It's hard to believe it’s already December! With the holiday season fully underway, we’re featuring some of our favorite places to unwind in front of a fireplace this winter—hopefully with some of your favorite people. Speaking of winter, we’re highlighting a recent trip to the Scandinavian Arctic, complete with a viewing of the Northern Lights. Beaches more your speed? We’ve got the lowdown on some of the best hotels in Anguilla. From all of us at First in Service, we wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a very happy New Year. Cheers to 2019!
Erika Reategui and Fernando Gonzalez
The Baltic State of Lithuania is a country filled with medieval castles, ancient forests and old fashioned charm. Our mother-daughter events team, Vida Talandis and Mona Behringer, found it a perfect reunion getaway as they joined four generations of family to explore their roots together.
What was the purpose of your trip?
Mona’s daughter, 16-year-old Aleksa, was performing in a worldwide Lithuanian folk dance festival held every four years. It was a great reason to plan the family reunion. There were 15 of us and four generations. Good thing we’re used to planning group travel and logistics!
Why should people visit Lithuania?
It is a modern European country filled with vibrant charm. Vilnius, the capital, is known as “Little Paris.” It has Europe’s largest Baroque Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the cities everyone speaks English. There are gorgeous hotels in the capital, and excellent resorts and spas by the sea. The countryside is incredible, filled with striking stork nests. The weather and landscape are similar to that found in Wisconsin.
What was your itinerary?
Roughly the size of West Virginia, Lithuania is easy to navigate. We started in Vilnius, a charming blend of old and new, worth exploring on foot. We then drove to Palanga, a scenic coastal town by the Baltic Sea. We continued on to Druskinai, a historic spa town dating back to the 13th century, and finally spent a few days relaxing in Trakai, a quaint fort town with a castle on an island.
What dishes should visitors definitely try?
Lithuanian food is hearty and inexpensive. The food can be simple or gourmet. A national dish is kugelis, scrumptious baked squares of potatoes, eggs, milk and bacon served with sour cream. Sample the sausages, homemade cheeses and cherry liquor. And it’s beer lovers heaven with so many local varieties, and prices that are easy on the wallet. The mushroom is the national symbol, so don’t be surprised to see them sold on road stands everywhere.
What top things are on your Lithuania ‘must do’ list?
-Try kugelis, the classic baked potato pudding mentioned above
-Three hours north of Vilnius, visit the Hill of Crosses, a very moving pilgrimage for hundreds of years
-Admire the exotic dunes in Palanga
-Buy some of the best amber in the world and check out the Museum of Amber in Palanga
-Take a ride through the countryside and see the wonderful storks and their nests
-Plan for a few days in Druskinai to enjoy some of the best spas in Eastern Europe
-Explore Vilnius’ churches, more than 40 in total which represent some of Europe’s greatest architectural styles
How is the shopping?
In addition to gorgeous Baltic amber and quality linen, check out the many tempting designer boutiques in Vilnius.
What is the best time of year to visit Lithuania?
Summer and fall are very pleasant. During the winter season, the country has beautiful snow resorts and festive holiday decorations and markets.
Where do you recommend staying?
Stiklai, Kempinski, and Narutis are all recommended in Vilnius. In Palanga, we stayed hotel Pusu Paunksneje, owned by Lithuanian basketball star Arvydas Sabonis. In Trakai, Esperanza is beautiful resort on the lake with plenty of fishing, swimming, and hiking.
Anything to share with first time travelers to Lithuania?
Rent a car, or van for big groups like ours, and explore the gorgeous countryside for a unique perspective. Also, while it is part of the EU, the currency is still the Lithuanian litas. The euro is expected to replace it in 2015.
What advice would you give to families planning a multi-generational trip overseas?
Don’t over plan. Make sure that you keep it loose. Just seeing the sites gives everyone something to do. Our age group was 6 to 87 and we never fought on where to go. Make sure the destination has plenty to see and do for everyone.