Biking to Europe’s largest dunes

The Curonian Spit © H. Padleckas

The Curonian Spit © H. Padleckas

I spent 4 months in Lithuania, which gave me plenty of time to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘the Curonian Spit’ (a peninsula attached to the mainland in Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast) on foot, by bike and by bus. 

We strolled through Klaipėda’s Old Town (Senamiestis) with its cobblestone paths, historical houses and statues to reach the Old Ferry Terminal that takes passengers on foot and by bike across the Lagoon. I was surprised by the price of the ticket; 2,90LT, the equivalent of €0,84, little did I know this ticket was not only for the way there, but also for the way back, pretty sweet deal! The trip however didn’t last for more than a few minutes, so very soon we were ready to take our rented MTBs out for a spin.

Although our ultimate goal was to reach the Russian border by bike, our untrained legs and butts were begging us to reconsider, so we decided to bike over 30 km to the largest sand dunes of Europe – an amazing 60m high 😉 – instead of the 55km we needed to pedal to reach Russia.. and back home. The start of the bike trail took us through a forested rollercoaster of curves with small hills and valleys that woke the butterflies in our stomachs. The path was soon covered by a thin layer of sand as the first dunes appeared. We threw our bikes aside to climb the mountains of sand and to see the peaceful Baltic Sea with its soothing sound of waves rolling up on the beach. The forests alternated with wide open fields and shrubs, so we were hoping to see some moose or other nice wildlife, but since we were far from the only bikers on the road, our chances were slim. We did encounter a lot of elderly people running through the forests with baskets of reed collecting mushrooms. Lithuania has around 380 edible mushroom species, so late summer and autumn are the seasons where all the mushroom magic happens.

After hours of biking and enjoying the sunny scenery we made it to the village ‘Juodkrantė’, one of the 5 villages on the European part of the National Park. The villages used to face the Baltic Sea, but due to erosion they were forced to be moved to the lagoon side of the peninsula that’s just over 1km wide. The village was peaceful and quiet and full of little statues and art. A large wooden sign pointed towards a small path going up the Hill of Witches (Raganų Kalnas) where you can admire a collection of wooden statues carved out by hand. Unfortunately we had to move on if we wanted to reach the dunes in time, because we were surprisingly slow on the first part of the trip, that’s what happens if you enjoy yourself too much!

So we decided to drive on the road instead of the bike path this time, because it was more straight and would take us less time. A decision we soon regretted when we saw the steep hill we needed to pass on the too small road full of crazy bus drivers. *Honk Honk* “yes we know, we shouldn’t be here!”. We kept on biking, but our butts were getting sore and we were considering giving up and turning back because we had no clue how far we still had to go. Next to the road the bike path suddenly appeared and some bikers that looked a bit too fresh were coming from the opposite direction. It gave us hope that we were close, and indeed we were!

The small parking lot for dune-visitors had a pimped out coffee car waiting for us, and just like magic we got ourselves a fresh cup of coffee in the middle of nowhere. We were glad to get off our bikes to go for a walk while taking up the heavenly caffeine in our blood stream. The dunes were less impressive than I imagined them to be, but the day was too perfect to mope. When standing on top of the dunes you had a 360° view over the area, the lagoon was in front of us and the steep walls of sand were going down all the way to the waterline. Behind us we could see the forests that were trying to hide the sea behind it, a light breeze brought us some fresh air to relax and enjoy the astonishing view.

A few weeks later I did manage to reach the Russian Border near Nida on my own. To be honest the dunes here were much nicer than the ones we saw near Juodkrantė. Here, you can wander through a landscape of dunes without stumbling upon others! I walked through the dunes for hours, followed animal tracks, sneaking up on butterflies and discovering small beaches near the lagoon. I even found hobbit-land! The UNESCO village ‘Nida’ with just over 1600 inhabitants was a gorgeous sight, worth visiting, especially when the tourist season is over!

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