Curonian Spit National Park
Curonian Spit National Park (Kuršių Nerijos Nacionalinis Parkas) was established in 1991 to protect the rare ecosystems found on Curonian Spit, including the sand dunes, the Curonian Lagoon and the surrounding sea. It covers most of the Lithuanian section of the spit, running from the village of Smiltynė in the north down to Nida, 50km to the south.
The low-lying, marsh-dotted eastern side of the Curonian Lagoon (Kursių marios) could be the end of the world. Tourism has scarcely touched this remote, rural and isolated landscape where summer skies offer magnificent views of the spit’s white dunes across the lagoon. In winter ice-fishers sit on the frozen lagoon – up to 12km wide in places – waiting for a smelt to bite.
The long, thin village of Juodkrantė (ywad-kran-tey) – 'Black Shore', or Schwarzort to Germans – is 20km south of Smiltynė and is spread out along the lagoon. The pace of life here is slow even in the height of summer, and the sweet smell of smoked fish follows you wherever you go.
The small village of Smiltynė is a hop, skip and five-minute ferry ride away across the thin strait that divides Klaipėda from Curonian Spit. This strait-side patch of paradise – packed on summer weekends with Klaipėda residents – has beautiful beaches, sandy dunes and sweet-smelling pine forests.
Brash Šventoji, 12km north, lacks the panache of Palanga but – with its inflatable fish that spit out kids, its dodgem cars and its merry-go-round of restaurant entertainers and fun-fair rides – it entertains. Nemirseta, a couple of kilometres south of Palanga, is known for its incredible sand dunes and for being the furthest east the Prussians ever got.
Juodkrantė to Nida
Heading south from Juodkrantė the road switches to the western side of the Spit. The 16.8-sq-km Naglių Strict Nature Reserve (Naglių rezervatas) here protects the Dead or Grey Dunes (named after the greyish flora that covers them) that stretch 8km south and are 2km wide; a marked footpath leads into the reserve from the main road.