Druskininkai is perhaps Lithuania's best known spa town and has a pervasive air of privelege. Although we sadly didn't have time to visit the spa or water park, we did have the chance to drive around town and admire the beautiful summer houses that were built to accommodate the rich and convalescent.
During the early part of the 20th century, Druskininkai was a popular summer retreat for middle class tourists from Vilnius, Warsaw and Moscow, and after the Second World War, was hugely popular with tourists from the Soviet union who came to take the waters at the spa and associated sanatoria. It experienced a dip in popularity after the fall of the Soviet Union, but has had a resurgence in recent years due to the construction of a water park and other tourist attractions such as the Grutas sculpture park (see my travel tip).
Most of the houses are wooden, and the intricate decorations on eaves and gables are gorgeous. Some of the carving is so delicate that it almost looks like filigree and it seems astonishing that it would stand up to the harsh weather conditions. However, maintaining such houses must be a labour of love, and I for one certainly won't be volunteering to sand them down for repainting!
The Russian Orthodox church in Druskininkai is so perfect that you wonder whether you have unwittingly stumbled into the illustration from a fairytale. The proportions of the church are exquisite and the powder blue exterior is unexpected as the church slowly emerges into view between the surrounding trees. As with many orthodox churches, the interior is surprisingly small but highly ornate, and the overall effect is like stepping inside a jewel box.
Although less than 10% of the Lithuanian population is ethnic Russian, the number of orthodox churches serve as a reminder of the close cultural links between Russia and Lithuania and the eastward-looking focus of the communist era.
The Grutas sculpture park is the sort of endearingly outlandish experience that reminds me exactly why I so love visiting the former Eastern Bloc! Everything about Grutas is bizarre - from the 86 Soviet era sculptures on display (salvaged from across the country to avoid them being melted down as scrap metal after the fall of the Iron Curtain) to the background of its founder, Viliumas Malinauskas, whose previous claim to fame was as a wrestler-turned-mushroom-mogul.
As the park's website says, the aim of the exhibition is: "Taking the 'idols' off the pedestal, changing the location and status of the exhibiting of the monuments, and using a special exhibition technique and additional aids have substantially altered the ideological content of the monumental sculptures. The Grûtas Park exposition discloses the negative content of the Soviet ideology and its impact on the value system. The aim of this exposition is to provide an opportunity for Lithuanian people, visitors coming to our country as well as future generations to see the naked Soviet ideology which suppressed and hurt the spirit of our nation for many decades". So now you know.
The sculpture in the park is absolutely outstanding - big, beefy monumental art on a heroic scale, designed to inspire the proletarian masses to strive towards the noble Soviet ideal. Even though the subject matter may be distinctly dodgy, there is no doubt that it is stunning artwork, and combined with the beautiful woodland setting, it is a place to linger and ponder on previous social orders. An added bonus is that all exhibits on display in the park are captioned in English as well as Lithuanian - something that you cannot always rely on in this part of the world. The park extends over a 40ha area, and the trail that takes you past the sculpture is about 2km long with a flat even surface that is both wheelchair and pushchair friendly.
Once you have admired the sculpture and worked your way through the fascinating museum (full of Soviet propaganda), it's time to repair to the restaurant, where you can choose between the 'ordinary' menu and the 'nostalgia' menu, which draws its 'inspiration' from Soviet-era catering. The choice is yours and largely depends on whether you want a reasonable meal, or whether you are enough of a zealot to want to inflict the full Soviet experience on yourself (in which case you'll need to plan to eat later)!
One word of warning: the park is located by a lake in the wetlands of the Dzukija National Park. This sounds scenic but is a mixed blessing, as when we visited (July 2005), the midges were absolutely vicious. Despite having lived in both Africa and Australia, I had never imagined that insects could be so aggressive, and they so bothered our small daughter (two at the time) that we had to leave earlier than planned to get her away from the "zzzzes". So, if you go in summer, make sure that you cover up and go equipped with heavy duty insect repellent.
In my opinion, this is one of Lithuania's absolute 'must dos': there is heaps of stuff to keep you happily occupied, so I would suggest that you budget at least half a day. The parkland setting means that it is a good place for families: even if your kids decide to clamber over the sculpture, take comfort in the fact that it's a lot better than what most Lithuanians had planned for the statues after the fall of the Iron Curtain! There is apparently also a playground and a small petting zoo, although by this point we were too preoccupied with fleeing the 'zzzzes' to investigate. I would recommend that you stop off at the souvenir shop to peruse the range of 'ostalgia' - imagine Russian mitilary insignia, toy Trabants and CDs by the massed male voice choir of Ball Bearing Factory No.5 and you'll be on the right track ...
This palace was built at beginning of XX century and now it houses museum of Druskininkai city. I think it could be visited, as I heard that interior looks nice too and it has good exhibition inside. As we have been to Druskininkai only for a bit less than one day, we haven't managed to see it. It is worth to see this palace both with church from another side of Druskonis lake.
It is hard to say when it started to function, but I have seen some typical graves from XIX century with crosses looking like tree branches. It has two nice gates into it and two bigger chapels inside. What is more, it is separated for Orthodox and Catholic people. This cemetery reminds me famous Bernardinu cemetery in Vilnius.
Church exists and very centre of Druskininkai town, near Druskonis lake. It was built in neo - Gothic style in 1931. It is pity, as it was closed, but outside view looked nice. The area around church was full of white camomile in summertime. The church area could be used as good meeting place in Druskininkai and as orientation place, map is located near church.
Few kilos from Druskininkai center is Svendubre village. Near this pretty place you can find stone called Devil stone ("Devil carried to bank the Nemunas, but at cockcrow stone droped"). And probably the best thing - you can reach this by foot or bike on cycleway or footpath in forest!
The Druskininkai Spa is linked to 4* Druskininkai hotel so the prices are according to 4 star standard. Druskininkai Spa is quite a good choice if you do not like crowded places.
They have one swimming pool, one stream circle, two jacuzzi type baths, two solariums, few massage rooms, a little bar and two little slides and 6 saunas, one ice room and steam bath, also "stormy" showers where you can choose the climate you want to take shower in :)
For us, it looked a bit expensive to the size of pools and facilities, though interior design looks good. The staff is rather helpful and speaks English.
For budget travelers like us, we totally recommend you to check out the Aqua park close by. (see our tip about Aqua park)
The aqua park sustains more than just slides and swimming pools, there you can find 3* hotel, oriental high class spa and 6 different saunas. We did not go to the saunas or spa, but we spent 3 hours in pools and slides. We also had access to one sauna and steam bath, cafe and artificial beach. Within 3 hours in waterpark, you can cover all activities within the pool area. If you want to enjoy saunas as well, a day ticket would probably be the best choice.
Girls make sure that your swimsuit is tight because you don't want to lose it on a slide and start searching half naked for it. :)
In general, we both really liked the water park and it is without a doubt the best activity Druskininkai has to offer during winter time.
Gruto Parkas is very interesting for the sake that most of the Baltic countries destroyed most of Soviet monuments when they gained independence in 1990, this park is privately owned and he has collected both sculptures, paintings, books, metals and more and less everything concerning the Soviet occupation era.
Entrance is: 15lt for adult 7lt for students and children
The park is open daily year round
in winter 9.00 – 17.00
in season 9.00 – 20.00
Check the website for details and how to get from Poland in a car :)
The Druskininkai aqua park is larger aqua park in Lithuania (~25.000 sq. m.).
In the park is huge bath complex "Alita" (20 baths), lot of swimming pools (one of them outside), slides (total length more then 600 meters), "wild" river, whirlpool baths, beauty salons, coffee-houses, bars, restaurant and hotel.
In my opinion this park is very interesting for all people: for kids there is kids room, for young people - extreme slides, for elders - baths, spa center, massage room (baths only from 18 years).
Liskiava is small nice town on the bank of the Nemunas, just 8 km from Druskininkai. It's easy to reach the place by car or bike or take a boat trip. The place was first mentioned in chronicles in 1044. In medieval times it was one of most important fortresses of Lithuanian borders. There are still remains of old defence tower on the castle-hill. But the main object is baroque st.Trinity church an Dominican monastery. It's the only Lithuanian church built in form of Greek cross.It is said that the altars from the church are one of the most beautiful in Lithuania. The legend tells that some boatman found the sacred picture of Holy Virgin in the Prieglius river near Karaliaucius(now Kaliningrad) and gave as a present to the monks in 1700. Now the picture is placed in the left altar of the church. Another legend tells about st. Agota(Agatha). Thr chapel-pillar with the statue of the saint stands in front of the monastery. It's only a copy and original statue can be seen in the museum vault. When the church was built the statue of st.Elena was placed. But in those times Liskiava suffered from the fires that were almost every year(no wonder in a place where all houses were wooden). So local inhabitants changed the saint. St. Agota is one of the most respected saints in Lithuania . Every year in all the churchs of Lithuania bread is blessed on 5th of February(st.Agatha day) and people place it at home prevent the fire or carry some crumbs in purse prevent the thieft.
Of course, the main reason why people are visiting Druskininkai are health procedures.
The oldest and the best (my opinion) is Druskininku Gydykla ( "healing place"). It was madly popular during Soviet period, when people from all over the USSR got travel packages to spend ther some time and experience all treatment- medical treatment, different kinds of massage, mud-bath, herb and mineral water baths, etc. Unfortunally, when Lithuania got independance, bad times came-local people had not enough money, people from former Soviet Union couldn't come because of visa problems and travel expencies and people from West didn't get enough comfort. But then in 2002 the renovation started and the old center came back to life. Now you can see a modern spa center which is not worse than any other spa in the world. Visitors can get both medical and preventive care procedures any day of a week. If you have time you can take one of the mineral pool complexes that include sauna, massage, various mineral water showers. And your stay in Druskininkai is rather limited then choose water capsule, mud or herb bath or criotherapy capsule-just half an hour and you feel fresh again.
If you are staying in Druskininkai for few days, you simply might get bored a lil'bit. It' s not a big place......
If you have your own transport either hired a car or bike just jump om and go to Antanas Cesnulis Sculpture Park.. After reaching A4 highway take Latezeris direction and follow road signs which lead you there.
A. Cesnulis is folk artist (wood-carver) with fantastic imagination. And time in his farm will give lots of good emotions. At first, I wasn't excited to go there with the group, but after some time me and one 10 years old boy were the last to leave.....and we left only because it was time to go to Druskininkai for procedures in spa center.
Take a drink of fresh water from the well, enter windmill with master wood-carvings, see statues come alive, moving and making sounds....Enjoy!
Konstantinas Mykalojus Ciurlionis (1875-1911) born in Varena near Druskininkai. He is the most famous Lithuanian painter. What is more, he was writer and composer. Most of his art was associated with Southern Lithuania, his life in Varena and Druskininkai - paintings with pine tree forests, musical composition - "In the forest" and so on. He died in 1911 in Warsaw, having tuberculosis. Buried in Vilnius, Rasos cemetery.
It is quite logical that sculpture of him is put in Druskininkai (sculptor V. Vidziunas, 1975). What is more, one of his objects that he fixed in painting, an Archer, is made as sculpture as well. Painting "Archer" was a part of painting collection, made for Zodiac signs. Now you can see most of Ciurlionis collections in M. K. Ciurlionis National Art Museum in Kaunas.