Jim Heintz, The Associated Press, March 31, 2015
NIDA, Lithuania (AP) — At the edge of the Valley of Silence, the landscape changes so suddenly it's like strolling to another continent -- from a placid, fragrant pine forest to a soaring wall of brown sand.
A short but steep 52-meter (170-foot) vertical climb to the top of the Parnidis Dune -- known affectionately or humorously as "Lithuania's Sahara -- reveals a sweeping view of a remarkable and soothing landscape, the Curonian Spit.
On the map, the spit resembles a stray hair rising from a child's cowlick, starting in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and gently curving north 98 kilometers (60 miles) toward Lithuania's port city of Klaipeda, which it almost touches.
As narrow as 400 meters (1,200 feet), thickly forested and thinly inhabited, the spit is a refuge flanked by the smooth lagoon on one side and the blustery Baltic Sea on the other.
Nida, the principal town on the Lithuanian side, has long attracted visitors in search of serenity, notably author Thomas Mann who built a summer home here when this was part of Germany.
But even at the height of the brief Baltic summers, the spit retains an out-of-the-way air and its vast beaches seem to swallow up humans. Nida, though a full-fledged resort, has only a handful of large hotels; accommodation is largely in small, family-run hotels or gabled, brightly painted guesthouses.
No one comes to the spit for excitement. The most spectacular entertainment may be the extraordinary clouds that form as sea and dry-land air currents mix together.
The noisiest place on the spit is one of its prime naturalist sites. Countless cormorants and grey herons congregate in a forested area near the village of Juodkrante, filling the air with a chatter of squawks and vocalizations that sound oddly like dogs barking.
There's a viewing platform on the edge of the colony. Humans who barge into the woods for a closer look may find the herons dropping fish from the air to dissuade them; the birds value serenity as much as the tourists.
Although the northern tip of the spit is easily reachable by a five-minute ferry ride from Klaipeda, its most appealing areas around Klaipeda and Juodkrante require another hour or so of travel by road. This discourages passengers on the cruise ships that visit Klaipeda from venturing deep into the spit, reinforcing its serenity.
The spit is popular for bicyclists for its rolling terrain, but cycle campers should be aware that the only campground on the Lithuanian side is in Nida; camping in the rough is forbidden.
If You Go...
CURONIAN SPIT: Located near Nida, Lithuania. Online information, http://www.visitneringa .lt. Mid-June to the end of August is high season on the spit, with long hours of daylight and temperate weather.
GETTING THERE: Klaipeda, the main jumping-off point for the spit, has frequent bus service from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and the Latvian capital Riga. Vilnius is closer, about 3 1/2 hours by bus. The pedestrian-only ferry to the spit's northern tip leaves every hour or so from a downtown dock in Klaipeda, within 15 minutes' walk from most of Klaipeda's hotels; buses to Nida and Juodkrante meet all ferries. A car ferry runs from Klaipeda's southern fringes; not recommended for those on foot because it's a long walk to the bus stop once on the spit.
This article was written by Jim Heintz from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.