James Adkin – Cycle Programme Manager - recently travelled to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on an inspection trip ahead of the first departure of Explore’s easy graded Cycle the Baltic States tour.
"I was expertly looked after by our local partners from Lithuania; Marius (owner and keen cyclist) and Ramune (account executive and novice cyclist). When we set out from Vilnius, Ramune was a little nervous about her fitness and getting back on a bike after a few years, it was nice to see her enjoyment and enthusiasm increase by the day and by the time we got to Tallinn she was even talking about buying a bike!
It was a fun trip, full of unexpected highlights too long to list, but here are a few good reasons to cycle the Baltic States.
Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn
In the space of nine days you gain a nice contrast of distinguished cities and the great outdoors. The three capital cities have very well-preserved old quarters, each with a distinct character, history and architecture. Vilnius boasts stylish late-Baroque architecture, fewer tourists and many of the squares and streets come alive with buzzing terraces from May to September as the locals make the most of the good weather. Charming Riga spans more centuries as illustrated by towering spires, ancient guildhalls and the gracious lines of art nouveau facades. Tallinn feels the most medieval and probably gets the most visitors (cruise boats and neighbouring Finns) and you can see why as you explore picturesque cobbled streets overlooked by the turrets of the ancient city walls.
Discover nature on two wheels
Away from the cities and towns a large proportion of the land in the Baltics is covered by vast forests and thousands of lakes, rivers, streams and bogs; all lined by a wild coastline with little development. It was great to get on the bike each morning and get some exercise amid the peace and quiet. The landscape is generally flat which makes it an ideal place for an easy-graded cycle tour. Abundant fish and the wide expanses of nature encourage the local birdlife and help attract many migratory birds. There was good variety on the bike routes with rides by lakes, the coast, on a beach, through forested national parks, along a spit and by a lagoon. When the cycling wasn’t on dedicated cycle paths it was along quiet roads.
USSR - The Soviet era
Each of the Baltic countries has a distinct character, history and culture but they all share the Soviet years. You can see evidence of the USSR period throughout the Baltics; it came up in conversation often and remains a controversial point to this day. It was really interesting to learn about everyday life on the other side of the iron curtain in the Soviet and transition periods.
Food and beer
I love my food and didn’t know what to expect so was really happy to find every single meal a pleasure. Admittedly there was a common theme of potato but it was prepared in so many creative ways it didn’t matter. There was always a tasty choice of fish or meat to accompany. Delicious black bread was served with every meal and everything was great value for money.
One very big surprise was the outstanding quality of the local beers. Some of the best beers I have ever tried, from black beer to wheat beer and blond beers, particularly in Lithuania. It turns out there are centuries of brewing tradition that declined in the Soviet period but have made a strong revival in recent years. The only bad thing is that it is nearly impossible to find those beers back home because they hardly export yet!"
View our full range of cycling tours.
By James Adkin