not as well developed as in Lithuania. Rybachy’s 19th-century church and medieval cemetery are of interest, while Zelenogradsk is a popular location for wealthy Russians to build vacation retreats.
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