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Time-capsule accommodation and a ‘devil’ museum: Discovering European Capital of Culture Kaunas

There’s a crystal perfume bottle on the dressing table of every bedroom at Villa Grabyte in Kaunas, Lithuania.

An information card, positioned next to one of the bottles, explains that the liquid inside has notes of white lilac, old wooden furniture and weighty books.

The owners of the villa had it created to mimic the scents that were made in Lithuania during the interwar years (1918 to 1940) and spritzing it is just one of the ways guests can immerse themselves in this time period when they stay at the property.

Pictured is the living room at Villa Grabyte, a guest house that’s designed to make visitors feel like they’re living in the interwar years (1918 to 1940). In the back of the shot you can see the replica wireless that allows guests to listen to music from the period

Pictured is a 1970s apartment you can stay in in Kaunas. It comes with a Soviet-era ¿Chaika¿ vacuum cleaner and record player that lets you listen to Soviet-era records

Pictured is a 1970s apartment you can stay in in Kaunas. It comes with a Soviet-era ‘Chaika’ vacuum cleaner and record player that lets you listen to Soviet-era records

This shot shows the perfume that's provided for guests at Villa Grabyte to use. The owners of the villa had it created to mimic the scents that were made in Lithuania during the interwar years

This shot shows the perfume that’s provided for guests at Villa Grabyte to use. The owners of the villa had it created to mimic the scents that were made in Lithuania during the interwar years

When they open the wardrobes, they’ll find interwar-style clothes that they can try on and when they relax in the living room, they can listen to music from the time on the replica wireless.

Villa Grabyte is not the only immersive accommodation option available in Kaunas. 

Elsewhere in the city, you can stay in a 1970s flat that comes with a Soviet-era ‘Chaika’ vacuum cleaner and record player that lets you listen to Soviet-era records.

Experiences like this are what characterise a visit to Kaunas in 2022, I discovered during my trip there.

Lithuania’s former capital is one of three European Capitals of Culture this year (the other two are Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg and Novi Sad in Serbia) and, as well as offering a year-long programme of events, the city has developed a range of new cultural activities to celebrate.

Liberty Boulevard (pictured) is the main high street of Kaunas. It's pedestrianised and flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and a smorgasbord of bakeries

Liberty Boulevard (pictured) is the main high street of Kaunas. It’s pedestrianised and flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and a smorgasbord of bakeries

Kaunas's medieval castle (pictured), with its wizard-hat-shaped roof, is located near the Old Town square

Kaunas’s medieval castle (pictured), with its wizard-hat-shaped roof, is located near the Old Town square

This shot shows the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes. It's located at the top of Liberty Boulevard

This shot shows the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes. It’s located at the top of Liberty Boulevard

In addition to staying in time-travel accommodation, visitors can now take a free walking tour with a ‘Culture Host’ or a guided car tour as part of the new Culture Ride offering. 

Both types of tour are led by Kaunas residents with specific areas of expertise, such as photography, modernist architecture (there are more than 600 modernist buildings around the city) and street art (there are 30 murals to find and some are three-storeys tall).

Of course, if you’d rather see the sights at your own pace, rather than with a guide, Kaunas was made for ambling. I lost several hours meandering down the pedestrianised high street – Liberty Boulevard – alone.

There are more than 600 modernist buildings in Kaunas. The former Post Office (pictured) is one of the most imposing. To learn about modernist architecture, you can take a free tour with a Kaunas 2022 Culture Host

There are more than 600 modernist buildings in Kaunas. The former Post Office (pictured) is one of the most imposing. To learn about modernist architecture, you can take a free tour with a Kaunas 2022 Culture Host

Venture across the 'Vytautas the Great Bridge' and you¿ll find the Aleksotas Funicular Railway (pictured). This 1930s railway trundles up the hillside to a lookout point that serves up grandstand views of Kaunas

Venture across the ‘Vytautas the Great Bridge’ and you’ll find the Aleksotas Funicular Railway (pictured). This 1930s railway trundles up the hillside to a lookout point that serves up grandstand views of Kaunas

To celebrate its year as European Capital of Culture, Kaunas has developed a Culture Ride initiative, which allows you to take free car tours with locals like Vida (pictured) to learn about the city

To celebrate its year as European Capital of Culture, Kaunas has developed a Culture Ride initiative, which allows you to take free car tours with locals like Vida (pictured) to learn about the city

This mile-long road is flanked by shops, bars, restaurants and more bakeries than you can shake a baguette at. If you only go to one of the latter, make it Spurgine. 

In operation since the 1970s, it’s a local institution. Its signature dishes are baseball-sized doughnuts filled with jam or meat. 

I tried a jam one, still warm from the oven, and immediately understood why queues often form out of the door of this place.

The Old Town ate into another few hours of my time in Kaunas. The main square is crookedly cobbled and framed by cafes, bars and restaurants. 

There are 30 street art murals like the one pictured above to investigate in Kaunas

There are 30 street art murals like the one pictured above to investigate in Kaunas

Pictured is one of the larger street art murals in Kaunas. This one is a monument to Jewish poet Lea Goldberg, who once lived in the building the artwork is on

Pictured is one of the larger street art murals in Kaunas. This one is a monument to Jewish poet Lea Goldberg, who once lived in the building the artwork is on

Take a guided tour here and you’ll discover dozens of historical sites that are hidden in plain sight, including a few linked to the Knygnesiai or book smugglers of Lithuania, who used to smuggle literature into the country when it was banned by Russia between 1866 and 1904.

Wandering around the high street and the Old Town, you’ll stumble across most of the city’s key sights, such as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel with its forget-me-not blue domes and Kaunas’s medieval castle, with its wizard-hat-shaped roof.

There are a few points of interest that you have to leave the immediate centre of the city to find, though. Venture across the ‘Vytautas the Great Bridge’ and you’ll find the Aleksotas Funicular Railway. This 1930s railway trundles up the hillside to a lookout point that serves up grandstand views of the city.

Finally, the Devil’s Museum, featuring 3,000 devil sculptures, deserves a mention. It’s a Marmite kind of place. However, if you enjoy visiting the more unusual museums of the world, this place is up there with Froggyland in Split in terms of kookiness.

Kaunas 2022’s celebrations will continue throughout the year. For the full programme visit the website.

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