REGIONS OF LITHUANIA
The largest region covers the north, east and middle of the country. Its name comes from the word aukstai, meaning high, as it includes a range of hilly uplands.
Aukstaitija is a land of pristine forests and beautiful lakes, and is immensely popular with tourists during the summers months. Despite this, it has still managed to retain its unspoilt charm.
The countrys deepest (Tauragnas - 60.5m) and its largest lake (Druksiai - 4,479ha) can be found here. Many of the forests are very old. The famous oak tree at Stelmuze is thought to be 1,500 years old.
The region has an extremely rural character. Farms here are generally small, as in the last century it was customary among farmers to divide their land between their sons. There are many villages designated ethnographic villages, where an older, quieter way of life has been preserved.
There is a wide variety of museum about local folklore and farming, among them a horse and a beekeeping museum. Among the many towns of interest to tourists is Anyksciai, the home town of a number of writers. The main gastronomic is pancakes, which are often eaten for breakfast. The region is also renowned for its beer.
The southern region of the country sits astride the Nemunas and borders Poland and Belarus. Most of it is forested. The name comes from a quirk of the dialect: people here often put the letter z after a constant.
Dzukijans are characterised by their optimism and their love of songs, and known for having preserved many ancient traditions. This is a popular area for picking mushrooms in the summer and autumn, when not only Dzukijans but also people from other part of the country come out in search of these mysterious fungi.
Culinary specialities include, naturally, mushrooms dishes and also many dishes made with potatoes and buckwheat.
Among the towns in the region is Druskinikai, an old spa town. It was declared a health resort in 1794 after healing properties were noticed in the water from its springs. Here, among the shaded squares, park and wooden villas, are sanatoria that specialise in treating heart conditions and nervous disorders. Mud and climate therapy are also available.
The region is full of curiosities to woodland culture, including a number of botanical reserves and ancient villages closely connected to the life of the forest.
A visitor centre on the outskirts of Druskininkai called Girios Aidas (The Echo of the Forest) records the culture, mythology and mystique of the forest.
The smallest region takes its name from the town of Suvalkai, now in Poland but with a large Lithuanian population. This area also been known in the past as Uznemune (The Other Side of the Nemunas).
The countryside here is flat and dotted with small farmsteads circled by trees. It was one of the first regions where farmers moved out of the villages to separate, isolated farms. The region has always been a major agricultural producer.
Suvalkijans are renowned for efficiency, pragmatism, love of order - and occasionally a touch of miserliness(?)
The area produces a famous kind of smoked sausage, called skilandis, made of pigs stomach filled with minced and seasoned meat.
The westernmost region (sometimes called Samogitia) was first mentioned in records in 13th century. The people here are well known foe their industriousness. A large number of jokes are testify to their stubbornness.
One of the former capital of the area, Telsiai, is a peasant, quiet town situated in the edge of a lake. The Alka Museum in the town records the archaeology, history, flora and fauna of the area and of the country as a whole. It also holds a rare and impressive collection of Lithuanian and Western European art.
There are other museums in the region, covering folklore, rural life, various local writers and artists, and museum to the culture of former country estates.
The lake at Plateliai lies at the heart of a national park and is very popular in summer. It is studded with large and small islands and shrouded in mysteries and legends. One of these tells of a secret sunken wooden platform that enabled the inhabitants of a castle on an island to escape to the shore. Recent archaeological investigations have revealed that such a structure did indeed once exist
Zemaitija is well known for its dairy produce and is the origin of kastinis, a savoury milk product.
The region is also famous for the Zemaitukai horse, short but strong and energetic. A new years ago it was close to extinction, but now its numbers are increasing again.
People from Zemaitija are notoriously slow to accept change, but once they accept it they embrace it fully. Zemaitijan pagans were the last people in the Baltic region to accept Christianity, but now, true to form, they are among the most devoted followers of it.
Taken from Lithuania in the World, No.1, 1999
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