Travelling in Lithuania?

Zypliai Estate

Visit The Historical Manors in Šakiai Region

In older times, travelling was not accessible to the average person, but a privilege reserved for nobles. Dukes and rulers travelled long distances to check on their estates scattered throughout Europe, most of the time – in horse-drawn coaches. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for Lithuanians in the diaspora to visit Lithuania more than once, not only to enjoy being with relatives but to learn more about their homeland. It is familiar, yet there is still much to explore.

Šakiai is a good example. Located in southwestern Lithuania, near the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad (“Karaliaučius”) region, it invites travellers to retrace the journeys that once only well-to-do nobles could afford, visiting the 17th– to 19th-century manors and ethnographic homesteads, abundant in the area. Visitors can taste gourmet or traditional dishes that the nobles once savoured, now offered by local homestead owners presenting their gastronomical heritage. Unique local museums and breath-taking views of the Nemunas River from the local hill-fort mounds are also nearby. Others may find Šakiai alluring for its picturesque nature reserves, with cranes and other inhabitants. 

The municipality and Tourism and Business Information Centre of Šakiai offer a variety  of tourism services under the name “Noble Privileges” (“Poniškos privilegijos”), and visiting at least one of the region’s 12 well-known manors is a must.

The most significant and the best preserved state-protected manor estates are Zypliai, Gelgaudiškis, Kidulių and Ilguva manors, restored and turned into sites offering many attractive activities.

A sample trip starts from the 19th-century Zypliai manor ensemble, which consists of 11 surviving buildings surrounded by avenues of poplars and lindens. The park covers an area of ​​21 hectares. The history of Zypliai manor, built by a count and brimming with grandeur in the neo-baroque style, has been restored. Since 2012, special cultural activities are organized in the Zypliai manor, with excursions and educational programs, exhibitions by Lithuanian and foreign artists, concerts, festivals, and seminars attracting people from all over the world.

The restaurant “Kuchmistrai” has operated in the kitchen building of Zypliai manor since 2017, specializing in the cuisine of the Aukštaitija ethnographical region of “Zanavykai”. The first 4-star hotel in the region, “Zyplių dvaro oficina” (The Zypliai Estate Office), located in the preserved office of the manor, opened its doors in 2021.

Gelgaudiškis Estate

Another Šakiai architectural heritage treasure is the classic-style palace of manor, renovated in 2012. The unique interior decoration known as German polychrome secession (Jugend) has been preserved. Located on a picturesque slope of the Nemunas River, the Gelgaudiškis manor homestead, reminiscent of the glorious past, is a national cultural heritage site.  Since 2010, multifaceted cultural and educational activities have taken place here. The manor palace is surrounded by one of the largest manor parks in Lithuania, with many interesting and legendary features: Žvaigždė (Star) is a unique element of the park, preserved since the 16th century; Asesarius’s tomb; Velnio kalnas (Devil’s Hill); Baronkapinės (the cemetery of Baron Koidels family), Pakaruokliai mountain and other areas testifying to the long and rich history of Gelgaudiškis.

Not far from Gelgaudiškis, in Panemune, Kidulių mansion shines with its red tiled roofs. It was first mentioned in the 16th century. At that time, the manor was called a “castle” by the locals. Now restored, the small but cozy Kidulių manor has a rich cultural life: a library, various cultural events, theatrical excursions and festivals.

Kidulių mansion

No less important, located on a high mountain on the left bank of the Nemunas River, sits Ilguva manor, reminiscent of the history and culture of the region as far back as the 18th century.  Currently, the manor itself is not open to tourists, but guests are invited to take a walk in the manor park to admire the architectural elements of its decoration as well as the breath-taking views of the Nemunas River from the hills. 

Žemoji Panemunė is another manor worth visiting. The oldest in Šakiai district, it is located on a high slope of the Nemunas, between two hill-fort mounds, surrounded by a huge orchard of apple trees. For many years,  Panemunė manor was abandoned, but thanks to the research carried out in the last few years, its glorious history is being revived. It is believed that the manor was founded on the site of a former Teutonic castle, from archaeological findings dating back to the 14th-17th centuries. The manor belonged to the Sapiega family, a prominent dynasty of the 15-17th centuries.

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