21st October 2018

Palanga, the Summer Capital of Lithuania

Palanga, the Summer Capital of Lithuania

Palanga on the west coast of Lithuania was founded by a Polish-Lithuanian Count, a member of the Tiškevičiai dynasty. The family had land in both Poland and Lithuania including most of the land that surrounded what was then a small fishing village named Palanga. Around the mid-nineteenth century they used Palanga as a summer retreat and built some splendid wooden villas there including their Palanga Mansion. Many of these wooden villas can still be seen today. When Lithuania achieved independence in 1990 a Register of Immovable Cultural Heritage Properties of the Republic of Lithuania was created and many of these lovely villas were added to this register ensuring their protection. Several of them have been restored and are now being used as restaurants, hotels and residences. All these villas were given names, mostly romantic, which they still retain today. For example, Villa Romeo that stands beside Villa Juliet.
Villa Romeo and Villa Juliet in Palanga, Lithuania 0110
Villa Romeo and Villa Juliet in Palanga, Lithuania

Count Feliksas Tiškevičiai was governor of Palanga from 1891 until 1940. He decided to make Palanga his home and built many more villas and was also responsible for improving the amenities of the town. This including funding the construction of the grandiose, neo-Gothic Most Holy Virgin Mary’s Ascension Church. When this brick church was completed in 1907 it replaced the small wooden Catholic church that had served the town for 140 years. The old wooden church was subsequently demolished. At seventy-six metres high the church is still the tallest building in Palanga and it is generally accepted that no building in town should rise above it.
Roman Catholic Church in Palanga, Lithuania  0004
Roman Catholic Church in Palanga, Lithuania

The whole church is open to the public, including the belfry, so I climbed up the steps to savour the views of the town below from my elevated position. On my way back down I stepped on to the balcony where the organ is situated. This gave me a good view of the nave below with its impressive pulpit.
Inside the Roman Catholic Church in Palanga, Lithuania  0011
Roman Catholic Church in Palanga, Lithuania

After leaving the church I started the long walk along Jonas Basanavičius street. This is the main street in the town and goes straight down to the sea. Everything happens on this wide thoroughfare from cultural museums to hotels, restaurants and a lively night club. I stopped to admire the pretty, pale yellow wooden Villa Priestess (also called Lilliputian) which I assumed had been built by Count Felix. It had not. A priest bought the plot of land from the count and built the villa for his sister in 1936. It is probably one of the smallest buildings in Palanga to be classified as a villa. Today this villa houses the Exile and Resistance Museum. This museum tells the story of the struggle for independence in Lithuania.
Exile and Resistance Museum in Villa Vaidilutė in Palanga, Lithuania 0048
Exile and Resistance Museum in Villa Priestess in Palanga, Lithuania

Further along the street I came across Villa Aldona, the family Palanga Mansion that was inherited by Count Feliks. Aldona was a fictional character created by the poet Adomas Mickevičius during a visit to Palanga. The one-storey villa “Aldona” was decorated with wood carvings and had spacious open gazebos and several mansards. Unlike the other villas which had small squares with paths this villa was built with a wide drive. In 2017 this lovely building was transformed into the Illusions House Eureka offering a unique form of entertainment. Visitors can participate in a variety of illusions, explore a collection of unusual exhibits and enjoy the gallery of unique works of art created by Lithuanian artists.
Illusions House in Villa Aldona in Palanga, Lithuania 0049
Illusions House in Villa Aldona in Palanga, Lithuania

The oldest buildings on Jonas Basanavičius street form a complex of Prussian fachwerk villas on the banks of the Ronžė River that runs parallel to the street. This traditional Prussian fachwerk, a timber frame filled with plaster displays some Swiss-style characteristics. After they were built at the end of the nineteenth century the largest and oldest of these buildings had a succession of different owners until it was nationalised in 1940. Between 1945 and 1975 this building was used as residential apartments. In 2002 the main building was reconstructed and the whole complex is now occupied by different catering companies all sharing the lovely gardens that surround these buildings.
Fachwerk Villa in Palanga, Lithuania 0051
Fachwerk Villa in Palanga, Lithuania

Near the end of J. Basanavičiaus Street is another Swiss-style villa, Villa Jūros Akis (Sea Eye). This building once belonged to Countess Sofija Tiškevičienė the mother of Count Feliks. It has been adapted as a restaurant with three apartments above it. Each apartment has a name, the first is name Jūros Akis, the second Grafas (Count) and the third Meilužė (Mistress) a nod to the legend that Count Feliks had a mistress who lived in this room.
Villa Jūros Akis in Palanga, Lithuania 0057
Villa Jūros Akis in Palanga, Lithuania

Jūratė and Kastytis Square at the end of J. Basanavičiaus Street is dominated by a statue of the characters after which it is named. According to the popular Lithuanian legend Jūratė, a goddess mermaid, lived in an amber palace on the bed of the Baltic Sea. She managed the waters and protected the fish. When the fisherman, Kastytis, cast his nets into the sea she sent her mermaids to persuade him he should not be fishing in her sea. He took no notice and continued fishing. Jūratė, curious to see who was disobeying her, went to find him. When she saw Kastytis she instantly fell in love with him. Kastytis felt the same and he went with the to the amber palace. But their happiness did not last long as the god Perkūnas, father of Jūratė, was not happy that his daughter had fallen in love with a mere mortal. He destroyed the amber palace with his lightening and Kastytis was killed when the palace collapsed. Jūratė was chained to the wall of the ruins for punishment. Her cries are so emotional they whip the sea into turmoil and then the water throws small pieces of amber ashore, the remains of the amber palace. This tragic love story is the subject of the granite sculpture created for Palanga by the artist Nijolė Gaigalaitė in 1959. The architect Alfredas Paulauskas created the pool with an undulating outline representing the sea. The fountain, the first in Palanga, was added in 1965. It was designed by the architect Albinas Čepis.
Jurate and Kastytis Fountain in Palanga, Lithuania  0073
Jūratė and Kastytis Fountain in Palanga, Lithuania

As I approached the pier I had to smile at the sight of rows of people on benches just sitting, looking out to sea. They resembled an audience at a cinema. As I strolled along the pier and out to sea I passed the ruins of the original pier, a sea bridge built by the Count Juozapas Tiškevičius (brother of Feliks) in 1888. As their guests were having trouble getting to Palanga they began to bring them in on the merchant vessel Phoenix that cruised between Palanga, Klaipeda and Liepaja. But this did not last long as it soon became clear this sea bridge was not suitable for navigation. However, it was very popular as a place to go for a walk. When it finally succumbed to the ravages of the sea and the weather in 1998 it was replaced by a new pier built on concrete poles. It was lovely walking along this pier. When I reached the end I looked back at the great views of the beaches on either side of me. There was not one hotel in sight just sand, sand dunes and beyond them a pine forest laced with cycle tracks and paths.
The beach at Palanga, Lithuania  0080
The beach at Palanga, Lithuania

On returning to the town I made my way along Birutės Avenue and soon found the Villa Anapilis (Otherworld). This architecturally unique villa was so-called because its original owner, Countess Sofija Tiškevičienė, enjoyed communicating with spirits. Over the years this building has housed a bank and a sanatorium. Today it is occupied by the Palanga Resort Museum
Palanga Resort Museum in Palanga, Lithuania  0105
Palanga Resort Museum in Palanga, Lithuania

I also passed the Villa Jūrapilis (Sea Castle) or Komoda (Chest of Drawers), the very different two-storey villa in the Italian Neo-Renaissance style with a terrace on the roof. It was commissioned by Count Feliksas Tiškevičius in 1895 and built for his brother. Although it was badly damaged during the First World War it was reconstructed during the 1930s and 1940s and has recently been renovated and turned into apartments.
Villa Jūrapilis in Palanga, Lithuania 0099
Villa Jūrapilis in Palanga, Lithuania

Villa Mahorta lies empty behind an old-fashioned cast iron creaking swing and groaning see-saw. Built during the last year of the nineteenth century it was a very popular restaurant during the inter-war period when an orchestra would entertain the diners and concerts and dance evenings were held there. Did I imagine faint strains of music as I gazed at its empty façade? As a protected building it will no doubt come to life again soon.
Villa Mahorta in Palanga, Lithuania 0116
Villa Mahorta in Palanga, Lithuania

I stopped for lunch in the garden of the very popular restaurant Vandenis. Its international cuisine included the traditional Lithuanian pink soup – a refreshing cold soup made from beetroot. This dish is found everywhere in Lithuania and reflects a cuisine with a long heritage of using fresh vegetables such as the beetroot and the potato. It was delicious and served as is customary, with boiled potatoes.
Vendenis Restaurant in Palanga, Lithuania 0123
Restaurant in Palanga, Lithuania

I had saved the best for last – Count Feliks’s most precious gift to Palanga, the splendid neo-renaissance Tiškevičius Palace – his family home which he built in 1897 in the sacred forest of Birutė where he married his wife, Antanina. He stored his universally admired private collection of amber here, a collection that Antanina gave to Kretinga Museum after his death. Although the palace was badly damaged during the First World War Count Feliks restored it to its former splendour.
Sculpture Blessing Christ in front of the Tiškevičiai Palace in Birutė park in Palanga, Lithuania 0212
Sculpture Blessing Christ in front of the Tiškevičiai Palace in Birutė park in Palanga, Lithuania

The mansion was restored again in 1957 and in 1963 the Palanga Amber Museum, a branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum was established here. It includes the private collection of Count Feliks. It could have spent a whole day here. The fifteen rooms include some rooms set out as the original occupants would have known them and a temporary exhibition in the private chapel. Several rooms are devoted to the story of amber and displays of some exquisite pieces – fashioned by nature and man.
Amber containing fossils at the Amber Museum in Palaga, Lithuania 0182
Amber containing fossils at the Amber Museum in Palaga, Lithuania

Tractor made out of amber in the Amber Museum in Palaga, Lithuania 0175
Tractor made out of amber in the Amber Museum in Palanga, Lithuania

While the German architect Franz Heinrich Schwechten built the palace the French landscape Édouard François André was commissioned to design the landscape park around it. It was a real pleasure walking through this park, Birutė Park which includes natural settings around a lake and formal gardens. It also features some unusual statuary.
 Sculpture Eglė the Queen of Serpents in Birutė Park in  Palanga, Lithuania   0135
Sculpture Eglė the Queen of Serpents in Birutė Park in Palanga, Lithuania

Birutė Park goes all the way down to the sea and includes Birutė’s Hill. I walked through the ancient and sacred Birutė pine forest to the top of this hill where I found a very small neo-gothic chapel. Built in 1898 it is believed this chapel is on the site of a pagan sanctuary associated with the priestess of Birutė who, it is believed, lived and died here. The stained glass was added in 1976. So I ended my day entertained by one more Lithuanian legend – of which there are many.
The Chapel on Birutė’s Hill in Palanga, Lithuania 0202
The Chapel on Birutė’s Hill in Palanga, Lithuania

Where to Stay

Palanga in Lithuania is both a seaside resort and a spa town. Away from the clamour of its busy main thoroughfare, set amongst the pine forests is the Gradiali Hotel. A large hotel that operates as both a hotel and a sanatorium offering a large variety of both therapies and beauty treatments. As I was only there for one night and, to be honest, more interested in a walk through the pine woods to the beach I did not have time to try any of these therapies. But I did have time to enjoy a very nice meal in the hotel restaurant. It was my first opportunity to try a herbal extraction invented in Palanga known as the triple nines. It is a combination of twenty-seven different herbs. These are produced in three different varieties that should be drunk in the correct order. This was followed by a very good night’s sleep in my simple, but comfortable bedroom. It is really peaceful here.
Triple Nines extract of herbs at the Gradiali Hotel in Palanga, Lithuania 0035
Triple Nines – an extract of twenty-seven herbs

How to get there

I flew to Palanga from London Stansted with Ryanair. Air Baltic also offers flights to Palanga.

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