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There are four regions in Latvia – Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme and Latgale. And Kurzeme has always been my favourite. Perhaps it’s because my parents and grandparents come from the area. Or maybe it’s because I’ve always been drawn to the waves, and Kurzeme is washed by the Baltic Sea. Latvia has a 500 kilometers long coast line of white sand beach along the Baltic Sea. One can find especially nice beaches – as well as adventure and history – in Liepaja and Ventspils. Then there’s Jurkalne, with its pretty seashore bluffs and quiet white sand beach. In between, you’ll find numerous old fishing villages selling fish smoked according to age-old traditions. And in the middle of Kurzeme you’ll find Kuldīga and its charming narrow streets and red tile roofs – surely the most romantic city in Latvia. Keep reading to find out the highlights of Kurzeme.

#1 Port cities

Ventspils

A port city with white sandy Blue Flag beach. During summer here you will find cafes, volleyball and football fields, as well as playgrounds for kids and a surfer’s beach with all the necessary facilities. Ventspils is also home to Livonian Order Castle, which is one of the oldest medieval fortresses in Latvia.

 

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If you want to get a feeling for life in a historical fishing village, visit Seaside Open Air Museum. Then you’ll find fishermen’s homesteads, barns, windmills, boats and traditional household items. But probably the most beloved feature of the museum is the small, narrow gauge steam train ‘Mazbānītis’.

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Take a leisurely stroll through neat Ventspils and you will see many parks, gardens, fountains, and… cows. Cows?! Yes, you read it correctly. If you look hard enough, you will find 17 full-size fiberglass cows that were a part of two very successful charity auctions called Cow Parade 2002 and Cow Parade 2012. 26 such cows were turned into artistic pieces in 2002 and 24 in 2012. If you feel like tracking all of them down, you can find the walking map here. (My favourite is Sailor Cow!) The city also boasts a ‘children’s town’ and numerous others adventure parks in it –  perfect for those visiting with families. Lastly, my top tip for dining is Jūras Brīze, with its tasty Latvian food!

Liepāja

The third biggest city in Latvia and another port city. Because there was a famous Latvian song devoted to Liepaja with lyrics ‘City where the wind is born,’ this is how Latvians still describe the Liepāja. But it also is a city that is home to many talented Latvian musicians and singers, so sometimes it is referred to as the Rock’n’Roll city. It even has its own hall (well, alley!) of fame for famous musicians. Liepaja also preserves a military heritage. Karosta (direct translation port of war) is home to an old prison that is the main attraction in Liepaja. Here, the brave can voluntarily go to prison and ‘enjoy’ the harsh attention of prison guards. For some reason, this is a popular attraction not only for tourists but also for bachelor parties.

Liepaja also has an amazing Blue Flag beach and Seaside Park. During summer, Liepaja is home to music festivals, such as the Summer Sound Festival and the Fontaine Festival. If you prefer the classics, visit Great Amber Concert Hall, which hosts cultural events, such as the symphony, ballet, and jazz concerts. It is also a great modern architectural attraction.

Liepaja  (12)

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#2 Pretty coastal landscapes

Kolka Cape

Where the Baltic Sea and Riga Gulf meet. The cape is a dangerous place for boats and ships and numerous boats have sunk there in the past, which makes the place especially attractive for divers. Legends tell that in the past, locals made huge bonfires to warn sailors from this dangerous place, but bandits moved the fires to the Zilie Kalni (Blue Hills) from time to time and the misguided ships ran ashore, where the robbers stole the cargos and killed the sailors. Indeed, there is a belief that Kolka name comes from Livian words Kuol-ka (which means then die!). Despite all this, Kolka is a popular place for windsurfing, as is Pavilosta. 

Kolka at Slīteres nacionālais parks

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Jūrkalne seashore bluffs.

This very pretty landscape on a coast of Baltic Sea makes a great background for your Instagram photos. It is also an ideal place for a slow stroll on the shore, as the sea is very calm there.

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 #3 Find romance and castles in Kurzeme

Kuldīga

The most romantic town in Latvia. Kuldīga – or Goldingen, as it was known at the time – was the capital of Duchy of Courland and Semigallia between 1561-1795. This charming town preserves wooden buildings and urban planning elements from 13th-19th century. You can enjoy a beautiful view of the waterfall from the red brick bridge over Venta River. The Old Brick bridge is the longest of a kind in Europe – 165m.

Kuldiga (2)

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Ventas Rumba or Venta Waterfall is my favourite spot in the town. Being 240m wide, it is the widest waterfall in the Europe and in springtime attracts many tourists eager to see vimbas and salmon jumping over the waterfall. The locals call it The Flying Fish Show

Ventas Rumba

My favourite place for dining is Goldingen Room, located in the historical center of town, a few meters from City Hall and very close to the old brick bridge. But if you are in a mood for something small and sweet, visit Makkabi for tasty cupcakes and coffee.

Goldingen Room

Tukums

A town which is home to a pretty 17th-century manor Durbes pils (see the picture below) and its beautiful park. Only 14 km from Durbes pils you will find Jaunmoku pils (Jaunmoku castle), a great example of Neo-gothic architectural style featuring Art Nouveau elements. Venture 15 km out from Tukums and you can wander around the Cinevilla Studios backlot to witness how movies are made – or experience how Riga looked like centuries ago.

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#4 Recreation and leisure

Piena Muiža Berghof (Milk Manor Berghof)

One of the greatest, most divine spa rituals I have ever enjoyed in my life! Rose and milk bath, herbal tea, long very relaxing massage for two, body scrub and spa treatment for all body… Heaven. You can also stay in one of the manor’s elegant rooms, which will make you feel like living in an old-time movie. And if you feel hungry, just pop down to the restaurant.

Piena muiža Berghof – Milk Spa

Baskāju taka (Barefoot Path)

It is the first barefoot path in the Baltic States and has become very popular among nature lovers. The 2.9 km long path and its ever-changing surfaces can be a challenge – with pebbles, boulders, millstones, moss, cones, seaboard sand, reeds, rough pine trunk, clay and even glass to navigate. That is a true sensation for your feet and body!

#5 Try Latvian wine

Sabile Wine Hill is the world’s most northern open-air vineyard (as mentioned in Guinness Book of Records!)

Sabile Wine Hill is the world’s most northern open-air vineyard (as mentioned in Guinness Book of Records!) and a notable place to tick off your bucket list. And if you want to know more about how Latvian wine is produced, take a trip down to Abavas Ģimenes Vīna darītava (Abava Winery) for a wine tasting. Abava Winery is run by Mārtiņš and Liene Barkāni who offer a lovely wine tasting session complemented with a very interesting two-hour history of wine production in Latvia. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and even bought a bottle of their wine in the airport!

Me, the host of Abavas winery Mr. Mārtiņš Barkāns and my partner in crime (a.k.a. boyfriend Marcis)

 

There is a lot more to tell about Kurzeme, but let’s keep it for next articles.  I hope you enjoyed reading about my favourite region of Latvia. Stay tuned to hear more about other regions.

If you happened to be in Latvia on the 23rd of June, you probably noticed things were a little bit… different. You were probably wondering why all the girls are wearing flower wreaths on their heads. Or why there were so many people on the streets. Or why everyone was trying to get out of the city and into the countryside. And why were there enormous lines in the shops to buy meat, cheese, and beer? As you may have guessed, the 23rd of June is a national holiday in Latvia. A festival day known as Ligo or Jāņi.  For many Letts, Ligo is the most celebrated and beloved festival of the year and it is easy to see why. It’s where the magic happens, and if you’re in Latvia during Ligo festival it should definitely be on your bucket list.

Why is Ligo summer solstice festival so important to Latvians?

If you ask Latvians what they believe in, most of them would probably say that they are Christians, but in the same time, they LOVE all of the Latvian pagan rituals that date back to ancient times. Pretty much everything Latvians do on the summer solstice – when Ligo takes place – is based on centuries-old rituals and the beliefs of their ancestors. They are proud of their pagan roots and the traditions that have helped preserve the Latvian national identity, especially during times of occupation. As you may know, Latvia has been invaded many times throughout its history by Swedes, Germans and Russians. During these dark days such traditions were celebrated in secret (because they were forbidden). And these traditions helped keep the Latvian national spirit alive.

In contemporary Latvia, many Latvians still follow the beliefs and traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. And let’s be honest, they are kind of fun!

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Ligo traditions and beliefs

Ligo takes place on the shortest night of the year. Everyone tries to stay awake until dawn to enjoy all the magic of this special night. During the day women gather herbs, flowers, and leaves. The herbs are said to have a special power to heal and are dried to make teas. The flowers are used to make wreaths for the women and oak leaves – which are believed to give strength – are used to make the wreaths for the men. These wreaths are must-have accessories during Ligo and because it is believed that they have a protective power and absorb negative energy, they are not thrown away after the festival but kept all the year long. Latvians usually hang them on the wall as decoration until next Ligo.

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And when the next Ligo rolls around, these old wreaths are thrown onto a bonfire at midnight. Then all the bad energy they have absorbed burns up with them. Another belief surrounding wreaths is that one can tell the future by throwing them into a tree! If someone wants to know how many years they should wait before getting married, he or she can throw their wreath up into the branches of a tree. The number throws it takes to get the wreath caught on the branches equals the number of years one should wait before getting married.

The romance of Ligo

Probably the most romantic tradition concerns the flowering ferns of the forest. Legends have it that the flowering fern can only be found deep in the forest and is guarded by witches and other mythical creatures. You can only find it while searching together with the one you love. Whether the legend is true or not, this makes for a very good excuse to have some romantic privacy on this magic night! Another fun activity for couples is jumping over the bonfire holding hands. It might be quite dangerous, but it’s exciting and certainly looks impressive!

A good harvest and eternal beauty

As with all summer solstice celebrations, many beliefs and traditions are related to the hope of having a good harvest the following year. One of the craziest belief is that running naked over the fields will guarantee a good year and a bumper harvest. Those, meanwhile, hoping to remain forever beautiful and healthy should take a soak in the early morning dew – or at least use it to give their face a quick splash-wash. Eternal beauty is guaranteed.

Is Ligo summer solstice all about traditions?

No, there is also plenty of beer to be drunk, homemade caraway cheese (in round form, to symbolize the sun) to eat and Latvian folk songs to be sung. And there is of course shashlik – marinated meat for the grill. Shashlik originally comes from southern Europe, but Latvians have made the recipe their own and no Ligo festival is complete without it. Good food, songs, dances, bonfires, and magic.

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This is Ligo! You can choose to believe in the magic or not, but if you do, the night will be all that bit more fun! So, if you weren’t in Latvia for Ligo this year, make sure you take part next year. You wouldn’t want to miss the festival of the year, would you?

Riga is a wonderful destination that offers something for everyone. From a wide selection of fine beer, lively bars, and chic restaurants with a rustic touch to charming Old Town streets with red rooftops, lovely, steepled church towers, and Art Nouveau architecture. The capital of Latvia has it all and it also has a rich history – who can doubt that if we’re talking about city founded in 1201!? In this article, you will find the ultimate cheat sheet what to see in Riga. But now, let me introduce you to Riga, the capital of Latvia!

I have always believed that traveling is the essence of life. It doesn’t matter if the destination is an exotic country, a romantic getaway spot or going just 50 miles away from home. It is about craving adventures, tasting amazing food and broadening the horizon of one’s knowledge. And have you noticed how nice it is to return home after a trip? Life just seems better!

Discover a new destination – Latvia

But how to choose the travel destination? It is never an easy decision. Many of us have chosen to travel to France, Italy, Greece or Spain and there is a reason why – all these places have a truly amazing cultural heritage. A La Dolce Vita vibe! A fiesta feeling! But how about being one of the first one of your friends finding a hidden gem and discover something you haven’t seen before? Something so familiar, but yet still so unknown – Latvia. Many of us have heard its name, but it is rare to meet anyone who actually knows something about Latvia and you probably wonder – what to see in Latvia?

Latvia is a secret gem

Over the last decade, more and more tourists have chosen Latvia as their destination and I can tell you why… Because they have found the secret gem. It is a small, charming country that has too long kept itself secret. Latvia has it all – beautiful sandy beaches, great weather, charming small towns, beautiful castles, manors and an attractive capital that is sometimes called the ‘Paris of the North’. All that and it is so compact that you can see almost all of it within a few days! You can find refreshing spa offers and rustic-chic restaurants that will make you feel special and not break the bank. Enjoy hiking and nature? Great! Latvia is the perfect spot for you, over 50% of the country consists of forests and it boasts 494 km of coastline. And that’s not all – this small country can amaze you with more than 2250 lakes and five times more rivers. Perfect for sailing away from the routine. Did I mention that during July temperature can go up to +36 degrees and there are only 2 days a year on average when the sun is not shining?

Come and enjoy. And keep in mind what they say about Latvia– it is best enjoyed slowly.

I hope you will like my blog about what to see in Latvia. Bon voyage!