HEALING WATERS: Spa town Birstonas continues to attract visitors with its curative therapies.
Birstonas (Birštonas), a spa town on the Nemunas River, 39 kilometers south of Kaunas, attracts Lithuanians and foreigners throughout the year. Famous for its mineral waters and curative mud procedures, it has been a relaxation and rejuvenation haven for Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish noblemen for centuries.
Birstonas gained resort status in 1846, though some say it had been used as a place of healing for years before that date. The city hosts some recently opened spas – Royal Residence, and Nemunas Valley and two large sanatoriums – Tulpe (tulip) and Versme (a spring).
Both sanatoriums use local natural mineral water for water pools and baths. They also offer therapeutic mud bathes, massages, halotherapy, and a wide range of curative procedures. It is not necessary to stay in the sanatoriums to enjoy the procedures – the city also offers accommodation in its many hotels, guest houses, homesteads, and private apartments.
On June 12-14 Birstonas welcomes guests to the Resort celebration, which includes a parade, air balloon festival, live concerts, fireworks, and many more events.
The name of the city is said to originate either from “birches” (berzas in Lithuanian) or a surname popular in the area. Birstonas was first mentioned in 1382 by Wigand von Marburg in chronicles of the Teutonic Knights where it was described as a “homestead near salty springs.”
The continuing importance of mineral water springs to the town is represented in the coat of arms of Birstonas – a fantastic golden fish with silver teeth, signifying a whale and with a silver spout of water against a navy blue background. Birstono mineraliniai vandenys & Co., founded in 1924, exports local drinking mineral waters to the European Union member states, Russia and U.S.A and sells them in Lithuania.
The municipality of Birstonas is situated in the territory of the Regional Park of the Great Nemunas Loops, an amazingly picturesque region.
Famous Lithuanian writer Justinas Marcinkevicius was also inspired to write about the area. “Blessed places, rare picturesqueness of the surroundings. It seems that even the old Nemunas, which toiled over creating them, remained fascinated by their beauty and started rushing from one side to the other,” he wrote describing the large 60-kilometer loop that scientists still struggle to explain.
The city of Birstonas has gained importance over the years and Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas had a hunting mansion and a residence here. Now the Mound of Vytautas is left in the place where the wooden castle of Birstonas stood. The 30-meter mound is one of the highest and best-known mounds in Lithuania.
The city also boasts the Birstonas Jazz festival, which takes place annually at the end of March. It is the event of the year for many jazz lovers and yet another attraction among too many to describe.
The 25-year old festival is known throughout Europe, with many journalists, jazz critics and musicians arriving to participate and enjoy the music. The festival is filmed and broadcast on Lithuanian television and radio. Each year the so-called “Jazz Oscar,” established by famous Lithuanian painters, is awarded to the most worthy jazz performer.