There’s no knowing what you might find tucked away in the forests of Lithuania. Hidden away in the woods, in the far north-east corner of the country, is an abandoned nuclear power station.
“Same kind of reactors as Chernobyl,” says a man who with his wife and two children is gathering mushrooms in the shadow of the power plant. His tone suggests that this might be a source of pride. “Like Chernobyl, but the reactors here were bigger,” he adds.
Elsewhere in our travels through Lithuania’s forests, we have stumbled on overgrown Jewish cemeteries, well-kept Tatar mosques and an extraordinary theme park showcasing Soviet-era statues of the men — they were almost all men — who wielded power and influence in the Communist Party. There stands Joseph Stalin in a forest clearing, a neat clump of birch trees behind him.
The forests of Lithuania are full of surprises. Labanoras is one of the nicest of those surprises. Heading east from Molėtai, the main road skirts a medley of lakes as it heads into the leafy depths of the woods. We pause here and there along the way, watching shadows freewheel in forest glades. There are beaver dams, tumbledown wooden farmsteads, kingfishers and osprey.
Labanoras is a beautiful spot, a village in the very middle of the eponymous regional park. You could slip through the village in less than a minute. We could so easily have done that. But it was time to eat so, seeing the sign to a hotel and restaurant, we decided to stop for an hour or two. Half an hour later, we were sitting on a wooden terrace in the sunshine enjoying home-made virtiniai — Lithuania’s take on the humble dumpling — with chanterelle mushrooms and a bright green nettle sauce.