How Lithuania Is Redrawing The Wellness Travel Map

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Sustainability has entered the family group chat. A relatively new business concept has spread from the fashion industry to other niches of the lifestyle market. For example, wellness tourism is the fastest developing segment with expected growth of over 20% by 2025. Powered by rising stress levels, people are seeking comfort from familiar eat-pray-love destinations. In turn, these places suffer from overcrowding and the resulting drop in quality of services and experiences. So much so that the esteemed Fodor’s Guide published a “No Travel” list for 2023 which includes places as different as Antarctica, Maui, and Amsterdam. The latter has even devised a plan to divert tourists away from the popular cannabis and canals tours towards other activities and destinations. Venice has introduced a five-euro surcharge for day visitors, banned large groups and loud speakers to improve local life. Popular Greek islands Santorini and Mykonos are ringing the alarm on the pressure of catering to skyrocketing demand. In a drastic measure, Indonesian island of Bali has banned all human activity on its mountains. This gives under-the-radar destinations an opportunity to welcome newcomers into the wellness spotlight.

Fresh off serving as European Capital of Culture in 2022, Lithuania is putting its best foot forward with a Harmony Within project to support its storied spa towns and regions. This initiative aligns with the nationwide efforts to “upcycle cultural history” and revive traditional linen craftsmanship. Here is how Lithuania is redrawing the wellness and lifestyle travel map.

PALANGA

While everyone is dreading climate change, for centuries Lithuania has been pioneering the concept of “climate therapy”. This densely pine-forested stretch of the Baltic shore maintains its eco-retreat momentum 365 days a year.

Miles of rolling dunes culminate in Birute Park, one of the very few beaches in the world awarded the coveted Blue Flag status every year since 2003. Palanga is so quaint, it could be in the running for the title of Europe’s last “hidden gem”.

Many Lithuanian spa/hotel resorts are called sanatorija. Derived from Latin sanare or “to heal”, it is a type of institution established post-industrialization to boost the taxed immune system in the pre-antibiotics era. Add five-star contemporary catering and concierge services, and you get the idea.

Gradiali is a prime example of this holistic approach to travel and relaxation. Few reservations come with a reading hammock in pristine woods! The nearby Vanagupė Conference & Spa Center make business and pleasure virtually indistinguishable for its guests.

If being out and about in nature starts to feel overwhelming, head over to Atostogų Parkas for a soak in one of its sixteen (!) indoor and outdoor pools, or experience one of the largest Amber saunas in the world.

For a gastronomical highlight, chef Andrius Gurevičius runs his award-winning Žuvinė kitchen solely on wild-caught or sustainably farmed seasonal marine gifts: Baltic cod, zander, smelt, eel, etc. Visiting the impossibly charming Dog Museum can turn anyone into a dog’s best friend.

Lithuanian Style Tip: Linen. This ancient fiber is experiencing a major fashion revival driven by consumer interest in organic textiles. In Lithuania, linen has been an integral part of both the collective and family identity and heritage since the 16th century. Check out LueL or Son de Flor or any other wonderful local linen designers.

DRUSKININKAI

Wikipedia cites Sebastian Kneipp as “one of the forefathers of the pseudoscientific naturopathic medicine movement.” Unkind, given that his five panacea principles resonate both with modern science and indigenous knowhow: herbal medicine, water treatment, vitamin-rich nutrition, proactive fitness, and spiritually balanced lifestyle. These five elements now form the foundational wisdom for the multibillion-dollar wellness market and a cornerstone of sustainability principles for the fashion industry.

Druskininkai is the oldest and largest spa town in Lithuania. It was built around the springs with the purpose of providing hospitality services to those seeking healing and respite. This Kneipp paradise was envisioned as a northern competitor to the famous bath “Meccas” of Baden-Baden or Karlovy Vary.

The SPA VILNIUS Druskininkai resort heartily delivers on this ambitious premise. Even its massage therapists are award winners, including Aleksandras Zubkevič, a bronze medalist at the International Massage Association World Championships. From its humble beginnings in 1960 when the new “hotel” employed only a maid and a coal stoker, Grand Spa Lietuva has evolved into one of the largest and most environmentally efficient resort properties in the Baltics.

Its panoramic Keturi Vėjai restaurant offers some of the best views on the tranquil town. Nearby, you can also indulge in the country’s only cable-car ride or ski and snowboard at the indoor Snow Arena inspired by its famous “rivals” in the Emirates. Who knew snow diplomacy could work for the Middle East?!

Lithuanian Style Tip: Fluxus. Jurgis Mačiūnas and Jonas Mekas were Lithuanian American artists widely regarded as pioneers of the avant-garde art movement and innovative filmmaking. Their defiant creative spirit lives on the works of contemporary designers populating the Stikliai Quarter in Vilnius or its legendary Republic of Užupis neighborhood.

BIRŠTONAS

The town received its “city rights” in 1529 and has been a steady draw for “calm hunters” ever since. No wonder that balneotherapy and peloidotherapy have thrived in Lithuania given that the country has the widest range of mineral concentration in Europe.

Medical spa resort Eglės taps into the two hundred years of cultivating the revitalizing properties of mud and mineral waters.

Nearby, the unique Druskupis mineral water evaporation building distributes sea-salt-enriched oxygen for a deep lung cleanse. Wellness is literally in the air here.

Meanwhile, Vytautas Mineral Spa is the only single-source mineral spa facility in the Baltics centered on the unique mineral composite of the Sofia spring nestled in hills along the winding path of the Nemunas River. The immensely popular Kurhauzas restaurant captures the quiet wonder of the region with its Euro-fusion cuisine and minimalist monochrome décor.

Lithuania is 35% forest. Ballon flights over the region’s lush woods can impress even those familiar with Costa Rica, Cappadocia, and other balloon-enthusiast destinations. If you’re afraid of heights, getting closer to the earth may be just what your body and spirit need. While “barefoot reflexology path” might sound straight out of Goop catalogue, but the benefits of barefoot walking are aplenty and Birštonas has miles of foot-safe hiking trails.

Lithuanian Style Tip: Amber. From Marilyn Monroe to Angela Merkel, several cultural icons have worn “the burning stone”. Lithuania is the world’s leader in amber. Gintaro Muziejus is a network of galleries and studios specializing in amber jewelry and art. When it comes to unique jewelry trends, could amber be the next pearl?

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