The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules & road conditions. Meals included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=Lunch and D=evening meal.
Vilnius, Lithuania - 3 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 27 June, Arrive Vilnius
- Short Orientation
- Welcome Evening Meal
Our tour commences in Vilnius. Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive late morning. Upon arrival we transfer by private coach to the Mabre Residence Hotel. If you are travelling independently to Vilnius, ASA can arrange a private transfer for you, or you should take an officially marked taxi to the hotel. Time-permitting, we will take a short orientation walk around the hotel precinct. This evening we dine together at a local restaurant, where a light three-course meal will be served. (Overnight Vilnius) D
Day 2: Wednesday 28 June, Vilnius
- Gediminas Castle & Royal Palace Museum
- Vilnius Cathedral
- Bishop’s Palace (exterior only)
- Vilnius University
- St John’s Church
We begin our exploration of Vilnius with a climb to Gediminas Castle, which towers over the old city as a lasting symbol of the strength of Vilnius’ founder. It offers a majestic perspective over the billowing curves of the Baroque centre of the city. From there we descend into the heart of the city, beginning with the Cathedral – originally built on ancient pagan grounds by Mindaugas, the first Grand Duke to convert to Christianity. The present neo-classical Cathedral, with its Doric columns and Baroque statues of Abraham, Moses and the four evangelists, was built by architect Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevicius in the late 18th century. Next to the Cathedral stands the somewhat controversially reconstructed Duke’s Palace, which was leveled in the 19th century to make way for a marketplace.
After lunch we pass the Bishop’s Palace, where Napoleon stayed on his way to Moscow in 1812. We tour the courtyards of Vilnius University, cultural and intellectual heart of the city and an important centre of learning in eastern Europe, founded by the Jesuits in 1570. The University’s beautiful St John’s Church was built in 1387, soon after Lithuania’s conversion to Catholicism. The University contains a beautiful library with a frescoed vault ceiling, and a number of important works of art. (Overnight Vilnius) B
Day 3: Thursday 29 June, Vilnius
- Gates of Dawn & St Theresa’s Church
- Didzioji & Town Hall Square
- Bernardine Churches including St Anne’s Church
- Time at leisure
Today we continue our exploration of the cosmopolitan capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at its height. We begin with an early morning walk to the Gates of Dawn, the only remains of fortifications built against the invading Tartars and transformed in 1671 into a beautiful Carmelite Chapel. The interior was refurbished in neo-classical style in the 19th century.
From there we walk through the old town, passing the oldest Baroque church in Vilnius, named after the city’s patron saint, Casimir. Exquisitely beautiful, it was ironically used by the Soviets as a museum of atheism. Numerous Orthodox Churches scattered throughout the city testify to a strong eastern cultural heritage. We also pass the oldest surviving church in Vilnius, the Gothic St Nicholas’, built by German merchants before Lithuania’s conversion to Catholicism, and explore Vilnius’ civic buildings including the Town Hall, a stately baroque edifice that was designed by Stuoka Gucevicius, architect of the Vilnius Cathedral, after the 16th-century original was destroyed by fire.
After lunch we explore Vilnius’ beautiful Bernadine churches. Napoleon was so entranced by the intricate beauty of the Gothic Church of St Anne, whose graceful western façade is patterned with 33 varieties of brick, that he wanted the entire church shipped back to Paris. Nearby stands the 15th-century Bernadine Monastery, gutted during the Soviet period and now painstakingly being restored. The remainder of the afternoon will be at leisure. You may wish to visit the State Jewish Museum Holocaust Centre or the The Museum of Genocide Victims Museum (KGB). (Overnight Vilnius) B
Kaunas, Lithuania - 2 nights
Day 4: Friday 30 June, Vilnius – Trakai – Kaunas
- Church of St Peter and St Paul
- Karaite Ethnographic Exhibition
- Island Castle and Trakai History Museum
We begin the day with a visit to the Baroque church of St Peter and St Paul, commissioned in 1668 by Michael Casimir Pac, Grand Hetman of the Lithuanian armies. The interior is spectacularly decorated with over two thousand stucco mythological and biblical figures and Lithuanian battle scenes.
As we drive out of Vilnius we will pass the former KGB headquarters, and the Parliament building, where evidence still remains of the 1991 barricades when Lithuanians civilians defending strategic objects were attacked by Soviet troops as Moscow tried unsuccessfully to quell the Baltic independence movements.
Before Vilnius became the capital of Lithuania in 1323 under Gediminas, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was centred at Trakai, 27km to the west. We depart Vilnius in the late morning for its medieval forebear, which currently stands within a National Park overlooking Lake Galve, and visit the famous red brick Island Castle built by Vytautus the Great to celebrate his defeat of the German Crusaders of the Teutonic Order in 1410. The present castle houses a museum on the history of the Grand Duchy. Trakai also contains the ruins of two further castles, and is notable for the continuing presence of a small group of Turkic Karaite Old Testament believers. Originally invited to Lithuania by Vytautas as bodyguards because of their massive stature, the Karaites trace their history to an 8th-century Persian named Anan ben David, who founded an anti-rabbinical sect that rejected both oral tradition and the Talmud. Only a few hundred Karaites remain in Lithuania, and their Kenesa and distinctive wooden houses are a notable feature of Trakai. The Karaite Ethnographic Exhibition contains illuminating material on the history and life and applied arts of the Karaites, one of Lithuania’s ethnic minorities. After visiting Trakai, we continue on to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city and a major rival to Vilnius. (Overnight Kaunas) B
Day 5: Saturday 1 July, Kaunas
- Laisves Aleja
- Resurrection Church
- M.K. Ciurlionis State Art Museum
- Walking Tour: Kaunas Old Town
Kaunas, the inter-war capital of Lithuania, combines a well-preserved old town with a decidedly modernist outlook from the 1920s. We begin the day with a walk along the Laisves Aleja, Freedom Avenue, the leafy main thoroughfare of the new town. At one end stands a Monument to Vytautas the Great. Standing over four defeated soldiers: a Russian, a Pole, a Tartar and a German crusader with a broken sword, he symbolises the might of the 14th century Grand Duchy. At the far end of the avenue stands the formerly Orthodox Church and now Catholic Church of St Michael, a perfectly symmetrical, blue, neo-Byzantine church. Built at the end of the 19th century, it presents us with a contrasting symbol of Russian domination. Between them, the bustling Freedom Avenue serves as a reminder of Lithuania’s current independence and growing prosperity.
We take a ride up the small 1920s funicular (the conductors seem to be of this vintage also) to the astonishing functionalist Resurrection Church, begun in the 1930s but only recently completed. From its promenade roof we gain a spectacular view of the region.
The morning shall end with a visit to the M.K. Ciurlionis Art Gallery, which contains almost all the surviving works by the Lithuanian mystic and modernist painter and composer. His legacy, both in music and in painting, is a remarkable expression of Lithuanian culture.
We devote the afternoon to a walking tour of the old city of Kaunas, centred on the Town Hall Square surrounded by 16th-century German merchant houses. The Kaunas Town Hall itself is known as ‘The White Swan’ for the elegance of its late Baroque and early classical architecture and its graceful tower. We visit the Cathedral – the only Gothic church of basilican design in Lithuania, the Gothic Vytautas Church – built by Franciscan monks in the early 15th century, and the warehouses and merchant houses of the old town. The most impressive of these is the Perkunas House, a 15th century Gothic building which historians argue was either a Jesuit chapel or the Hansa office of Kaunas, and romantics believe was a temple to Perkunas, god of thunder. (Overnight Kaunas) B
Riga, Latvia - 4 nights
Day 6: Sunday 2 July, Kaunas – Hill of Crosses – Rundale – Jurmala Coast – Riga
- Hill of Crosses, Siauliai
- Rundale Palace
- Jurmala Coast
In the early morning we drive to the Hill of Crosses just north of Siauliai, a spontaneous and moving religious shrine of folk art believed first mentioned in the fifteenth century. Tens of thousands of wooden crosses fill the hillside with a testimony to the symbolic power of Lithuanian Catholicism.
We then drive the short distance across the Latvian border to Rundale Palace, considered by many to be the most important architectural monument in the Baltics. Construction began on the palace in 1736 for Ernst Johann von Buhren, Duke of Courland, under the direction of Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. In 1738 Rastrelli began work on another palace for Buhren, at Jelgava, the seat of the Duchy of Courland. Although work on the two palaces was halted with Buhren’s exile to Siberia in 1740, and not taken up again until he returned to favour under Russian Empress Catherine II in 1763, the structural work had been completed and offers an impressive example of early St Petersburg Baroque architecture on a grand scale. Over forty rooms of the Rundale Palace have been restored to their original 18th-century interiors, and we take a guided tour of the palace, with its Golden Hall with beautifully decorated ceilings and chandeliers, Grand Gallery, intricately stuccoed White Hall, Room of Roses and private apartments. We take lunch at the palace café.
Next, we drive past the second of the two palaces in Jelgava, now the Latvian Agricultural University. The nearby Orthodox Church of St Simeon and St Anna, magnificently restored, was also designed by Rastrelli and contains an altar piece by Riga artist Janis Rozentals.
In the afternoon we drive to the port of Riga via the Jurmala Coast. The Jurmala coast offers an unspoilt stretch of beaches giving us our first view of the Baltic Sea. (Overnight Riga) BL
Day 7: Monday 3 July, Riga
- Walking Tour: Riga Old Town
- Mentzendorff House
- Brothers’ War Cemetery
- Ethnographic Open Air Museum
Riga was founded by Bishop Albert in 1201, and joined the Hanseatic League in 1282, thriving on trade across the Baltic Sea. Riga has been an important city ever since its founding as a major Hanseatic port, once the third largest city in the Swedish Empire, and a Russian outpost. Our exploration of the old city begins with the 13th-century city walls, including the well preserved Powder Tower and Riga Castle. During our stay we walk through medieval streets filled with Hanseatic warehouses, guildhalls and Gothic and Baroque churches such as the Dome cathedral. Our morning’s program concludes with a visit to the beautifully restored Mentzendorff House. Once belonging to a wealthy Riga merchant, it now offers a reconstruction of life in the 17th and 18th centuries.
After a lunch break, we depart by coach and travel to the outskirts of Riga where we briefly visit the striking Brothers’ Cemetery, constructed to commemorate those who fell in World War I and the ensuing War of Independence. We then continue to the Ethnographic Open Air Museum, opened in 1932 and now covering 100 hectares with a vast heritage collection of Latvian rural villages, farmhouses, windmills, pubs, equipment and domestic material, including complete homesteads from various regions. (Overnight Riga) B
Day 8: Tuesday 4 July, Riga
- Walking Tour: Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) Architecture
- Riga Art Nouveau Museum
- Latvian National Museum of Art
This morning we commence a walking tour of Riga’s magnificent and distinctive Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) architecture. Almost a third of the surviving buildings of central Riga were built in Art Nouveau style between 1896 and 1913, many incorporating traditional Latvian folk elements into a variation that became known as National Romanticism. The most extravagant buildings are found in Albert Street, a number of them designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of film-maker Sergei. It is here that we visit Riga’s new Art Nouveau Museum, actually the apartment of the famous Latvian architect of this style Konstantins Peksens (1859-1928). In a period of vigorous creativity, architects like Peksens and Eisenstein, father of the great film-maker, experimented freely with a wide variety of forms, marrying figurative sculpture to architecture in new, highly innovative ways. Leading to the rooms of Peksen’s apartment is one of Europe’s most fascinating and aesthetically successful spiral staircases. Within the apartment, you’ll enjoy a wonderfully restored interior with its original fittings and furniture. It will provide insights not only into the aesthetics of Rigan art nouveau, but also into the lifestyles of the city’s fin de siècle innovators.
This afternoon we visit the Latvian National Museum of Art, one of the most beautiful architectural monuments in Riga and the largest depository of professional art in Latvia. The museum has recently been entirely renovated, restored and enlarged. The Museum’s new permanent collection offers a comprehensive exposé on Latvian art in both the 19th and 20th centuries, with emphasis on the various stylistic periods and the artists who were instrumental. (Overnight Riga) B
Day 9: Wednesday 5 July, Riga
- House of the Blackheads (exterior only)
- Occupation Museum
- Afternoon at leisure
In the morning we continue our walking tour through parts of Riga’s Old Town. We pass the House of the Blackheads, dating from 1334. The Blackheads were an association of bachelor merchants in Riga and Tallinn who became a powerful trading force in the Baltic States. The current building is a restoration of the original, destroyed in the Second World War.
The Occupation Museum was established as the Soviet Union crumbled and Latvia regained its independence in 1991, taking over the ugly Communist era museum from Red Army soldiers previously ensconced there. The Museum displays strong material on the effects of Soviet policies from 1940 to 1991, including mass deportations, executions and long-term suppression of Latvian political and cultural life. The afternoon is at leisure. (Overnight Riga) B
Tartu, Estonia - 1 night
Day 10: Thursday 6 July, Riga – Gauja National Park – Araisi – Cesis – Tartu
- Ligatne Soviet Army command centre bunker
- Araisi floating fortress
- Evening meal at the Hotel Antonius A La Carte Restaurant
We drive from Riga through the picturesque, undulating Gauja National Park to visit a genuine curiosity – an intact Soviet Army bunker used by the Baltic Area Command when this region was heavily militarised and one of the closest points of the Soviet Union to the west. This bunker remained intact when the Soviet Army rapidly withdrew in the 1990s, and has recently been opened to the public.
We then proceed to Araisi, a reconstructed fortress that floats on logs in the middle of a lake. Archaeologists discovered this fortress submerged but recognisable, and the original is believed to have dated from the 10th century, giving a glimpse of life of the Latvian tribes here before Western European invasion of this region. We continue our drive a short distance to Cesis, where we will take lunch, and enjoy a walk around one of Latvia’s most beautiful towns. Cesis is known as a favourite spot for painters, and is incidentally also the beer capital of Latvia. After lunch we drive 300km north-east to the university town of Tartu.
Tonight we dine at the cellar restaurant of Hotel Antonius. The Antonius restaurant’s vaulted arch ceilings are adorned with rare frescoes and its atrium recreates the elegant atmosphere of a rose garden. (Overnight Tartu) BD
Tallinn, Estonia - 4 nights
Day 11: Friday 7 July, Tartu – Tallinn
- Walking Tour: Town Hall Square & St John’s Church, Tartu
- University of Tartu
- Estonian National Museum
Tartu’s quiet charm reveals a distinctively Estonian city, centred on Tartu University, the cultural and intellectual heart of the nation since its foundation as the second university of the Swedish Empire. We begin the morning with a walk around the town centre, beginning with the Town Hall Square, and the Gothic St John’s Church.
Within the University we visit Tartu Art Gallery, including the beautiful Assembly Hall (subject to renovation works being completed) and student lockups – where a student would have spent two days for returning a library book late.
After lunch, we visit the new Estonian National Museum. Opened in October 2016 and located on the grounds of what was once a Soviet military airfield, the new museum traces the history, life and traditions of the Estonian people and presents the culture and history of other Finno-Ugric peoples and minorities in Estonia. The 34,000-square-metre museum is the largest in the Baltic States and its collections chart Estonia’s history and culture from the Stone Age to the present day.
In the late afternoon we continue north to the capital, Tallinn, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. (Overnight Tallinn) B
Day 12: Saturday 8 July, Tallinn
- Walking Tour of Old Talllin: City Walls and Towers, Toompea: Tallinn Cathedral, Parliament Building, (Tallinn Castle), Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- St Nicholas Church and Niguliste Museum
- Walking tour of Lower City: Town Hall & Apothecary, Pikk
Like Riga, Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League towards the end of the thirteenth century and flourished on Baltic trade. Largely built by foreign interests, it looks outwards towards the waters of the Baltic Sea. 17th- and 18th-century Swedish and German merchant houses embellish its medieval foundations, and Russian summer palaces lend a touch of grandeur. In the morning we take a walking tour of the old city, exploring its medieval streets, the surviving towers and gates of the city walls, and the warehouses and merchant houses of the lower town.
We begin our walking tour by climbing the Toompea to visit the Cathedral and Tallinn Castle. Nearby the neo-classical (and pink!) Estonian Parliament House provides a striking counterpoint to the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral facing it across the street. The Cathedral was built at the end of the 19th century as a symbol of Russia’s domination of Tallinn, and named after Nevsky, who conquered much of Estonia in the 13th century. We also visit the St Nicholas Church, now a concert hall and home to the Niguliste Museum, which contains a small but valuable art collection preserved from the destruction of the Second World War.
In the afternoon we explore the lower town, including the Town Hall Square and Europe’s oldest apothecary, dating from 1422, and walk along streets of the lower town including Pikk with its mix of architecture from medieval to Jugendstil. (Overnight Tallinn) B
Day 13: Sunday 9 July, Tallinn – Lahemaa National Park – Tallinn
- Lahemaa National Park: Palmse Manor, Sagadi Manor, Altja
Today we travel by coach through Lahemaa National Park, an unspoilt coastal region of forests and farmland, preserved by the Soviets as a buffer to the Baltic Sea, and home to a number of classical 18th-century manor houses built by German nobles and merchants from Tallinn. The most impressive and best restored is at Palmse, a memorial to the von der Pahlen family. The manor and surrounding gardens were begun in the late 17th century, but not finished until 1740 because of the intervening war between Sweden and Russia. We take lunch in Altja, a small fishing village on the shores of the Baltic with traditional wooden architecture and a fine inn. We then visit the Sagadi Manor, built in quite a different style to Palmse, to see the diversity of German settlement and industry in this region. Sagadi also houses a small but valuable forestry museum. (Overnight Tallinn) BL
Day 14: Monday 10 July, Tallinn
- Pirita harbour – Song Festival Amphitheatre, Russalka Memorial, Forest Cemetery & Kadriorg Park
- St Birgitta’s Convent
- Afternoon at leisure in Old Town
- Farewell Evening Meal: Mekk Restaurant
We spend the morning in the Pirita harbour area, 7km to the east of the old town, which is a green band of beaches, parks, palaces (some dating back to the time of Peter the Great), museums and monuments. We visit the Song Festival Amphitheatre, site of the huge song festivals held regularly in Estonia, the ‘Russalka’ memorial in the form of an angel pointing out to sea to mark the loss with many lives of a Russian ship, and the beautiful Forest Cemetery, where Estonian notables are buried. We stroll through Kadriorg Park, whose centrepiece is Kadriorg Palace, built following Peter the Great’s visit to Tallinn in 1718 by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti. It is now home to the Estonian President.
After briefly visiting the beach and boat harbour, we take a guided tour of the ruined convent of St Birgitta, destroyed in a siege in 1577 but still with one massive end-wall standing, and its extensive layout retraced. We return to the old town around lunchtime for a free afternoon.
Tonight we enjoy a group farewell meal at the new Mekk Restaurant, offering modern Estonian dishes and located in the Old Town. (Overnight Tallinn) BD
Day 15: Tuesday 11 July, Depart Tallinn
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
The tour finishes in Tallinn. Participants on the ASA ‘designated ‘ flight will transfer to the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport to take their flight home to Australia. If you wish to extend your stay in the Baltic Region, you may wish to consider taking the morning ferry across to Helsinki (contact ASA for further information). B