| ||The Background |
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are the so-called Baltic States. The three independent states all joined the European Union in May 2004. Lithuania borders on Latvia, Belarus, Poland and Kaliningrad and has extensive port access to the Baltic Sea.
The Ignalina NPP region consists of Ignalina and Zarasai districts and Visaginas town. The region is strategically well positioned, only a one-hour drive from the capital, Vilnius. Thanks to its political and geographic location, the region is a gateway between East and West and it is part of the new eastern external border of the EU.
The largest towns of the region are Visaginas (population 21,000), Ignalina (population 6,000) and Zarasai (population 7,000). 60% of the overall population lives in urban areas. Lithuanian is the national language, with spoken and written Russian widely understood and the day-to-day language for most people in the town of Visaginas. English and German are the most widely known other languages in the region.
The region is the most picturesque in Lithuania, with 505 lakes of different sizes having a total aquifer area of 30,345 hectares. Forestation of 100,080 hectares complements the lakes, covering 36% of the territory.
The number of foreign visitors to Lithuania is growing each year. This is also true for the Ignalina NPP region. Rural tourism is developing at a very fast pace.
There is no doubt that the excellent quality of the natural environment is the greatest tourism asset of the region. A mild climate, pure air, pine forests where the bracing smell of pines and firs mix with the healing scent of herbs, and crystal clear lakes with abundant fish stocks are features which draw people back again and again to the region. .
Favourable conditions exist for the development of sports and activity -tourism. Take a sports group, an experienced instructor, a good boat and you are ready for a journey along numerous lakes that interconnect with one another. Palūšė, about 4 km from Ignalina, is already a popular place for activity holidays and an ideal starting point. Numerous sports centres and clubs provide excellent opportunities for either professional or recreational sport development. The regions’ athletes have demonstrated their capabilities at the highest levels. Their skiers are members of the national Olympic team and the region provided a member of the canoe team that won a gold medal at the junior World Championships. A Water Sports Centre has been developed close by Zarasai with another planned for Visaginas. Ignalina hosts the national cross-country ski centre, a swimming pool of 4 rows with sauna, a bowling hall and a poolroom.
There are three hotels in the region (Visaginas and Ignalina), a water tourism centre with hostel accommodation, at Palūšė, The Lithuanian Winter Sports Centre in Ignalina with hostel type accommodation, a number of houses offering rural accommodation, some Youth / Student Hostels and a number of Bed and Breakfast guest houses. There are opportunities for investment in the provision of accommodation and additional sports-tourism facilities although developments within the Aukstaitijos National Park are strictly controlled – as they should be.
Two campsites are constructed, in Zarasai and Ignalina districts, with financial support from the EU. These facilities provide an additional 28 places for vehicles with trailers and 68 places for tents.
Zarasai and Ignalina District Tourism Information Centres provide tourism information and consultations, make the individual tours in local area and around, participate in tourism projects.