Lifestyle & Culture

Slow travel in Latvia, Pt. 2: Riga is great, but here’s how to discover the ‘real’ Latvia

In my most recent post, I encouraged you to go slowly. So where do you go on your first slow travel trip to Latvia? What route should you take?

Of course, you have to spend at least a day or two in Riga and visit the old town, the art nouveau area, the galleries and shops, but then head away from the bright city lights into the real Latvia.

LIELSTRAUPE CASTLE

A good introduction to Latvia and its people is to travel first to Sigulda, where there are castles, gardens, an adventure park and a world class bobsleigh track. It’s a place where Latvians go for a day out or a holiday, a tourist town, so there are no shortages of places to stay and eat.

Walk down the steep valley to the bridge over the river and see the number of love locks placed there. On summer weekends, you will often wedding parties, with the bridegroom carrying the bride over the bridge.

Next stop is Līgatne , where you can tour the small village in the heart of the beautiful Gauja National Park before venturing, if you dare, into the Soviet bunker (prior booking required).

In Līgatne itself is an old paper mill, a crafts centre, sandstone cliffs and caves to explore on a guided tour, all in a quaint, picturesque setting. The Soviet bunker is about an hour walk or short bus ride away from Ligatne centre.

In contrast to the quaint village, the bunker is set next a Soviet era apartment block, a rehabilitation centre, where the residents lived,
unaware of the secret beneath them.

The entertaining guide will give you a flavour of Soviet style life 9-meters down. The bunker was built to shield the Latvian communist elite in the event of a nuclear war, but this is a no-frills establishment. Wrap up warm though, as it’s chilly down below.

CĒSIS

Next stop should be the hipster town, Cēsis. There are more castles and a manor house, an archaeological park to see how the ancient Latvians lived, or take in a tour of the world-class concert hall – not what you expect in a small, provisional town.

Cēsis is home to alternative businesses, so look out for the little shops with niche products. Take a tour in the old castle where you will need a lantern to guide you as you walk up the steep staircase of the turret – NOT for those who are unsteady on their feet.

If that is too much like hard work then wander around the medieval streets and visit the trendy cafés.

From here you can take a trip to our small village of Ērgļi, which means eagles. Beware though, there are only two buses a day for this connection from Cēsis.

Ērgļi, truly is a rural backwater, but even here are fun or relaxing things to do. Bathe in the lake in the centre or one of the larger ones further out. Buy local goat’s cheese at the Saturday market or visit the farm, Sniķeri, itself and meet the goats, they’ll be happy to see you.

Visit Tiltiņi and try their strong liquor made from local apple or birch juice and flavoured with berries or other mysterious ingredients, make soap or ancient jewellery or stay for an evening film in the forest (websites are in Latvian but they do speak English).

There are also events organised from the old train station, Ērgļu stacija, from hikes to fishing events, tango to biscuit making.

Last but not least, visit us on our alpaca farm, Griezītes Alpakas. You can feed our cute alpacas, take one for a walk, talk for hours about all things alpaca with Ian, try your hand at felting with Joanna, or join us on our organised felting course. We will also of course be happy to share with you our love of Latvia.

From here you can return to Riga or visit some of the other small places, Jēkabpils, Cesvaines, Madona region and ….

This is not a route to do in a day. Take your time! Find some interesting places to stay and talk to the locals.

Things to do in Latvia:

• Beyond Riga: As young Latvians begin to leave the capital, where will the nation’s next hotspot be? – The Calvert Journal

• 25 Best Things to Do in Latvia – The Crazy Tourist

• If you like Latvia, Latvia Likes You – Facebook

• Discover Latvia

About the author:

Joanna Storie is a British emigrant and Ph.D. candidate living in Latvia.

You can read more of Joanna’s posts here.

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