The Baltic States

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are located in the north west of Europe and border with the Gulf of Finland, Russia, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic sea. All three countries regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and are members of the European Union and NATO since 2004.

Though geographical proximity leads the countries to be conventionally thought of together as a single entity, the degree of difference between them is surprisingly great in terms of ethnicity, language, historical development and religion.

The countries' rich and colorful history can be best appreciated in their capital cities, which have beautiful architecture, while the surrounding countryside features lakes, forests and wetlands, dotted with manor houses, medieval castles and splendid rococo churches.

When compared with others countries that surround Baltic sea - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are tiny and flat, there are no deserts and mountains, just lots of forests, woodlands, lakes and more than a thousand rivers and streams, and a thousand miles of mostly sandy beaches.

Folklore and folk traditions from pagan times continues to influence Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian music, culture and art, they remain integral to the cultural identities of the Baltic people. Summer solstice, for example, continues to be observed in all three countries and is accompanied with by the performance of ancient rituals and the preparation of traditional foods.

Despite the three nations' similarities in culture and history, their languages belong to two distinct language families. The Latvian and Lithuanian languages make up the group of Baltic languages which belongs to the Indo-European language family. The Estonian language, on the other hand, is a non-Indo-European language and instead belongs to the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Finno-Ugric languages, sharing close cultural and historical ties with the Finnish language and culture.

Each of the three Baltic countries has the language of their respective titular nationality as an official language. Russian is spoken by the majority of the population in all three countries, and English is increasingly spoken as well, especially by the younger generations. Any attempt to speak the native language will be greatly appreciated.

Geographically, the three Baltic States have much in common. Forests and lakes cover a vast amount of the countryside; there are 2,800 lakes in Lithuania alone, many of them glacial. Plumb the wilds of Aukstaitija and Zemaitija Parks to see them. In Latvia, Gauja National Park shelters lush vegetation, lynx, wolves, and Europe's largest beaver population, not to mention remnants of fortified castles. Be sure to visit Guttman Cave, the largest in the Baltic States. In the north of Estonia, Laheema National Park offers gorgeous forest, cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, and rivers

LatviaLithuania and Estonia are particularly known for their splendid Baltic Sea coastline. The extraordinary Curonian Spit in Lithuania, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, amazes visitors with its miles of dark pine forests, sandwiched between a 62 mile beach along one side and a lagoon on the other, dotted with picturesque fishing villages. The islet of Neringa is strewn with pleasant fishing villages, small museums and monuments that you can tour on the Seaside Cycle Route