Anthea Gerrie travels to Vilnius to review The Narutis Hotel in the heart of the charming old town
It would win on the elegance of its rooms alone, not to mention the excellence of its cuisine, but most of all for visitors seeking quality digs in Vilnius, the Narutis Hotel wins on location, location, location.
Pilies Street is the liveliest thoroughfare in the old town of the beautiful Lithuanian capital, leading down to the rebuilt Cathedral Square in one direction and up towards the peaceful and beautiful Town Hall Square on the other, with an easy diversion down to the art colony “republic” of Uzupis across the river enroute. Or choose the side-road bang opposite The Narutis Hotel and within 10 minutes you are on Pylimo Street, an important address for culture vultures.
You need, however, only to stroll outside the door of the historic Narutis to pick up the vibe – cafes jostle with boutiques and ice-cream parlours, while musicians often busk in one of the picturesque, cobbled alleys which are a distinguishing feature of this lovely city.
The prospect of an alfresco cello performance was enough to persuade me to reluctantly leave my elegant and spacious room with old-world accoutrements not often seen in today’s hotels – floor to ceiling chintz curtains with tiebacks, button-back fabric headboards and spacious bathrooms with soaking tubs as well as double sinks. Not all rooms share this view – some overlook a quiet back yard, others the atrium-style lobby, so state preferences in advance.
That this is an unashamedly old-world hotel for a city whose USP is its old-world architecture, spanning half a millennium from mediaeval to the curlicues of Tsarist Russian influence, is apparent from the minute you walk in the lobby.
A vast lobby is punctuated by a central glass-walled lift which felt like a fin de siècle cage elevator, though like the plumbing, it’s a thoroughly modern successor.
Corridors on room floors are a split-level hotch-potch with steps down required to the rooms overlooking the street on my floor – this reflects the fact of three centuries of construction since the 16th century cellars were gradually added to. In places, 17th and 18th century frescoes are revealed on exposed portions of walls and are also found in some of the rooms.
Another architectural glory is the exposed brick of the vaulted cellars, visible daily given both the breakfast room and the spa with pool and sauna are subterranean. While this makes for a slightly gloomy ambience surrounding the first meal of the day, the buffet fare is impressive, including Litvak favourites like warm blintzes to enjoy with sour cream and cherry compote as well as a fine array of smoked and cured fish, salads, and cold cuts.
While the décor of the restaurant and bar looks a tad dated with its swirly patterned carpets and dark furniture, the menu is clearly in the hands of a modern master chef. Main courses include an elegantly sauced and garnished black cod, a signature dish of Nobu rarely seen elsewhere, while the chilled beetroot soup with sour cream and dill which is a Lithuanian summer staple was presented with such elan I had to go back for a bowl the following lunchtime, served on the convivial restaurant terrace, overlooking the street life.
While the side street beside the church opposite the hotel which leads to Pylimo, the broad thoroughfare defining the boundary of the old town, may seem quiet at first, it hides a real highlight in the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit, whose amazing frescoes lining the portal and ornate baroque interior are accessed via an unassuming street entrance. Keep going to Pylimo and the extraordinary MO Museum of Modern Art designed by Daniel Liebeskind hoves into view, and Pylimo is also home to a Jewish bakery serving the best bagels in town.
Overall, the impression was of a well-run, highly eclectic hotel which seems so individual you would not expect to find it in an international branded collection, but the Narutis is, nevertheless, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, which will no doubt give this currently well-kept secret an extra measure of exposure when Vilnius celebrates its 700th birthday in 2023.
Tell Me More About the Narutis Hotel in Vilnius
The Narutis Hotel, Pilies 24, Vilnius, Lithuania
T: +370 614 43 849
Doubles from £108 per night including breakfast