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Nida: Lithuania's cutest holiday town
The end of summer is usually more bitter than sweet, and this is nowhere more the case than in a beach town emptying itself out for the season. In Nida, the last stop on the line along the Lithuanian coast before the Russian border, bitter and sweet were clashing like enemies in early September. The summer visitors were thinning out. The campsite south of town was almost empty. Some guesthouses had unoccupied rooms. And, most tragic of all, the outstanding In Vino, Nida's summer outpost of a much-loved Vilnius restaurant, was in its final weekend of seasonal operation.
Nida is the cutest village on the Curonian Spit. I don't know this for a fact, but I did ride a bus down the entirety of the Lithuanian side of the spit and I did spy each of the other main villages. If a quick drive-by can be counted on, then Nida is certainly the most beautiful of these towns. Nida has been a tourism draw since the middle of the nineteenth century. It knows that it's cute and doesn't need bright lights or obvious attractions to lure guests to its pristine streets. As if the sea, the sand dunes, and the pines weren't enough, Nida's houses even follow a distinctive stylistic pattern: a dark red paint job with white and blue window and roof trim (see below).
The Curonian Spit is a 60-mile stretch of land, bisected by the Lithuania-Russia border. Very thin at between a quarter-mile and two-and-a-half miles wide, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Blanketed with sand dunes and pine forests, the Curonian Spit is a beautiful, windswept place that deserves its reputation as one of the Baltic Sea's most captivating corners.
The Baltic is not the Mediterranean, no matter how assiduously the chefs at In Vino seduce their patrons with 'nduja and other delicious things from southern Europe. In other words, the Baltic's water is invigoratingly cold. When you emerge from a dip in the Baltic during the summer, you feel less like you've come to the surface of a swimming pool and more as if you're undergoing a homeopathic spa treatment for arthritis. Your body tingles and attempts to adjust to the shock of the water's temperature. Nida's beaches are undeniably lovely, with long wide stretches of pale, almost silver sand. They are separated from the Spit's main highway by thick pine forests.
What is there to do in Nida, really? There's the beach, the cute village itself, the Thomas Mann House (Mr. Mann liked it here enough to have a house built; this house is open June through mid-September), the sand dunes, and the border with Kaliningrad, that odd exclave of Russia bordered by Lithuania and Poland. Many visitors rent bicycles, though some of the best excursions, across sand, cannot be done on wheels.
Lots of holiday spots feel anonymous. If people return year in and year out to such places, surely it's out of habit or collapsed imagination. Nida doesn't feel anonymous. It feels like a perennial summer destination. With just a handful of recognizable activities, it's a place that can bask in its physical beauty and simply wait for visitors to return every summer.
Nida's quite affordable, too, with a visitor base that draws strongly from the domestic market. Several small guesthouses offer en-suite double rooms for around €45 per night. Few restaurant meals will exceed €20. There is also a very well-stocked Maxima supermarket in town for visitors who prefer to self-cater.