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The tiny Baltic nation of Latvia lies on the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe and is bound by Russia, Lithuania and Estonia. A part of the European Union it has a population of about two million which is among the lowest of the EU countries and is one of the least densely populated with about half of the country covered by forests.
This unexplored country has lots to offer for the tourists with its pristine broad beaches, rich cultural heritage blending perfectly with modernity, brilliant architecture and hordes of outdoor activities in perfect pleasant climate.
In the ancient times Latvia was an important trading point and was popular during the medieval ages for amber which was regarded even more valuable than gold at that time. The arrival of German traders in the 12th century saw Riga develop into the most important and largest city on Eastern Baltic coast.
The country got its independence from foreign occupation in 1918 but the joy of being independent was short lived as it was occupied by the Soviet forces in 1940 and German forces in 1941. Reoccupied by the Soviet in 1944 Latvia continued to be a part of USSR till its disintegration and became an independent nation on 21st August 1991.
Picture The World Project, Latvia
Photo by Jason Visco of anoutofthewayplace.com. Latvia remains one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe and this shows in the people’s special attachment to the...
Click on the photo for full story.
The Latvian capital Riga is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and would have the honor of being the European Capital of Culture in 2014. You would be awestruck by the Jugendstil architecture of this historical city and the wooden architecture in the Paradugava area along with the cobbled lanes and steeples would take you back to the Middle Ages.
While in Riga you should not miss going to the vibrant Central Market which is the biggest market in Eastern Europe, where you could strike a good bargain on a beautiful Amber stone. As you walk down the streets of Riga which is also known as ‘Paris of East’ you would be amazed by how the Latvian and Russian culture blend perfectly with each other.
Apart from Riga you can also explore the small towns of Latvia and the best place to start is the beautiful town of Sigulda located in the Gauja valley and is popularly known as the Switzerland of Latvia thanks to its stiff cliffs and banks. Having visited the museum at the Turaida Castle and exploring the deep Gutmanis cave in the city you can head over to Kuldiga where you can see the widest waterfall in Europe which is a part of Venta Rapid regarded as a natural monument in the country.
The beaches of Latvia beckons one and all and you can have a fantastic time enjoying the white sandy beaches along the 500 km coastline. The Latvians love to call Liepaja as the place where the wind was born as it constantly enjoys a sea breeze and you can have a great time sunbathing here away from the teeming population, and you need not wash yourself at the beach thanks to the low salt content.
As it is not a very popular tourist destination you would not find a large number of five star hotels in Latvia but you can find many comfortable and reasonably priced hotels in Riga. If you are venturing in the countryside to enjoy hiking, walking or biking you can stay at the various guest houses and country houses which are not only cheaper than hotels but also you can enjoy the personalized services of the hosts. At several of such guest houses you can enjoy recreational facilities such as horse riding or Pirts – the traditional sauna. If you have an adventurous streak in you, you can camp at the various free camp sites at the national parks or could just choose a place in the rural area and camp with the permission of the owner by paying a small amount. Below is a list of our Sponsored Hotels:
To enjoy the Latvian culture you should visit the Jani festival which is held to mark the Summer solstice and is celebrated in the honor of Janis who is regarded as the Son of God and it is common to see people named Janis (the most popular male name) adorning an oak wreath. Latvians believe that during this period the forces of nature are very powerful and the evil forces are riding around and so they decorate their houses with rowan and oak branches and thorns so as to ward off the evil forces. They also believe that this is the best time to gather herbs as they have magical powers and you would find young couples looking for the mythical fern flower which is thought to increase the sexual desire.
During the festival you could dance all night to the beats of Latvian music as festival fires are kept on from sunset to sunrise and you would also find people jumping over such fires with the belief that it would lead to prosperity.
The peasant culture greatly influences the Latvian cuisine which is highly based on the different varieties of crops grown here. The location of the country has resulted in the cuisine being affected by different cuisines and cultures of the East, west, north and south and what has emerged would leave you licking your fingers as you savour the delicacies.
You should try out the exotic sweet soup maizes zupa which is made from rye bread or have a bite of Piragi in which bacon and onion are wrapped in a thin dough made of yeast. To enjoy the best of Latvian cuisine you can have a buffet at Lido or eat at the various food stalls in the streets of Riga. Below is a list of our Sponsored Restaurants:
Latvian love to drink beer making it the most popular among the alcoholic beverages and they are very proud of the local breweries. While you would be able to get beer such as Sencu, Aldaris and Livu almost everywhere you should not miss trying out the local beer such as Tervetes, Piebalgas and of course live beer such as Uzavas at various pubs and restaurants. A drink which you cannot afford to miss is the Black Balsam which is distilled locally and is made from various spices, roots and herbs. Believed to cure flu instantly you can add it to your tea, coffee or cocktail or have it alone to enjoy a strong beverage. Below is a list of our Sponsored Bars:
Latvia has long been under foreign occupation and one of the worst period was during the German occupation between 1941 and 1944 which saw the massacre of Jews.
Bernhard Press was one of the lucky survivors of the massacre and he has documented his experience of escaping from a ghetto in Riga, living in hiding with a friend for three years and the trials that the Jews suffered at the hands of the Soviets in his book The Murder of the Jews in Latvia, 1941-1945 (Jewish Lives).
The book written in prose in not only a moving memoir but also an important document for the historians to know about the sufferings of the Jews during that period.
As We Travel Video: Join Nathan and Sofia (from aswetravel.com) in the capital city Riga, as they visit the Freedom Monument, eat Latvian pancakes, marvel at the House of the Black Heads and drink Kvass.
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