Seaside resorts and the Curonian spit

Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

In the summer, the whole town is out on the beachfront promenade, strolling, sitting in outdoor cafés, or feeding the seagulls, lured inshore by the smell of food. At the foot of the central stairway, leading down to the sea, one will find one of Svetlogorsk's landmarks, a mosaic-encrusted sundial 10 metres (33 feet) in diameter, created by local sculptor Nikolay Frolov in the 1970s. Another landmark on the promenade is the bronze Nymph, sculpted by an artist from the other shores of the Baltic Sea, Hermann Brachert. Svetlogorsk plans to extend its rather short promenade by 2019, so that its total length exceeds one kilometre (3 feet).  

Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

The water treatment centre and the adjacent 25-metre (82-foot) water tower, built in the early 1900s in the local "romantic" style, are the most recognizable buildings in Svetlogorsk and its prime symbols, shown on most Svetlogorsk picture cards. You cannot just walk into the water treatment centre, which is active and a part of the Svetlogorsk Military Health Resort. But you can sign up for mud treatment. The local therapeutic muds are rich in peat, and are said to be almost equal to Bavarian mud in healing value. 

Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

In Zelenogradsk, parts of the promenade periodically get destroyed by storm waves from the Baltic Sea, and the embankment has to be built back every time. But nothing reminds you of those storms in summer. Ironically, the beachfront promenade in Zelenogradsk, which name means "green town," is not as green as the one in Svetlogorsk nearby, which is overgrown with pine trees. The upside is that the beach gets more light in sunny weather, compared to Svetlogorsk, which name means "light town."

Not a typical museum for the region, the MURARIUM is housed in yet another historic water tower. There are scores of them in and around Kaliningrad. Nearly all space in this 40-metre (131-foot) tower is occupied by cat images and figurines, numbering upwards of 3,500, including some rare and precious exhibits. The observatory at the top opens up on the expanse of the sea and the red tile rooftops below.

Queen Louise of Prussia, the grandmother of Russian Emperor Alexander II, played a central part in the region's history. The main landmarks associated with Queen Louise are to be found elsewhere in the Kaliningrad Region: Sovetsk (Tilsit before 1946), where the Tilsit Peace Treaty was signed in 1807 between Russia, which sided with Prussia, and Napoleon. There is a recently reconstructed Monument to Queen Louise in Sovetsk, and a bridge named in her honour, spanning Russia and Lithuania. But if a trip to Sovetsk, which would take you far inland and away from the seaboard, is not an option, visit this pocket park in the middle of Zelenogradsk. Louise and her courtiers once ran through this park, fleeing from the French soldiers.

Ladislav Karpov/TASS
Just outside of Zelenogradsk lies the Curonian Spit – a narrow swath of sand and forest land 98 kilometres long (61 miles), ranging from 400 metres to 4 kilometres (1,312 feet to 2.5 miles) in width. To the right of the Spit is the Curonian Lagoon (named after the Curonian people who lived here before the knights), and to the left is the Baltic Sea. The southern part of the spit belongs to Russia, and the northern to Lithuania. Entrance to the nature resort costs 300 rubles. There are several villages, a pharmacy, a branch of Sberbank, several hotels and restaurants, a school and even a maternity clinic. Between Zelenogradsk and Lesnoy Settlement you will find an ancient forest reserve that has never been felled.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

When visiting the Curonian Spit, the museum complex is a good place to start, if you want to learn about the nature and the indigenous people of this narrow strip of land. Also worthy of a visit is the Museum of Russian Superstitions next door, where, on top of the familiar Baba Yaga, Kikimora or Leshy, you will be introduced to lesser known Slavic folk characters, the likes of Vikhrovoy the wind spirit, the little Anchutka, and Sterlyazhy Tsar. Ancient Sambia is an outdoor museum, devoted to the life of the region during the Viking era. It will tell you, among other things, how amber was processed and made into jewellery back in those days.

Vladimir Smirnov/TASS
Next to the Rybachy Settlement, on the 32nd kilometre of the spit is Müller's Height (44.4 metres (146 feet)) – one of the spines of the Bruchberg Dune fortified by the forest.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

This is a mystical fairy tale pine forest, in which the trunks of many trees are eerily bent or even twisted into rings. There is no sure-fire scientific explanation for this. According to one widespread theory, the pines react in this way to the damage that caterpillars do to them. According to another, it is all about some geomagnetic anomaly. The folk explanation is that the "dance" of the pines repeats the movement of the sand dunes.

Ruslan Shamukov/TASS

Closer to the end of the Russian section of the Curonian Spit there towers the 62-metre (203-foot) Orekhovaya (or Petsh) Dune, one of the tallest sand dunes in Europe. It is named in honour of the German scientist Wilhelm Franz Epha, who served as a dune inspector on the Curonian Spit for more than 40 years, studying sand migration. The observatories give a breathtaking view of the surrounding sand dunes and forested hills, the expanse of the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Bay, which sometimes freezes over in winter. If you are lucky, you will hear the sand sing: this is the sound of specks of sand when they roll down the dune

The memorial house museum of German sculptor Hermann Brachert was opened in 1993 in his former country house in the settlement of Otradnoye (known as Georgenswalde before 1947). The house was built based on the design of Hans Hopp, a German architect who worked in Königsberg. The museum is very small and cozy. On display are Brachert's works, letters, memoirs and photos from the family archives. The key exhibit of the museum is Bracher's statue Girl with a Jug, also known as Carrying Water (Wasserträgerin in German). The original statue was brought here from Svetlogorsk's Listvennichny (Larch) Park in 2002 and restored.