Kaunas the second largest city in Lithuania, is a thriving cultural and industrial centre with an interesting Old Town. Legend has it that Kaunas, 100km west of Vilnius at the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris Rivers, was founded by the son of tragic young lovers. Beautiful maiden Milda let the holy Eternal Flame go out while caring for her lover Daugerutis. They were sentenced to death by vengeful gods, thus they fled to a cave and gave birth to Kaunas.

Archaeologists insist the city dates from the 13th century and until the 15th century was in the front line against the Teutonic Order in Lithuania’s west. Kaunas became a successful river-trading town in the 15th and 16th centuries. German merchants were influential here, and there was a Hanseatic League office. Its strategic position is the main reason it was destroyed 13 times before WWII – when it once again received a battering.

Today it is a town with a sizable student population, some fine architecture, plenty of museums and excellent food.

KaunasCastle - A reconstructed tower, sections of wall, and part of a moat are all that remain of Kaunas Castle, around which the town originally grew. Founded in 13th century, it was an important bastion of Lithuania’s western borders.

Ninth fort – Lithuania’s brutal history is at some of its darkest at the Ninth Fort, built on Kaunas northwestern outskirts in the late 19th century to fortify the western frontier of the tsarist empire. During WWII the Nazis made it a death camp where 80,000 people, including most of Kaunas’ Jewish population, were butchered. Later it became a prison and execution site by Stalin’s henchmen. The museum has exhibits on the Nazi horrors against Jews, and also includes material on Soviet atrocities against Lithuanians.

Diabolical is the collection of 2000-odd devil statuettes in the Museums of Devils, collected by landscape artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius (1876-1966). Note the satanic figures of Hitler and Stalin, performing a deadly dance over Lithuania.

Pažaislis Monastery – This fine example of 17th-century baroque architecture is 9km east of the centre, near the shores of Kaunas sea, a large artificial lake. The monastery church with its 50m-high cupola and sumptuous Venetian interior made from pink and black Polish marble is a sumptouous if shabby affair. Passic from Catholic to Orthodox to Catholic control, the monastery has chequered history and was a psychiatric hospital for part of Soviet era.