Klaipėda, Lithuania

Photo: Mantas Volungevicius [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Tallinn. Riga. Vilnius. You’ve slowly ticked the capitals of the Baltic states off your list. Now that you have a feel for each of the three countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—it’s time to start digging deeper. Let’s start in Lithuania. Summer is the perfect time to visit Klaipėda.

Klaipėda is Lithuania’s largest port and third-largest city. It lies along the Curonian Spit, the 60-mile sand dune that extends along Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania in the Baltic Sea. The city has long been known as Europe’s northernmost ice-free port. New ferry lines and cruise ships have recently introduced more visitors to the cheery city. They’re finding a sculpture-filled Old Town, the ruins of a castle, waterfront cafes, and a new boutique hotel.

Memel, as the city was originally called, was established after the Catholic Teutonic Order built Memelburg, the now-ruined castle, in 1253. After that, it was controlled by successive German states (mostly the Prussians) until the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I in 1919. The independent city was annexed to newly formed Lithuania, occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, and then ruled by the Soviets in the years that followed. Only after Lithuania became the first Baltic state to declare its independence, in 1990, did the country and the city really start to wake up.

Photo: Michaelson Boutique Hotel

You’ll be waking up in Michaelson Boutique Hotel. The new hotel opened two years ago in a 1750s warehouse that was completely restored. It sits along the Akmena-Danė river in between Old Town and Smiltynė, the northern tip of the Curonian Spit. The open lobby has a rustic-chic vibe with wooden beams, exposed pipes, and a glass check-in desk. Upon your arrival, you’re handed a warm hand towel and a glass of Prosecco as the rest of the hotel is explained.

The restaurant has an open kitchen and a breakfast buffet. Be sure to try local specialties: the porridge (four types are served) and the cottage-cheese dumplings. The bar has a sunny terrace. It’s a great spot for a late-afternoon cup of Italian coffee and a snack of baked Camembert with grilled vegetables. The new wine boutique offers more than 200 bottles. It’s probably your first chance to try Lithuanian wine. While 16 rooms are divided among the second and attic floors above the lobby. They feature soft wool rugs, calming white-and-gray palettes, and sleek bathrooms. You feel comfortable in Klaipėda already.

Comfort shouldn’t make you lazy, though. The remains of Memelburg and the manually rotated swing bridge are just steps from the hotel. Cobblestoned Theatre Square, the heart of Old Town, is just a little farther. You’ll know it when you see the fachwerk (timber-framed) architecture and Tarawa Anike, the sculpture of a young, barefoot girl. Museums, a sculpture park, and bars serving Švyturys (the local beer) are beyond that. While Smiltynė, the Lithuanian Sea Museum and its impressive aquarium, and a gorgeous white-sand beach are just a short ferry ride in the opposite direction. You’ll have no problem keeping yourself occupied along the Baltic Sea.

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