Ten ways Lithuania will stir your wanderlust

With over a third of its land covered in forests, a culture deeply rooted in Paganism and a history of resistance Lithuania offers the most discerning traveller a rich travel experience. From foraged fine food to imposing street art here are ten ways Lithuania will stir your wanderlust.


Cold War history

It would be foolish to visit a Baltic state and ignore its past. The Cold War Museum, in a former missile base, in Plokščiai, is a poignant reminder of a dark age within our lifetime. The underground bunker was built by 10,000 Estonian soldiers in the rural village in a cloak of silence. Four R12 nuclear missiles, in heavily guarded vaults, placed here were aimed at Norway, Great Britain, Spain, West Germany and Turkey with the targets changing every three to four years. The museum offers a sobering insight and a reminder of the pointlessness of war.

Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit, extends 60km south of the town of Klaipeda down to the Russian border of Kaliningrad. It’s a long sand-dune separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast. The dunes here are amongst the highest drifting in Europe with an average height of 35 kiometers.  Pine forests and the Baltic sea coast as well as the dunes offer magnificent scenery that will take your breath away. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by both nations.


European Capital of Culture (2022) – Kaunas

It would be fair to say that Kaunas is the cultural capital of Lithuania. After all, it has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2022. In its more recent history the city has embraced street artists; buildings are adorned with impressive street art both in style and scale. To enjoy Kaunas it’s important to walk the streets; spot the pink elephant of love painted in honour of an unassuming Deima + Arwnas scribble left on the wall by a passer-by.

For a less pleasing experience there is also the Museum of Devils which displays hundreds of devil figurines, dolls and statuettes collected by Lithuanian painter Antanas Žmuidzinavičius between 1876 and 1966. It’s a fitting homage to Lithuania’s Pagan past. However, fear not as the displays are rather less scary than quirky.


Fine food movement

Lithuanian culture pivots around seasonal foraging. The new generation of chefs have taken this tradition and worked marvels in fine dining restaurants. Amandus Restaurant, in the Old Town, is at the forefront of all that is good. It was here that I experienced beetroot bread with citrus butter; something I cannot forget. Regular produce such as lamb, porcini mushrooms and goats’ cheese transformed by innovative molecular gastronomy made Amandus an exceptional dining experience.

Hill of Crosses

Arrive in Šiauliai to experience the enigmatic Hill of Crosses. The first crosses were placed here as an act of rebellion in 1836. An uprising against the Russian tsar had resulted in the slaughter of the local population. Lithuanians placed crosses in the former hill fort, after the confrontation, to remember the dead. During Soviet occupation, between 1944 – 1990, the regime bulldozed over the site at least three times. But Lithuanians travelled here to show allegiance to their identity. It is estimated that the hill has over 10,000 crosses left by generations. Unsurprisingly, it has evolved into a place of significance among Catholics and even been visited by Pope John Paul ll.

Hill of Witches

Folklore features heavily all over Lithuania. The Hill of Witches en route to Nida is an outdoor sculpture gallery near Juodkrante. Around 80 wooden characters linked to folklore are carved in the forest retelling stories of love, mythology and witch-craft. It’s a chilling yet curious place but worth a visit to appreciate the country’s deep connections to Paganism. The gallery takes less than 30 minutes to explore making the hill an exciting addition to a road trip.



Nida is the impossibly charming fishing village you must not leave Lithuania without visiting. German writer Thomas Mann was so smitten by the village that he kept a cottage here. Life centres around its port and marina. Brightly painted wooden houses with white picket fences, quiet leafy streets, beautifully low-key cafes and mere 2,385 residents will leave a stamp on your heart.

Head out for your fish supper around 6pm when local restaurants smoke their catch of the day. Sit around communal tables and enjoy the spirit of Nida. It’s wonderful hospitality and friendly locals will enchant you with stories of folklore and legends late in to the night.

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Trakai Island Castle

28 kilometers west of the capital Vilnius is the historic city of Trakai famous for its lake resort. Lake Galvé is home to Trakai Island on which sits a terracotta-hued 14th century castle. Trakai Island Castle, in the past, has fallen in to disrepair a fair few times. However, between 1946 and 1961 a major reconstruction project restored it to its former glory. A hot air balloon ride over Trakai’s 200 lakes, forests and castle offers mesmerising views and is the best way to appreciate its natural beauty.


Villa Dubgiris

Further north west in the district of Mazeikiai is Villa Dubgiris; a hunting lodge and sprawling estate complete with its own lake, woods and luxury accommodation. The two-storey restaurant serves a menu of mainly game, mushrooms and seasonal vegetables as well as an invigorating breakfast. A lake, boat house, bicycle rental and fishing offer a wonderful all-round outdoor experience. Inside, a spa and bathhouse on the premises is an opulent escape of tranquility rivalling the outdoors. You will need at least two nights here to really appreciate it.

Vilnius the capital city

If you only have a weekend in Lithuania Vilnius makes for a great short city break. It’s small in size and easy to navigate with a fine mix of culture and food. Cathedral Square and its distinctive bell tower are its most popular attractions. Another is the Church of St. Casimir; the oldest baroque building in the capital. The Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. Take a walk down to Užupis. It’s a labyrinth of cobbled lanes with a bohemian feel, artisan coffee shops and bakeries. The Old Town, in particular, makes for a wonderfully romantic get-away.








I was a guest of the Lithuanian State Department of Tourism. All opinions expressed are my own. For more information visit www.lithuania.it

Restaurants Week – Tallinn, Estonia

September 11th 2017 was the start of Restaurants Week in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. It is a week long celebration of good food and great restaurants. Over 50 restaurants took part in the event which showcased the culinary skills of the country’s chefs and introduced visitors to the variety of food on offer in the capital. During a short stay I visited three of the participating restaurants to sample their cuisine.

Restaurant Controvento

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

My first stop was Controvento Restaurant and Pizzeria. As the name implies it’s a little conflicting to find an authentic Italian restaurant serving great Italian food in the heart of Tallinn. However, locals have been enjoying this little gem since 1994.

The restaurant is spread over two floors. The ground floor where I enjoyed my meal was rustic in appearance and ambience. A low ceiling and a large fire place created the feeling of a Tuscan farm house. Upstairs, a more modern setting with bright lighting catered for groups of four or more.

What I Ate

Appetiser – Bruschetta

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

Now I am no food critic. As such, my simple test for Italian food is the unfussy dish of bruschetta. It also happens to be one of my favourite appetisers. I have tasted all of its incarnations many times over and, as such, have come to know that a well executed bruschetta will often lead you to a good Italian meal.

Controvento did just that. The bread was perfectly roasted and I could taste the garlic as I crunched into it. The olive oil blended wholly with the tomatoes and crunchy salt. I would have preferred more basil but combined with rocket leaves it was all utterly delicious. At €5.50 this was a great appetiser.

Main – Lasagne

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

Lasagne is a much more complex dish to judge. However, I can say that it was exactly as I like lasagne to be – thin layers of egg pasta which poise straight, slightly dry with a rich beef ragu and bechamel sauce. All of it topped with grated parmesan makes for a great lasagne in my book. Controvento’s lasagne was remarkably tasty and at €11.70 great value. I skipped dessert but enjoyed a glass of Sicilian Pinot Grigio (due to the absence of Malbec) which cost €6.

So if you happen to be in Tallinn, enjoy this wonderful Italian in the Latin Quarter of the Old Town where around €20 a head with a glass of house wine is a fantastic meal. Controvento is located in Katriina Kaik in the Old Town, Tallinn, Estonia.


On my second restaurant visit I felt that I had struck gold with Umami. The only setback was that the restaurant is on the outskirts of Tallinn with no ease of access. My drive there took around 40 minutes during rush hour. As a visitor to Tallinn it was a challenge to find the restaurant even with the best intentions. If you are visiting, take a taxi and let the driver do the searching for you. One thing I can promise is  that once you get there it’s all worth it.

Umami is a gorgeous blue wooden property evocative of an old colonial house of New Orleans. It’s set within an apple orchard which simply gives the experience a magical feeling. The interior of the restaurant is light and airy with an unmistakable Scandinavian sentiment. The open kitchen with full view of my food being prepared added a pleasing aspect to my dining experience.

Restaurant Week - Tallinn

What I Ate

Main – Quail with warm leek salad and romesco sauce.

I chose black bread with butter to start my meal. This typically Estonian rye bread was a wondrous surprise with a heavenly home baked feel. My main was quail, from a local farm, served with warm leek and lard salad served with spinach and romesco sauce. All the flavours of this dish came together so beautifully that I was tempted to order it all over again. Delicious! At a mere €15.50 for this plate I really should have!

Dessert – Vanilla panna cotta with passion fruit

I do believe that a good panna cotta is as good a dessert as any if you’re willing to ignore the quirks of restaurant fashions. It’s simple, tasty and slightly reminiscent of your favourite childhood dessert (anything that involved jelly and custard in my case).

Umami’s offering had a perfect consistency, just the right amount of sweetness and the passion fruit complimented without over powering. Flakes of wafers added a welcome texture. A marvellous panna cotta for just €5.50.

It’s also worth mentioning that Umami has a grate range of craft beers, fresh juices and an extensive wine and cocktail list. I accompanied my meal with a freshly made sea buckthorn lemonade (€2.90) which was delightful. It’s hard to believe that this entire meal came in at under €30 a head (without wine).

So when you’re in Tallinn with a craving for a sumptuous meal of locally sourced ingredients crafted into great dishes, make the trip to Umami. It is located in Kadaka Tee on the outskirts of the city.

Olde Hansa

My final evening in Tallinn was spent in the medieval themed restaurant Olde Hansa . It’s located in the Town Hall Square surrounded by all the tourist attractions. I had never been to a themed restaurant before this and was unsure what to expect.

The interior of the restaurant was dimly lit using only candles in keeping with the medieval theme. Due to the location of the restaurant it was brimming with eager tourists who were enthusiastically taking part in the experience. The staff were outstanding and exceptionally knowledgable about the dishes they were serving.

What I Ate

Appetiser – The Monk’s Bride

My appetiser was a shot of a fragrant warm alcoholic drink known as the Monk’s Bride. Its rich colour and taste was the perfect introduction to the main meal and most certainly kick started my taste buds. It was included as part of the experience but there was a range of appetiser shots to choose from.

Main – Himalayan Lamb Dish

This was a mountain people style hearty dish. Even though I couldn’t clearly see what was on my plate it was spicy and warming. Chunks of braised, tender lamb were served with rice, garlic and a rustic dumpling. I never expected a themed restaurant would serve such a full flavoured, appetising meal. But it did. I thoroughly enjoyed my medieval dinner. The dish was €16.40 and I felt it was great value for money especially when combined with the experience of a candle lit medieval theme. I accompanied my meal with a glass of Chilean Rioja which was €8. The meal cost under €25 a head and I was full for hours.

Olde Hansa is a great place for family dining as it offers a fantastic experience which combines good food with a fun atmosphere. It is located in the Town Hall Square of the Old Town.


You can find out more at www.tallinnrestaurantweek

Sundowners in Dubrovnik.

You can hardly open a newsfeed without seeing alluring pictures of Dubrovnik simply calling you to jump on a plane. The music festivals, the cruise ships and the tv series all keep this part of Croatia firmly on the tourist trails. According to the locals, ”The season” starts in February and ends in October. I am not a fan of big crowds or selfie sticks where they are not needed. So, being the maverick I am I travelled to Dubrovnik in January.

As I arrived around 10pm local time nothing was open and the streets were deserted. However, getting a taxi just outside the airport was easy and felt safe. My driver was remarkably chirpy for someone who was still working at 10pm.

As late as it was I could make out the coast line from the back of my taxi. The flickering lights of houses and hotels on the cliffs made the whole place seem magical. I was like a like a child on Christmas eve by the time I arrived at my hotel. I woke up to a view beyond my dreams. The sky seemed so close I could touch it. The sea was as calm as a lake and the rays of the sun filtered through the clouds. In the light of day I could see that the hotels and houses built on the cliffs had taken nothing away from it’s natural beauty. A real credit to the Croatians and a great lesson to the rest of us.

My hotel, Rixos Libertas, is a grand place boasting it’s own boutiques, gym, spa and indoor and outdoor pools. From anywhere in the hotel it was possible to see breath taking views of the Adriatic sea. The service here was amazing. No sleepy porters here! The staff have incredible local knowledge and are happy to help at any time of the day. Kudos to the chefs and the kitchen staff who turned out the most sumptuous feasts every evening despite it being out of season and the hotel having just a handful of guests. Standards never slipped.

The must see  sight in Dubrovnik is Grad or The Old Town. I won’t bore you listing all the things you should do and see here. As with all major tourist hotspots there are hundreds of guide books listing the same things over and over. What I will say however, is as a Unesco World Heritage site The Old Town is not just well preserved but a close knit hive of schools, offices, shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a buzzing metropolis. With the help of my map I walked around the Old Town in less than two hours. As it was out of season a few places on the map were closed or under renovation. But there was still so much to see.

The highlight of my walking trip was definitely St. Ignatius Church right at the very top of the old Town. It’s towering presence on the outside is no match for it’s humbling interior. Go in and sit for a while. Let it soak you in it’s history. The centuries old Baroque frescoes will draw you gently into their past until you find yourself searching in every crevice with child like wonder.

Walk down to the bottom of The Old Town and you will find the Serbian Orthodox Church. In Contrast to St. Ignatius the most striking feature of this church is it’s orchard. Stone corridors open out into the courtyard. The immaculate garden here is surrounded by trees heavy with oranges glistening in the sunshine even in January. In the summer months this place must feel like the garden of Eden.

Another highlight in Dubrovnik is its City Walls. Walking the city walls is a must. It takes around 40 minutes to complete but every minute spent up there is worth it. As the light changes you will be treated to spectacular views of Dubrovnik. On one side the view stretches from the coast across the ocean as far as the horizon. On the other side it starts at the edge of the city walls right up towards the mountains as far as your eyes can see. Just when you think this place couldn’t spoil you any more it does.

There is no shortage of places to eat in The Old Town. You can find coffee shops, restaurants and bars down any one of the narrow cobbled streets. Eating outside appears to be the norm. You cannot ignore the Mediterranean ambience of this place. Ever the maverick, I stopped off at a an Irish pub – The Gaffe! The staff were attentive and the coffee was perfect. However, the buzzy atmosphere and live football coverage means this is not the place for a quiet drink.

You will never be hungry in the narrow cobbled streets of Grad.

In the evening The Old Town simply comes alive. I stopped off for a sundowner at the Buza Bar. This you MUST do. I am a sucker for view of the sunset and have been known to sit and wait for hours! (Sad but true). The bar is set on a cliff side with a panoramic view of the sea. Entrance to the bar is through a literal hole in the wall hence it’s name (Buza means “hole” in the local dialect). This is also a local swimming spot when the weather is warmer if you’re that way inclined.

The thing I would most recommend doing in Dubrovnik is walking. Yes, walk! Walk as much as you can to really take this place in. Let it get under your skin. Or rather get under it’s skin. Talk  to the buskers, the teenagers kissing on benches, the strangers. Ask for directions and listen to the patient responses in return. Watch the kids play and  the adults laugh. Eat the pastries in the local bakeries along your walk. Drink the local wine. Do the things which aren’t listed in your guidebook. I guarantee you will not want to leave.


Demi xx

Travel tip: Go out of season and get the place to yourself. I travelled from London Gatwick on Croatia Airlines and stayed at the Rixos Libertas Hotel.