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Cycling the Curonian Spit

Remember that time I walked to the (Kaliningrad) Russian border from Poland? I wanted to do that again, from the Lithuanian side. This is a slightly longer ordeal, requiring better transportation than feet. Long story short, I didn't actually make it to the border, but I did see it from the top of a sand dune. I got pretty close though. Anyway, I'm sure that border is less exciting than the Polish one, because you can actually cross it (in a car, not on foot).

The Curonian Spit is not connected to Klaipeda, but the ferry takes 5 minutes. They run every hour, from 0700 out, up to 2215 returning. It costs 1 EUR return for foot passengers, or passengers with a bike, and you can buy tickets from the machines at the port in Klaipeda old town. I rented a bike from my hostel for 24 hours for 5 EUR (we managed to lower the seat all the way so I could just about use it). Most bike rental places in town are 10-12 EUR.

A concrete pedestrian area leads to a small ferry, waiting to be boarded Looking down on people boarding a ferry with a green deck A ferry deck with a green floor, plastic blue roof and plastic chairs, with open sides; the cabin is visible at the top and the sky is overcast

The spit is well furnished with cycle paths, in various states of decay, but mostly well-maintained. This route is pretty popular. The northern most coast is an enormous long sandy beach. Very glorious. It's backed by epic dunes, and you can only access it at designated points from cycle paths running down the middle, because tramping around on the dunes is a no-no. Large portions of the spit are also do-not-enter nature reserves.

After I got off the ferry in Smiltyne, first I went right/east (not the direction of Kaliningrad) to check out the other end of the spit for completeness. There's a sea museum, a dolphinarium (ugh) and the start of the beautiful beach. I pushed my bike along the beach for a while, which wasn't so bad on the wet sand, until I could join one of the main cycle paths, peeking out between the dunes. It was easy sailing for a while; the path was in good repair, and either flat or any ups were well compensated with excellent downs. It weaves through the forest, with views of dunes on the right and pine trees on the left, or sometimes trees on both sides.

Dramatic clouds silhouette many cranes on the horizon and a bird sculpture in the foreground A sandy dune path with grass on each side and the sea in the distance The seat and back wheel of a green bike are visible in the left corner, leaving a trail through sand Pale sandy beach meets small rolling waves of the sea A wet sandy beach stretches out ahead; a green bicycle lies on its side in the middle left of the frame A sandy path leads through the woods; to the right a sign with an arrow says 'nudist beach' in Lithuanian A concrete cycle path passes from the foreground to the horizon with grass and pine trees on either side A concrete cycle path passes from the foreground to the horizon, with grassy sand dunes on either side

It took me two hours from joining the path to get to Judokrante, the next village. Here I stopped for lunch at Pamario Takas, a super nice place with loads of outdoor seating and.. lots of vegan options! The food was homemade and delicious; I ate lentil patties, coffee, panna cotta, and a wheatgrass shot for a boost, which all came to about 14 EUR. But I hadn't had breakfast. Judokrante has a nice seafront, with lots of restaurants and sand sculptures.

A sand sculpture of two people in veils with a seagull perched on top; the sea in the background A brick cycle path stretches into the distance, with grass on one side and the sea on the other A plate on a rough wooden table holds round lentil patties and salad

My lunch break was 45 minutes. My butt was already aching a bit, and it was nice to relax, but I tried to resist temptation to linger too long. I followed the coast through Judokrante - featuring some amazing sand scupltures - and rejoined the main cycle path. The next leg was long and same-y, through the woods. I occasionally detoured to check out a side road to a beach or a cape or a birdwatching tower. Mostly when I needed to hop off the bike for a bit. Sometimes I tied the bike to something and took a little walk through sand or a non-bike-friendly track. Walking was becoming a relief.

Sometimes the bike path got pretty sketchy, with holes and sand. Sometimes it arched over dunes, making hills I couldn't quite summit. The freewheeling down was fantastic though. There were quite a few people, but not so many that I didn't have long stretches with nobody in sight behind or in front of me.

A concrete cycle path is covered with pine needles, beside bushes and pine trees A view of a road, and beyond that the sea, with silhouettes of tall pine trees in front A view into the distance a long a beach, with the sea on the left and grassy dunes on the right Two paths fork; to the left is sand and trees, to the right a concrete path.. and trees A sandy path leads to many narrow pine trees A large tree on the right, beside a view over swamplands and the sea

The next villages around the coast are Pervalka and Preila. Little bits of scenic ports, a few restaurants and signs to things of interest I did not stop to check out.

Though they are small, there's plenty going on in all of the villages. Lots of people - mostly Germans and Lithuanians - come here for holidays, so there are tons of guesthouses and plenty of restaurants. There are also a disproportionate number of museums, galleries, open air art and sculptures, and other historical artefacts. Also many viewpoints (marked on openstreetmap at least), and natural features with mythological significance. I skipped by most of these, keen to get to the border, and still at this point thinking I could see them on the way back.

The final (agonising) stretch between Preila and Nida is a wide, smooth concrete road. It looks like it's designed for cars, but I think it was just the cycle path. I limped into Nida (as much as one does so on wheels), followed the coast around and saw the port. I found the bus stop, and confirmed the times. It was 1630 when I arrived, and the next bus was at 1800 (and one after that, at 2000). It's 4 EUR back to Smiltyne, and an extra 5 to take a bike. This seems like a horrible ripoff, but what can you do.

I parked my bike at the supermarket, and went for an amble to the 'Death Valley' sand dunes. This is just one of many exciting things to see in Nida, which is the biggest town on the spit. I considered walking all the way to the Kaliningrad border anyway, but that would have taken an hour and a half. There was no way my butt was getting back on the bike, and if I somehow missed the last bus I was pretty screwed. So I opted for seeing the Russian bit of the spit from the top of the dune instead. Close enough.

Soft pale sand in the foreground, with a view over a green and wooded village by the sea An expanse of soft sand reaches into the distance, and the sea is visible beyond An expanse of soft sand reaches a peak with small trees The tips of fence posts emerge from dune sand, and in the distance are forests and clouds A view to distant forests across grassy dunes A grey stone sculpture in an abstract diamond shape sits amongst grassy sand dunes A view to distant forests across grassy dunes A round set of sculptures on the ground circles an obelisk-like sundial needle

The bus was waiting half an hour early when I got back to town. Two other people had just had the driver load their bikes into the compartment on the back. I felt like he could have awkwardly stacked a third one in there, but he didn't. Nope, you can't come. I drifted a few meters away, fumbled with my phone, looked presumably scared and confused. I'd already considered my options if the 1800 bus wouldn't take my bike, and I didn't like any of them so I hadn't settled on a backup plan. Whatever my expression was doing made the driver sufficiently sympathetic that he came over and led me around the bus and opened the side luggage compartment. My bike went in there sideways. I offered him my eternal gratitude (and an extra 5 EUR) and went to wait in the bus.

The ride all the way back to Smiltyne is an hour exactly. The bus only stops in the villages, and won't be flagged down on the road. I got to see a slightly different bit of the spit for most of the stretch, as the cycle path I used on the way out tended to swap spit-sides whenever the road did, to the opposite one.

I had three ferries remaining to me by the time I got there, and considered sticking around in Smiltyne a bit; sitting in a coffee shop (there's one with a hammock in the yard) or on the beach for a while. It was getting grey and cool, and I was just exhausted and achey though, so I took the 1915 ferry right away.

I pushed the bike back to the hostel.

Overall it was a great outing, but I definitely overestimated my cycling abilities. I'm entirely convinced my sister would have managed to get there and back, and included a nice lunch, swim in the sea, and most of the museums and points of interest, with no problem. I guess I should practice.

All photos are here and GPS trace on RunKeeper.

🏷 vegan curonian spit travel lithuania cycling