48 Hours in Druskininkai, One of Lithuania’s Spa Resort Towns
If you haven't already figured this out, I'll let you in on a little secret: my husband and I are weekend warriors. We're always looking for ways to have a new adventure, a new experience, a way to keep our minds flexible and open - especially in a new country. And even through the winter, you could find us taking little road trips to Lithuanian dvaras (manors) or stopping along the way at a snow-covered Tatar mosque. These days, we're taking the motorcycle out for some of these same adventures - for a different, open air perspective of the world. It's nice to have options. (I'm not a Gemini, or anything!)
One of our most recent road trips? Druskininkai, one of Lithuania's heavily forested spa resort towns. We got here in July, right? Ever since that initial move, people have been urging me to visit this southern town for its relaxing qualities. And it took me a while to get there, but better late than never. So, the town gets its name from the root word druska, or salt, and although it's been around much longer, it was named as a health resort town in 1794 due to the healing waters that permeate the area. And it's true: this is definitely a town to relax in. Because we came in the off-season, it wasn't filled to the brim with vacationers and tourists, and we liked it that way: it was quiet, peaceful, and restorative. (Hallelujah!)
Alright, here are my top favorite things to do in Druskininkai (so far, because I know I'll be back!):
A mud bath at Druskininkų Gydykla. This health resort was classy af. We used broken Lithuanian to communicate with the lady at the front desk, and walked through to the back area. The language barrier made the process a little confusing, but we just waited in front of our two assigned doors in a looong hallway of similar doors. There was definitely an Alice in Wonderland vibe to it. Then, because the people before us finished late, we were rushed into separate changing areas while a Lithuanian-speaking attendant filled huge tubs with thick, viscous mud. Okay, now, listen, y'all. I've covered myself in mud at the Dead Sea in Israel before running into the sea to float around. I've swum in a Georgian bog (the state, not the country! #ExpatDisclaimer), the free equivalent of what I was about to experience. I've swum in a pool of chocolate, laughing with my friends about the immediacy and lunacy of what we were doing - that's a story for another time - but I still had no idea what to expect. So, I stripped off all my clothes and got in, while my husband did the same thing in the area right next door. Y'all. It was like swimming in a warm hug given to me by the UNIVERSE. I cannot emphasize how much I loved this. While I couldn't see him, I could hear my husband laughing at his own immersive mud experience, as head-to-toe covered as me. My legs and feet only resembled legs and feet; my wedding and engagement ring just hilarious brown opaque blobs on my finger. Similar to my chocolate pool experience, I could only laugh at how ridiculous I must have looked. It felt so much longer than 15 minutes - like time had been suspended for a brief moment. Had I entered the Matrix? After I'd traveled through a few worlds, the attendant used the one English word she knew ("Finished!") and I steadied myself out of the tub to wash myself off in the shower. Feeling refreshed, alive, and grounded, my husband and I grinned at each other once we emerged back into our Alice in Wonderland hallway of doors. This, I will be doing again, and I highly recommend you do something similar at Druskininkų Gydykla. What a wild experience. Alright, let's move on!
Saunas, steam rooms, and pool at Akvapark. This place was initially kinda weird, y'all. We walked near it to find water slides, happy kids, and at the front, a Disneyland-style ticket purchasing area. Nothing about it said Relaxing Spa Resort. But we paid for 2 hours anyway, and changed into our bathing suits. Alright, it's true: the bottom area was filled with families, screaming kids, float tubes shaped like pizzas (!), as well as a sauna and steam room. We went into both, not understanding why this place didn't separate the kid area from the adult area. What had we just paid for? And then we looked up to see Šeima. Oh. We knew that word: Family. This was the designated family area, ha. So, after laughing at ourselves, we moved onward into the adult, clothing-optional bathhouses. These were IMPRESSIVE. We walked into sauna after sauna after sauna, each touting different benefits, temperatures, sensations. But the real treat was the steam rooms, some named after gods and goddesses (Afrodita, Artemida, Isidos). We went back and forth, back and forth, into each steam room, my favorite being the one that intermittently misted salt water, and my husband pointed out that it had the exact same humidity as my coastal Georgia hometown. No wonder I loved that one so much! It was like being at the beach back home. (It was Afrodita, naturally.) Others had relaxing music, brilliant stars on the ceiling, and Egyptian statues and tiles completely immersing us in the experience. I loved it. And then, we swam in a pool that was somehow set to the perfect temperature, which had a swim up bar... so we got a Piña Colada, because why not? I guess, all in all, I really loved this place - but it's completely unassuming from the outside. You know, I'd actually describe a lot of Lithuania this way! Old Town Vilnius (or Downtown Vilnius, as Americans might say) has so many secret inlets and courtyards that you just wouldn't even know from walking by them. If you go, just walk right on by that Šeima sauna and steam room. You're welcome for the tip. ;)
Uzbekistan cuisine at Bukhara restoranas. Wow, this place really impressed me. Our friendly waitress provided American-level service (iykyk!), and knew the ins and outs of the menu in a way that totally relaxed us into her recommendations. Even though the place is more casual than fine dining, her level of service reminded me of Vilnius's Amandus, which I recommended a couple of weeks ago. We liked this place so much that we decided to go back a second night and bring our dog, who - if you remember - loves Europe because its restaurants are so pet-friendly. My favorite dishes there: lamb soup with dumplings, a main dish of dumplings with lamb... Okay, so since I've moved to Lithuania, I've discovered I like anything with dumplings and lamb. (Heeey, Georgian cuisine!) But their ginger tea was also amazing, AND, they had house-made alcoholic ginger beer, probably making my husband's whole week. This place was such a treat, so well decorated (so many things were handcrafted, like these little salt and pepper shakers!), and again, the service was some of the best I've had in Lithuania.
I really can't say enough good things about Druskininkai. That's three solid A+ experiences! We also finally (finally!) made our first Latvian friend staying at our vacation rental that had a very classy hostel vibe. I can definitely tell the area is not as quiet during the summertime, so I'll probably go back in the fall or winter. If you're visiting Lithuania for the first time (shout out to my extended family member who just did exactly that!), I recommend putting Druskininkai in your travel plans, along with the obvious Kaunas, Klaipeda, etc. This place is special.
I hope y'all have a great week, and thanks for coming along for the swim. :)
Viso gero, bye!