• Friday, November 22, 2019

Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania

The Baltics
July 14, 2019
By , Contributor

It’s been said that the most beautiful women in the world come from the Baltics. And that’s only half true. In reality, it’s the most beautiful people in the world that come from the Baltics. And while it is enticing to visit an entire region filled with “should-be” supermodels, there’s so much more the Baltics have to offer.

The Baltic region is the land of castles, cobblestone streets, and ancient European culture. Traveling there is like walking into the happily-ever-after at the end of a fairytale (and, again, not just because everyone looks like the beautiful princess or the dashing prince charming). The whole area is simply picturesque. Estonia with its two World Heritage Sites, snowy winters, and medieval architecture; Latvia with its widest waterfall in Europe, national folklore, and countless song and dance festivals; and Lithuania – the only country in the world with its own official scent, countless majestic lakes and forests, and potato pancakes as far as the eye can see.

And here’s the best part: it’s off the beaten path in a really, really cool way. The Baltics are one of those rare travel destinations where you can feel authentically immersed in a different culture without sacrificing any comforts from your own. In other words: there’s zero culture shock—but there’s still culture. It’s the best of both worlds.

No matter where you visit, you’ll have plenty of luxury hotels to choose from (after all, traveling is supposed to refresh, not exhaust). And the food is good—maybe too good. You’ll definitely be putting on a bit of winter weight in advance, but you won’t care because it’s totally worth it.

So if you haven’t already checked out the Baltics, you need to throw it on the bucket list. It truly is a destination that makes any vacation feel like your own happily-ever-after.

Latvia

Riga, the capital city of Latvia, is a medieval castle-like surprise of a charming town.  The city is walkable, and what’s not walkable is boat-able – you can be a tourist for an afternoon and hop on a boat to cruise the city by water, and take in the views.  Alternatively, you can charter your own boat and leisurely make your way through the canals in the city with your captain, as you sip on their Black Balsam, the local drink of choice that is bitter and sweet at the same time. If you’re chartering your own boat, you can do a coffee stop on the Muusu Terase, right along the river banks. The beauty of Riga (which we highly recommend visiting during the summer when it’s just a touch chill for our thin skin even then) is wandering around the historic center and bar and restaurant hopping.

If you’re looking for a charming boutique hotel experience, the Dome Hotel is steps from center of town and has some of the most personal and friendly service. They have a serious spa with serious masseuses, who will give you a medical-like treatment that may be tough to bear in the moment, but will have you feeling completely regenerated by the next day. 

For the traditional highest end hotel in town, the Grand Palace Hotel Riga is similarly situated to the Dome Hotel and has beautiful, grand common areas, where either way, you should stop in for a glass of champagne in their bar. 

 

    

 

Estonia

There’s a reason Estonia has a reputation for having the most beautiful people.  It’s one of the places that you can literally walk down the street nude and unless you are at the supermodel level of their average citizen, you’d barely get a glance. Tallinn is also where you will easily see a Ferrari or Bentley rolling down the street like it’s your average SUV in the US. The country is extremely affluent, with a growing tech boom, but yet the prices of the accommodations and restaurants are value for those of you coming from Western Europe or the United States.

The hotels do not quite meet the mark of luxury for the experienced traveler, but our options of the Telegraph and Schlossle are the best in town. The Telegraph is more modern, whereas the Schlossle is a historic hotel that is one of the oldest in Europe. Rooms are a slight notch down from the Telegraph in terms of modernity, but there’s a lot of history, if that’s your thing. Location of both hotels is central. 

The food is off the charts in Tallinn, and the best in the Baltics. Bread is an important part of the cuisine, and each place has its own specialty. We loved Cru, which is a cute, hidden garden, known for its mushroom soup, and Ribe, which is an amazing wine program where they Coravin some of the best wines by the glass, and do appetizers to go with them (definitely sit outside for this). We also loved Tchaikovsky in the Telegraph (for which you should also sit outside), mostly for their mains, since it’s the nicest place in town. They cucumber soup is especially amazing. Another place worth visiting is Lieb, although it’s a little out of the way – but it’s a beautiful and hidden restaurant, and maybe the best food in town.

At some point, stop by Teleskivi for coffee, which is the trendy East-Village-type area. It’s fun to play table tennis and have beers outside, and walk around a few shops. There is also a market in the Teleskivi area, where you can buy caviar for a dime (okay, not quite a dime, but much less than in the U.S. for high quality black gold).

Among other recommendations is a sunset-lit dinner at Noa. It’s not in Old Town, but it’s where all the beautiful locals go. We still dream of their cheese fries. The other spot everyone talks about is Restakeevu.  Service and charm characterize this restaurant that is always busy, because they seem to get a lot of online reviews.  There is always the main square for souvenir shopping, where if there’s a place to buy a fur hat, this is it. Also, in that area is the touristy old tavern called Olde Hansa that has no electricity and is all by candlelight, which specializes in old dishes made in medieval times. We wouldn’t eat there, but it is a novelty to see.

 

            

Vilnius, Lithuania

We would return to Vilnius again if only to eat the caviar at the breakfast buffet at the Kempinski, and to stay at the Hotel Pacai, the nicest hotel in all of the Baltics.  With either hotel choice, you are not going to go wrong.  The service is notably the most polished and professional at the Kempinski, where they take extra special care of their guests.  We know when the rubber hits the road, this is the place where we would want to stay because they handled a travel mishap for us in Belarus with more professionalism, ease and miracle-working than any hotel we’ve ever stayed at in the world. They also work with the best drivers and guides in the country. 

For those into boutique design hotels, the Hotel Pacai is another superlative – one of the best design hotels in the world. We were surprised ourselves to find this recently restored palace steps from the center of the old town, behind a nondescript façade. The beds are Hastens in many of the rooms and the suites are just massive, befitting of the hotel’s old palace roots. The food is the best in town for lunch and dinner. It’s the highest execution of cuisine, which could be a fine dining restaurant in Paris, London or New York. Instead, their restaurant is in Vilnius, and really stands out. 

In general, the food (except for the caviar at breakfast at the Kempinski and the lunch and dinners at the Hotel Pacai) is underwhelming, even at the best restaurants in town. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking it all in.