History and charm at an old mill complex

  • 2010-07-21
  • By Lasse Felsen

DAY TRIP: Just outside of Vilnius lies a getaway for everyone to enjoy, with restaurants, nature walks, beer-tasting and more.

VILNIUS - If you are looking for a short and refreshing summer escape outside the city, the entertainment and recreation center of Belmontas would present itself as a welcome choice of destination. Initially, this 14th century mill complex was operated and run by French aristocrats, which has one of the biggest waterwheels in the whole of Lithuania. Being situated just a ten minute drive by car from central Vilnius, it’s also easily accessible on bike or by foot.

During peak season, from June – August, Belmontas, with its three restaurants and many hilly nature walks, welcomes up to 1,500 Lithuanian and foreign visitors every day. You need to follow a narrow and twisted forest road that runs along the river Vilnele, which eventually leads you through a beautiful alley of old, tall trees and into an open area of well-kept grass fields in front of Belmontas itself. As you travel along, you will also pass by a horse stud farm, which is operated by the police for training, and is often being guarded by local police, so travel with ease if you are driving a vehicle. There is a large parking area found next to the main building with space for more than 300 cars. The main building hosts the restaurant of Joana Carinova, and here you can choose from a menu with delicious Lithuanian and French-inspired cuisine. Carinova brews its own beer as well, and it has become a popular activity for foreigners and locals alike to come here for the taste of local brew and friendly discussion.

The saying at Belmontas goes that you cannot call yourself a ‘true Lithuanian’ if you have not tasted all the different kinds of Lithuanian beer. It is for sure a good sales-trick with this saying, and the current owners use it to the fullest in order to attract more attention and popularity. It has turned into word-of-mouth advertising in a sense, and with the great food served, guests wash down traditional Lithuanian dishes such as Cepelinai or grilled pork steak with passion and summer delight. The owners and craftsmen boast that their beer is made from highest quality and natural ingredients only.

They use local brewers for this exact purpose of the final result, and they are proud to announce that only the purest, softest water is used in the process. They eventually create a product of natural bottom-well water based unfiltered and unpasteurized beer, where the fermentation is not helped by any additives. The beer is then matured for three weeks, and the final products come in the form of a light (sviesusis) and dark ‘classic’ (ypatingasis) variation, the former being lighter in consistency and taste and alcohol volume, with the latter result being a stronger and sweeter beer with a caramelized, malty texture. The dark beer is very good with traditional Lithuanian food. As the hosts at Joana Carinova say, “We are making not only good beer, but also healthy beer.”

There is a fancy French restaurant found behind Carinova, and this restaurant serves only during high season for guests wanting fine and expensive dining in a romantic, mediterranean style environment and thematic surrounding. The restaurant is constructed in a classic open-air theater fashion, and steep steps lead down from the hill towards the river, reminding guests to watch their step. During the summer season classical music concerts are often held at this location, and close to the restaurant there is a tapas bar where you can show off and look good while enjoying a snack and a glass of wine or a cocktail.

For families with children and young partying people alike, there is an open cafe/restaurant area further down the hill, which functions mostly as an open-air pizzeria during the summer season. There is a large charcoal grill for barbecued meat, and fish to enjoy as well. In particular, this is popular for crowds of young local men to frequent this spot when holiday temperatures rise. They come here to celebrate and quench their thirst by the large outside bar, before jumping into the river from one of the many high bridges crossing it. This is a dangerous and generally not allowed or advised activity in any way, as the river bed is usually rocky and not diver friendly, and sometimes there have been accidents.

After your stomach is full and you feel happy, you might very well want to have a stroll along the river, on one of the many designed routes laid out by the Belmontas people. There are numerous starting points and destinations to choose from, all of them well-suited for both romantic couples and families with small children alike. One of the routes presents itself in majestic solitude on one of the highest open sand hills in Lithuania. Adventurous daredevils climb the steep hill to explore. The view from the top is terrific as you overlook the entire river and the surrounding forests.

When you then return from your selected walk, you might accidentally bump into a wedding party, especially if you are visiting on a balmy Saturday afternoon. The happy couple will be traveling to their party with their guests in rented limousines, and then pose for photos outside Carinova’s Inn. Curiously, two black swans are swimming in the small pond next to the inn, and they are considered to bring good luck for the newlyweds. The happy couple dine and celebrate in the auditorium of Vila Gloria, which is a special part of Belmontas that in particular hosts weddings and other big occasions. Vila Gloria was initially an auxiliary building with utensils belonging to French aristocrat Charles de Vim, and it was built in classic French pavillion style. For the perfect dinner party the kitchen offers an impressive menu, with perfectly cooked blue tuna as a most special main course.

After the wedding dinner, the married couple poses outside in the evening sun next to the black swans, and they have their pictures taken, to be immortalized and live happily ever after.