Lithuania might only be a small country but it has a lot of history and many exciting places to explore. While we were there earlier in the year we travelled around and enjoyed as much of it as we could. A few days ago I wrote about the forests and spas of Birštonas, but we also visited a lot of other interesting places, like these two beautiful manors in the north part of the country.
In earlier centuries we had many dukes, and just like anywhere that has nobility with money to spare, they built themselves many beautiful manors. The passage of time, many changes in the country, several wars and a lack of resources all had their effects though, and it was not possible to keep all of these amazing old houses in a good shape. Many of them are just abandoned and largely forgotten, slowly losing all their charm. Some belong to the state and others to private people. To own a manor is not difficult, to buy one of those that are falling apart is not even expensive these days, but to renovate them is a much bigger and more expensive challenge because they are all covered by heritage regulations, restricting how they can be changed and what materials, etc. must be used and that means huge investments to meet the rules.
So, if you are going to own and pay for a manor then you need to find a way for it to cover some of the costs, and while some fall apart luckily some others are finding solutions about how to use these great buildings and the lands around them. We visited two manors that have got their second chance to bloom! Both of them are from the beginning of the 16th century surrounded by wonderful nature, full of life and ready for visitors!
Since 1515 this manor has heard many different languages, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, German, Hebrew and Russian. If the walls and the lands could tell us stories we would hear so much more than it is possible to find in the history books. Different titles, different owners, stories of love and loss, wars, occupations, celebrations and many more events during more than 500 years.
Nowadays it is privately owned, and has been turned into much more than just a historic manor house. It is surrounded by a great park with sculptures, ponds and some animals around. The estate has authentically restored the main house from the 19th century together with other historic buildings and there is a new bridge to the Love Island, a place surrounded by legends. There is the first and the largest organic farm in the Baltic States. People live and work here all year round producing amazing tasting products with great respect for nature and their environment.
The estate also offers many services like renting the manor for events and celebrations, organizing concerts and educational programs, There is a cafe and a restaurant where you can have the degustation of biodynamic, organic, healthy products straight from the farm that surrounds you. In the small shop you can buy vegetables, great dairy produce including different cheeses and yogurt, and many other things produced there. If you feel like staying overnight there is also the chance to do that, staying in the crafts cottage or the old bathing house.
As the place is in the top corner of Lithuania, away from the biggest cities, it makes sense to come for a full day or even a weekend. You can take a relaxing walk in the park, en excursion around all the estate, enjoy tasting the produce, visit Love Island, maybe have an evening in sauna. The next day enjoy the healthy breakfast, get some goodies from the little shop and leave with many good memories.
But of course, we didn’t do that…
We had different plans and so we left the same day from Ilzenberg and kept on our route and plan to visit a flower festival in another manor about 130km away. Pakruojis Manor is another place with a lot of stories to tell, being mentioned for the first time in 1531. Throughout its history this manor, just like Ilzenberg, has had many different owners and has been the scene of many events, celebrations and losses. Today the manor is managed by the local government.
After the Second World War the manor was used as a technical school, then later on as a qualification development centre, so it was always a busy place. To transform the manor and estate from these practical uses into a tourist attraction was not easy, but it was worth it! Many different buildings were in quite good condition and after renovation they found new uses.
Right now the manor provides many different services to visitors. You can stay at a great hotel and feel like a duke, enjoy the spa and massages, and dine at the restaurants. You can rent halls for different occasions, get event organization services, enjoy different exercise and sports facilities, as well as take tours and other many other organised events. Try local alcoholic spirits made in the manor, check out the cellars with old torture machines or have a cup of coffee in the old manor kitchen.
The water mill, windmill, old crafts workshops, stone bridge, horse stables, park and the main building are always welcoming to visitors or you can chose to come during some festival as we did. That time it was their first annual flower festival, themed around William Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
There are many more manors around Lithuania to visit and many of them offer different activities. For us Lithuanians it is the history of our land, so we want to support everyone who puts their hearts into keeping it alive, Sometimes it is easy to forget that it is exciting and beautiful to explore and know not just other countries but your own as well.