Just half an hour’s drive from Druskininkai is Merkinė, which is probably the oldest inhabited place in Lithuania, providing the defensive and cultural centre of the medieval region and one of the most interesting sights in Dzūkija National Park.
We suggest starting a tour from the Merkinė observation tower. Hidden amongst the pine trees on the high bank of the River Nemunas, the 26 metre-high tower itself resembles a tree: its columns look like pine trunks, and its viewing platforms are similar to stylised tree tops. Stops are set at height of fifteen metres and 25 metres. From the very top of the tower you will see across Dzūkija National Park, the confluence of the rivers Nemunas and Merkys, and Pastraujas island. On the south-eastern side one of the longest bridges over the River Nemunas was built during the Russian empire period, and this still stands today. The town of Merkinė itself is hidden behind the trees of the forest. However, above the trees you can see the roof of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was built in the seventeenth century.
Moving to the other side of the Nemunas, another opportunity arises to admire the surroundings: you can climb the thirty metre-high Merkinė mound where once stood one of the most important castles of the grand duchy of Lithuania. The most beautiful view is in the evening, when the setting sun gilds the waters of the Nemunas.
The left bank of the Nemunas also attracts lovers of things mystical: here you can find Jonioniai stones which are referred to as the Lithuanian Stonehenge. At first glance, the stones may seem as though they are simply scattered around the woods. However…
Lithuanian palaeo-astronomers have determined that the stones form two circles, the inner of which is a sundial and the outer being a lunar calendar. Standing at the central stone you can see the sun rising on the morning of the summer solstice while the other shows the sun rising on the morning of the winter solstice (within a few days of Christmas). It is speculated that in pagan times a temple was still standing on this site.