Lithuania has a long, cold, dark winter. Months go by without sunlight; there’s fog, wind, grey skies, ice. If I lived here I’m sure I would end up cursing the winter before long. As a visitor though, wintertime is full of delights, especially if you’re heading to Trakai and Lake Galvė.
The frozen lake, the mist, the leafless trees, the little islands, it all comes together at Trakai to make a truly romantic setting – for those who like their romance dark and moody. Wandering around the edge of the lake, by yourself, in the morning, when no one else is out, and all is silent, except for the crunching of ice and frost under your feet as you cross the frozen grass, is an excellent way to feel on your own, and to get that sense of self so many of us are after.
On your wanderings you’ll pass disused, derelict forts and battlements, you’ll climb over ominous, obscure mounds, you’ll disturb flocks of crows that take to the air and swirl above your head in a terrifying, endless vortex.
Truly, it’s very romantic.
And there’s a castle.
Trakai Island Castle
Trakai township was founded around 1337 CE – it was probably earlier than this, but 1337 CE is the first time Trakai is mentioned in text. Construction of Trakai Island Castle commenced shortly after.
The town of Trakai became one of the key cities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (a state that existed between the 13th and 18th Centuries – at one stage more than ten times the size of current day Lithuania, occupying land in what is now Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland).
The Island Castle, along with another castle built on the shore of Lake Galvė – known as the Peninsula Castle – were key defences against attacks by the Teutonic knights.
The city’s importance diminished when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania entered the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, and after the castle was damaged in the 17th Century it was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
Photos taken in the late 19th Century show just the outer walls, and a few turrets remaining.
It’s not a bad castle, and I’m sure many people will enjoy exploring its keeps and towers. But for me, it’s all about the frozen lakes. Even when I was inside the castle I was gazing out at the lake.
I’ve been told locals think of Trakai as a place to take family picnics in the summer. And I can imagine it being so. In summer there’d be blue skies, leafy trees, swimming, water sports; it’d be ever so pleasant.
If you prefer things dark and moody though, then Lake Galvė in the dead of winter is for you.
Practical information on reaching Trakai:
Trakai is 30 km southwest of Vilnius. There are frequent buses from the capital. Trip time is approximately 45 minutes.
Trakai Historical National Park is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status.