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2020.11.21 15:00

The story of Palanga: from peaceful retreat to Lithuania's noisiest resort

Jonas Deveikis, LRT.lt2020.11.21 15:00

Once a quiet oasis, Palanga is now the busiest resort town in Lithuania. How has the town on the Baltic coast changed over the years?

It was a noble landowner family that held large estates in Palanga, the Tyszkiewicz, or Tiškevičiai, that started promoting the town as a resort, says Gabrielė Štaraitė from travel agency Travel Planet.

The first holidaymakers started visiting Palanga in the early 19th century, though the town truly took off after 1875 when Józef Tyszkiewicz – or Juozapas Tiškevičius – moved his residence to Kretinga, a town in western Lithuania, and started spending summers in Palanga.

“The Tiškevičiai noticed that there were a lot of friends that wanted to visit them in Palanga in the summer, so they built the first resort house – the Kurhaus – there,” Štaraitė says.

Palanga started to flourish as a resort after 1891, when Józef's youngest son Feliks Tyszkiewicz inherited land in the town and settled there with his wife.

They began inviting Polish holidaymakers to Palanga.

“At that time, the entire Polish coast was part of Prussia. So patriotic Poles [...] were invited to come to Palanga,” Štaraitė explains. The Tyszkiewicz even bought ads saying “Come to Palanga, everyone speaks Polish here”.

At the time, the town was divided into two parts. The old Palanga, mostly inhabited by fishermen and Jews, was in the north, while the resort developed in the south.

In addition to fishing, some locals engaged in smuggling, which was a very profitable business. The main commodities were Dutch spirits, saccharin and tea.

In the 19th century, Palanga was also a half-Jewish town. The Jewish residents owned two large amber processing companies and exported their production to America, Africa, and Asia.

Calmness to noise

The Tyszkiewicz landlords envisioned the town as an oasis for a peaceful respite. However, the land reform of 1922 took away much of the family's land, creating more opportunities for local entrepreneurs to develop the town according to their own vision and interests. Many renting businesses appeared.

“Back then, much as today, residents of Palanga rented out everything they had. They themselves moved into attics, barns, and rented their bedrooms to holidaymakers,” Štaraitė says.

In the 1930s, renting a three-room apartment with a kitchen for the summer cost around 500 litas – an equivalent of 1,500 euros in today's prices. According to Štaraitė, other prices remained relatively stable. For example, in 1934, a pint of beer in Palanga cost around two litas (5.8 euros), a cup of coffee was 1.5 litas (4.3 euros), while a plane ticket from Kaunas to Palanga in 1938 was to 38 litas (110 euros).

“The only thing that changed is that on the beach, sellers used to offer buns with sausages, and now they sell chebureki and fried bread,” Štaraitė says.

In the 1920s and 30s, Palanga was a luxury holiday spot for Lithuanian state officials, artists, and businessmen, according to Štaraitė. In the summer, there were three times more women than men in the town, as the latter would stay at home for business and came to Palanga for a few days only.

Over the years, the face of Palanga has changed dramatically, Štaraitė says.

“The Tyszkiewicz Palanga was a quiet holiday resort. In the interwar period, the town was a playground for the upper classes. During the Soviet era, it was a respected and desirable resort, where people went for health. But after the independence [1990], we made it noisy, we built a lot of things there. For a while, we weren't in love with Palanga, but we're now trying to see what attracts us there,” she says.