BIRZAI - Close to the Latvian border in the Panevezys region lays the small town of Birzai. This place is famous for its sink holes, but it is also home to a 16th century castle and a 40 square kilometer artificial lake 's the only one remaining in Lithuania. It also has loads of great beer.
The castle was built by the Radvila family in 1589. After a few years a protective wall and moat was built around the fort to protect it from cannon fire. The castle has been destroyed, rebuilt and burned many times.
It was most recently restored in 1990. The Radvila family had the two rivers Apascia and Agluona dammed to create the artificial Lake Sirvena. Visitors can walk the 525 meter footbridge over the water for maritime delight and excellent picture opportunities.
Across the water from the castle is the Tyszkiewicz Palace. In the late 18th century the Radvila family lost its wealth and eventually sold the area to the Tyszkiewicz family in order to cover their debts. They built the palace to replace the castle that was then in ruins.
After seeing the castle and palace, you could walk around, but watch your step because you might fall into a sinkhole.
A sinkhole is a patch of land that gradually becomes weaker over time and then collapses suddenly because the water table has risen and eroded the ground from underneath the surface. There are over 2,000 sinkholes in the area. Sinkholes have been known to be big enough to swallow entire houses.
One famous sinkhole near Birzai is called "Karves Ola," or "Hole of the Cow." Legend has it that one morning a farmer woke up to find his cow missing. He found the cow swallowed up by this now famous sinkhole. At the bottom of the hole is a small, dark passage leading to an underground cavern, about 46 meters long, which conceals a small underground lake. The passage is not accessible due to erosion, but the site is still a popular place for tourists.
After looking at the holes, you could trot over to a brewery or a bar and try some of the local brews.
Birzai is known as the Lithuanian home of beer. The region has made the beverage for centuries. The beer is unique because it is still naturally produced and comes in many flavors and styles.
There are a few operating breweries in the region, but probably the most popular one is Rinkuskiai.
Their Web site gives a brief description of what happens most days.
"No festival or family parties start or end without a dark, rich and strong beer with a slightly sweet taste that usually deceives guests into thinking that the beer is very light. Unfortunately, they find themselves ending the party too early," it says.
The beer produced at the brewery is of the very highest standards 's high enough that even Germans can appreciate it 's and only natural products such as water, yeast, hops and traditional light malt are used. After visiting the brewery, you will no doubt want to savor the flavor, so you will be happy to know that they sell it in retail outlets as well.
Birzai is 20 kilometers off the main road between Lithuania's and Latvia's capitals, the E67. You could be forgiven for making a small detour on a road trip from Vilnius to Riga.