LITHUANIA has been an increasingly popular holiday destination for many years now, with capital city Vilnius tending to dominate visitors’ agendas.

A new challenge to this dominance comes courtesy of budget airline Ryanair, which is running regular flights to Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, which lies about 60 miles north-north-east of Vilnius.

Kaunas itself is one of those rare destinations that manages to offer plenty to the visitor without having one of those weary and wearying “tourist trail” vibes.

If spectacular architecture and natural views are what you seek, Kaunas happens to lie at the junction of two major rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, and its extensive Old Town is a wonderland of cobbled streets and alleys, imposing main throughfares and historic buildings.

These attractions are far too numerous to list in full, but highlights for me included Laisves Aleja – Liberty Boulevard – which sweeps for about a mile through the Old Town from the Byzantine-style Church of St Michael the Archangel and features a perfectly-laid double row of trees down its centre, and shops selling everything from souvenirs to the latest fashions.

Many of the most beautiful and striking buildings in Kaunas are churches, and often come with stories of indignities inflicted during Lithuania’s years as a Soviet republic.

A good example is the huge Christ’s Resurrection Church, a white ocean liner of a building dating from 1922. Having spent many of the Soviet years being used as a six-floor radio factory, the Catholic place of worship was rescued, reclaimed and restored, largely through public subscription.

Other architectural jewels range from the gorgeous 17th Century Pazaislis Monastery to the even older – 16th Century – Old Town Hall.

Kaunas has museums devoted to everything from animal life to ceramics, but my favourite is without a doubt the Devil Museum.

The museum houses some 2000 models, sculptures and other depictions of devils, all collected by a remarkable eccentric called Antanas Zmuidzinavicius, who died in 1966.

For those who like to relax a little – or a lot – there is a highly-regarded spa centre called the Sauleja, details of which can be found at And for those who prefer their relaxation to be rather more refreshing and exciting, the high-speed hydrofoil river sightseeing tours aboard the vessels known as Nemuno Linija – come highly recommended.

EXCURSIONS KAUNAS is within fairly easy travelling distance of many other Lithuanian attractions, the most striking of which is the capital, Vilnius.

Notable features of our excursion there ranged from the beauty and fascination of the Amber Museum ( to the stark horror of the Museum of Genocide Victims (, which is based at the former KGB prison and chronicles the horrors visited on the population during the Soviet years.

We also visited the beautiful spa resourt of Birstonas (, where treatments range from mud baths to drinking the fairly gruesome but highly regarded mineral water.

The beautiful and ancient Trakai Castle, a traditional Lithuanian wedding venue, is also well worth a visit.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT EXCELLENT hotel rooms can be found in Kaunas for as little as about £50 a night, depending on which deals are available.

We stayed at the Best Western Santaka, which is in the Old Town and offers comfortable rooms with TV, minibars and all the things a British holidaymaker expects – plus a few we don’t, such as decent art on the walls, an enticing international breakfast buffet that’s about 20 feet long and display cabinets showcasing the beautiful amber jewellery for which Lithuania is famous.

Kaunas itself has bars, restaurants and clubs to suit every taste.

Those we sampled included Gralis (, which has modern and delicious European cuisine, the 55 restaurant ( whose name is taken from the alcohol content of Lithuania’s potent moonshine liquor, and the traditional Lithuanian cuisine restaurant Berneliu uzeiga ( Lithuanian cuisine is welcoming and hearty, with plenty of well-spiced meat, poultry and fish dishes plus a mouthwatering selection of traditional cakes. For the more adventurous, there are also such items as smoked pigs’ ears (surprisingly moreish) and pigs’ brains (somewhat less so).

The dining highlight of the trip for me, though, was our visit to a restaurant called Kybynlar in Trakai ( where we sampled the cuisine of the Karaim people, an indigenous people of the region who have similar beliefs to Jews but are a distinct group in themselves.

Any people whose cuisine includes spiced pasties, pies, and the most delicious coffee and liqueurs imaginable deserves admiration.

GETTING THERE CHOOSE your dates carefully and Ryanair can get you to Kaunas and and back for less than 30 quid.

Obviously, that’s before you factor in additional charges for things like hold baggage, priority boarding and any food or drink you might want during the flight.

However, each charge is set out clearly on the website,

Bristol Airport’s security people are without a doubt the politest, friendliest, most efficient and reassuring I’ve encountered.

A cheery “pop it all in the tray, sir, and you’ll be ready to rock and roll,” is a hell of a lot more welcoming to a stressed-out passenger than being grunted at and degraded by some pillock on a power trip.

The Ryanair cabin crews, particularly on the outward journey, were relentlessly cheery, which is nice if you like that sort of thing – and I happen to like it very much.