This is my review of Insight Guides: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Insight Guides.
This well-presented guide with some beautiful illustrations which feed one’s desire to visit the Baltic states provides a readable, concise potted socio-economic, political history of the three Baltic states. I made continual reference to this book both while planning the details of a ten-day itinerary, and when visiting sites. It proved useful, but could have been improved in a few respects.
The approach is to cover each country in turn, with a map at the start of each section. It might have been helpful to have these maps as “pull-outs” grouped at the end for easier reference.
Since the three cities of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius are likely to be the lynch-pins of a Baltic holiday, more thought could have been given to how best to guide the visitor round them. In every case, the street plan provided for the Old Town needed to be larger scale and clearer, perhaps stored in a wallet at the back which would have added to the cost but been worth it. Coverage of Tallinn was the best, perhaps because it is the smallest place, since I was able to follow the suggested itinerary, although from a different starting point and opposite direction! In Vilnius, I found it particularly hard to grasp the geography of the Old Town from the guide book, and had to make use of supplementary maps obtained from the hotel and Tourist Office. In Riga, I could have missed the Art Nouveau quarter if I had just relied on the guide, since it is in an area set apart from the main part of the Old Town. This definitely merits an extra map and identification of key houses.
Signposting in the Baltic states seems generally lacking by British tourist standards. On a visit to the Gauja National Park, I was at a loss some of the time how to proceed i.e. a clear suggested itinerary in the guide would be useful. I found my way to Turaida Castle by chance. This proved very interesting, but apart from a full-page photo, the guide book does not do it justice. Likewise, a few more practical details would be useful, such as how to get to the fascinating Curonian Spit from Klaipeda, including how best to access views of the sand dunes.
I suspect that guide books are often written by teams of people who have not actually explored in detail themselves the places described, which makes all the difference. There’s an appealing two-page spread of a farmer in rural Lithuania with his horse-drawn plough. This tells you something about an area which as a tourist you may never see, but is less useful than the location of ferry terminals or car parks.
I like the visual appeal of the book, which prompted me both to buy and retain it but perhaps “publisher’s marketing” has taken too much precedence over focus on usefulness. I admit that “Lonely Planet” guides tend to the other extreme as regards practical detail over attractiveness.