Nida, located about 45 km away from Smiltynė, is Neringa’s administrative centre and largest settlement. From the west, it is surrounded by Parnidis, Urbas, Angiai, and Purvynė dunes, and the Curonian Lagoon borders its east side. Nida is one Lithuania’s representative cultural sites. It is often visited by honoured foreign guests and many of the tourists are not only from Lithuania, but from other countries as well. There are currently about 1,500 permanent residents living in Nida, but about 60,000 tourists visit every year. Starting in 2002, Nida’s beaches have received Blue Flag awards every year.
Nida was first mentioned in historical records in 1366. Although the settlement had moved several times, the current location of Nida was established in 1730. New prospects for a fishing village opened up in 1745 when a post house was moved from Pilkopa (now known as Morskoye) to Nida and Friedrich Casimir Kuwert acquired ownership of it. Until the beginning of the 19th century, several generations of the Kuwert family owned the post house. It was most famous for the time Queen Louise of Prussia stayed overnight on 8 January 1807, while she was on her way to Klaipėda. This fact was later put to use: in 1829, after the post house burned down and the building was rebuilt, it was named “Queen Louise” after her. The building, first serving as an inn and later as a hotel in Nida, went by this name for longer than a century.
In 1869, a fire destroyed almost all of Nida. After the fire, a rectangular, grid-like network of streets was formed amongst the wooden, early twentieth-century fisherman’s homesteads.
Around the end of the 19th century, artists took a liking to Nida. A colony of artists was founded in Hermann Blodė’s hotel. They were lured to Nida by the image of the Prussian Sahara, the solitude and peculiarities of the fishing village, the extraordinary light of the landscape, the dunes, the water and the shore. The most well-known representatives of the colony are the famous German expressionist artists Lovis Corinth, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Mollenhauer – who ended up making his home in Nida – and more. Between 1914 and 1918, the artist Pranas Domšaitis visited Nida and also became a member of this group. After the First World War, Nida was rapidly catching up with the resort in Juodkrantė, tourism-wise: both comfort and the number of holidaymakers increased.
Nida’s dunes attracted glider pilots. A gliding school was established in Nida in 1933, which had connections with world-record holder Ferdinand Schultz (who glided 60.2 km in 1927), and Lithuania’s record holder Alfredas Gysas (who stayed in the air for 26.5 hours), among others.
After the Second World War, Nida no longer resembled the prospering resort and wealthy fishing settlement. Few of the previous residents were left. New settlers came in waves between 1945 and 1956. Fishing remained the main business, as it was previously, but it started on new grounds – the establishment of Klaipėda’s collective fishery.
In 1961, when Neringa was established as a city, Nida became its centre. Now, Nida is an excellent place to rest.
The town stretches out for two kilometres on the shore of the lagoon from north to south.
Its southern end reaches Parnidis gulf, while the northern end fades into the sands of Bulvikis Cape.
Preila is the third largest settlement in Neringa municipality and is located at the 39th kilometre on the road between Smiltynė and Nida. The settlement, established by the former residents of Naujieji Nagliai after their village was buried in sand, was first mentioned in the 1843-1844 registry of the church in Juodkrantė. The people of the fishing village chose a convenient place on the shores of the lagoon, in the Lesser Bay of Preila, close to 60-metre-high Vecekrugas Dune.
Preila’s name could have originated from the surname of the first person living there. Another version of its origins is based on a legend which says that, at one time, there were apparently three ferocious thieves of the names Švarcerys, Preilerys and Niderys. When they were caught, they were given a strange sentence by the local government’s jurist. He ordered each one to be tied to the trunk of a tree and sent out to sea in the middle of a huge storm. The waves carried them southwest along the spit. In the places where each one finally washed up, new settlements were established: Nida, Preila and Juodkrantė (previously known as Schwarzort).
The predominant building format in Preila between the second half of the 19th century and the 1930s was detached, grouped homesteads with village-like, one-story, wooden buildings facing away from the lagoon.
In the first half of the 20th century, the people living there were mostly fishermen, while some made a living in recreation.
After 1933, when Preila was proclaimed a summer destination, most of the homes were redesigned. Separate farm buildings were built, attics were adapted into living quarters, straw roofs were covered with roof tiles and smokehouses for fish were built. Until the soviet years, Preila protected its image of a calm, ethnographic fishing village. Well-known artists of the day such as Erich Heckel, Max Beckmann, Richardas Teodoras Birstegelis, etc. liked to spend their summers here.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Preila’s reputation as a resort town grew again.
Now about 200 people live in Preila. Most of them make a living in fishing, while others work in forestry and recreational businesses. Preila is attractive to holidaymakers because of its quiet, beautiful nature. Preila’s Greater Cape decorated in birch groves, a ridge covered in mountain pines, the lagoon and the sea can all be admired from Vecekrugas hill.
Pervalka is Neringa’s smallest settlement, placed about 34 km from Klaipėda and 15 km from Nida. About 40 people permanently live here, but the noise and commotion is, similar to that of other places on the spit, a phenomenon of the summer season.
Pervalka’s name could be associated with some specifics of the fishing industry: the portage of boats (Lith – pervilkimas). It was settled in 1844 by the people of “sandbound” Naujieji Nagliai. In 1871, 59 people lived in the 11 houses and the most important business was fishing. From 1880 to 1881, the fishing village was moved 1.5 km to the north to its current location because of the danger posed by sand.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the number of residents grew (in 1905, there were 110 people) and a one-room schoolhouse was opened. Reed-covered fisherman’s huts stood with their backs to the lagoon, and each homestead had a section on the shore of the lagoon to keep their boats. In the northern part of the village, buildings were closer to the road, while in the southern part, they were closer to the lagoon. Away to the north of Pervalka near Žirgai Cape, a lighthouse was built on a man-made island in the Curonian Lagoon in 1900.
In 1933, the village achieved the status of a resort. New buildings sprang up, the old ones were adorned with wooden carvings and decorative gables, a fishing port was set up, and a shop opened.
After the Second World War, there were almost none of Pervalka’s former residents left and the settlement was dying out. However, Pervalka began growing as a resort town again at the end of the 1970s.
Nowadays, Pervalka draws those who desire peace and solitude, since the forest and dunes are just a few steps away.
Juodkrantė starts at the 18th kilometre on the Smiltynė-Nida road. It is the only settlement in Neringa that the main road goes through. Additionally, it is the closest settlement to the sea 1.5 km away. The road to the sea goes through an old wood – on the interchanging high dunes and gaping valleys, trees have been growing for hundreds of years.
Juodkrantė’s name “Schwarzort” was mentioned in historical sources for the first time in 1429. However, it is unclear if this is really a mention of a settlement. Perhaps the association and name came from the landscape: from further away, e.g. from a ship, the area, densely overgrown by trees, could have easily been called a “black place” (Schwarzort and Juodkrantė translate as “black place” and “black shore,” respectively).
Historical sources testify that in the mid-16th century, Juodkrantė’s village was on the side of the spit closer to the sea, 2.5 km north of the current location. At the turn of the 16th century, it was already the largest village on the northern part of the Curonian Spit. Old Juodkrantė’s 13 houses (on the seaside) were buried by sand around 1599 to 1600. The settlement moved to its current location at the start of the 17th century. A tavern opening in 1673 in the central area of New Juodkrantė (located along the lagoon) contributed to its start as a resort settlement. Fishermen started building their homes around the tavern. In 1697, the tavern and its surrounding homesteads were granted Culm rights (town privileges). In 1744, a school was founded in Juodkrantė. Residents of Karvaičiai village moved and settled in the current southern part of Juodkrantė after sand buried their village at the end of the 18th century.
In the second half of the 19th century, the course of Juodkrantė’s development was determined by the 1860-1890 activity of “W. Stantien & M. Becker,” a resort development and amber excavation company. The company dug out and equipped a dredging port (Amber Bay), and with the dug-up ground, they filled in parts of the shore that had been washed out. They also financed the construction of a dock for steamships, and gave an organ to Juodkrantė’s new church as a gift. In the centre of Juodkrantė, an ornate administrative building was built for the company. Some residents could earn extra income by working with the dredged materials and sorting amber. The company built wooden barracks for hired workers from the mainland. Most of the workers here were Lithuanians.
The Stellmacher family contributed greatly to Juodkrantė’s expansion. Eduard Stellmacher decided to purchase Juodkrantė’s tavern and adapt it for holidaymakers. Later he turned it into a large, modern hotel, and gave Juodkrantė the pivotal push needed to create a resort in the town. His son Louis continued in his father’s footsteps by expanding the business of the hotel and adding to the expansion of resort infrastructure in the town; for a long time he was commissioner for the Resort Committee. The Stellmacher family gave away some land, on which was built “Louis’s bathing house” (“Luizės maudyklės”).
In the first half of the 20th century, the seaside resort was popular: there were 5 hotels, 20 villas and guest houses, and cosy fisherman’s huts that tourists could also stay in. After 1923, upon formally becoming a Lithuanian resort, neither the every-day life nor summer contingent of vacationers from Klaipėda, Königsberg, and Tilžė changed. It was quite a luxurious resort town. At the end of the Second World War, Juodkrantė survived all of the hardships it went through, but there were almost none of the previous residents left and new settlers had a difficult time adapting to life there. Later, in the 1970s, as the town revived its spirit bit by bit as a tourist haven, more work positions emerged in the service sector. At this time, old hotels were rebuilt, many new buildings were erected and rest houses for large factories and various agencies were set up.
Several families live in Alksnynė. Awhile back, this place was in a part of a bay in the Curonian Lagoon. After the bed of the lagoon was deepened for ships to pass through, the small bay was filled with the dug-up sediment. At the end of the 19th century, while vegetation was being planted on the dunes, a homestead was built for the caretaker of the dunes, which was named after an alder grove (which is alksnynas in Lithuanian). The Alksnynė control post is located here, where the Neringa municipality’s local toll for driving into the territory of Kuršių Nerija National Park is collected. About 500 m from Alksnynė, on the left side of the road, you will see a memorial for Soviet soldiers who died in the end January 1945. Three kilometres from Alksnynė to the right of the road, where the forest is slightly farther away, foundations of buildings are still visible through the overgrown grasses. The overseer for the post road used to live in the house that once stood here. After the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), wooden barracks were built in this place for prisoners of war who worked in the surrounding sand plains and dunes planting vegetation. Later, when they were let go, women with experience in dune preservation were brought in to take up the work. Locals called this seaside sand plain the Valley of Love, and the sand dune that used to be nearby, the Dune of Love.