Narrow cobbled thoroughfares, baroque architecture and lofty green spaces make this capital the stuff of storybooks
Where to stay
Whether business, pleasure or both have drawn you to the 2009 European Capital of Culture (along with Linz, Austria), the Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site since 1994, offers convenience and aesthetic appeal in abundance.
In the heart of that zone, in front of the city cathedral, is the basic but comfortable Amberton Hotel. Its major draw, apart from its setting, is a beautifully appointed breakfast room, overlooking the hotel’s elegant surrounds, which is perfect for an early-morning meeting. The hotel boasts excellent WiFi and five fully equipped conference halls.
Where to eat
If French farmhouse ambience and fare appeal, Balzac, in the Old Town, offers Gallic staples such as onion soup, oven-baked snails, duck confit and devilish desserts. A more authentic in situ experience can be had at Neringa, the oldest operating restaurant in Vilnius. Its mosaic floors and frescoed walls haven’t changed a bit since the restaurant opened in 1959 – and neither have parts of the menu (the chicken Kiev has achieved cult status). Remember to check out the booths from which the KGB used to earwig suspected dissidents as they dined.
What to see
A short stroll from the Amberton Hotel into the cathedral will set the visitor among 40-odd artworks, including a fresco dating from the late 14th century, which was found on the wall of an underground chapel. The other churches in the
Old Town – only a few survived Soviet occupation – are also worth visiting, and if you have time for just one, make it St Anne’s, a building whose flamboyant Gothic appearance so delighted Napoleon, passing through on his way to invading Russia in 1812, that he exclaimed: “This is the church I would carry on my palms to Paris.”
In order to fully comprehend Lithuania’s present and future, it’s important to take in its painful past. The most sobering of the tourist spots is probably the Museum of Genocide Victims, a former KGB prison in which the Soviet regime exacted its brutal revenge on assorted dissidents for almost half a century, and the medieval quarter where the city’s Jewish community lived before the Holocaust.
If you have a few days, consider visiting Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, 90 minutes west of Vilnius, which served as the temporary capital during the interwar period, while Vilnius found itself part of Poland.
Addressing people by their honorific title and their surname is de rigueur until you know them well. Always take a gift to someone’s home – and if taking flowers, take an odd number (even quantities are for funerals). Asked about variations in the way Britons and Lithuanians do business, Euromonitor International’s Marius Dundulis – who spent 10 years working in London before setting up the Vilnius operation – says: “Brits are much braver, bolder. With us Lithuanians, [our relative diffidence] is a bit of a legacy of Soviet times – when people were suppressed, they were afraid to express their opinions.” On the other hand, Lithuanians, he adds, pay much more attention to detail.
For the flight
Utterly Alone, a 2004 movie based on the story of Juozas Luksa – a Lithuanian who fought against Soviet occupation after the Second World War – is not exactly breezy viewing, but makes for excellent research into the country’s modern history; equally gritty background fare is New York Times bestseller Between Shades of Gray, in which American novelist Ruta Sepetys charts the misfortunes of a Lithuanian woman deported during the same period.
There’s a dearth of literature about doing business in this nation, but local poet and scholar Tomas Venclova has written a fantastic, in-depth guide to Vilnius and its rich history.
Hotel Amberton Vilnius, Stuokos-Guceviciaus str. 1, LT-0122 Vilnius
+370 5 210 7461