Baltic dreams

By | Category: Travel destinations

Travel writer and photographer, Anthony Lydekker, shares his experience of Latvia with CD-traveller readers

Baltic beach sunset at Jurmala

Baltic beach sunset at Jurmala

Yes Latvia borders the Baltic Sea. Air Baltic passengers know of course, about the Baltic Sea but not everyone does. Well the elegant capital of Riga is pretty close while Jurmala with its 21 mile spotless beach and wonderful sunsets is only 25 minutes away.  As well as the beach, Jurmala has many fine wooden houses and cottages all with individual decorations dating from the early 20th Century.  It started life a spa in the 1850s for Russian officers to convalesce and was reached by steamboats from Riga and the Baltic.  So there’s an option to ‘do’ Riga and stay at the seaside where the sea happens to be less salty than most resorts (due to the high shelf offshore). And they’ve got it all covered: with hotel spas offering very high saline thalassic treatments.

Promenade Hotel, Leipaja

Promenade Hotel, Leipaja

Liepaja further south and west is still a significant Baltic Port with a 22 hour ferry link to Hamburg and Lubeck. Until the Soviets’ departure in 1991 it had a naval garrison of 20,000 and was German U Boat base in World War 11.  Ghosts of the past linger in the disused barracks, empty Soviet style apartment blocks and the prison which, predictably, is now on the tourist trail.  No one ever escaped; today you pay extra to be locked up for the night.

Russian influence, Liepaja

Russian influence, Liepaja

St Catherine, Kuldiga

St Catherine, Kuldiga

Although some say the prison is haunted, the ghosts have departed.  The beach is magnificent and proudly reclaimed by the locals from rubbish and discarded ordnance left by the departing Navy. There is definitely a feeling that Liepaja is on the up; there are some first class refurbs of old hotels and guest houses while the new Promenade Hotel (a converted harbour front warehouse) is said to be one the best bolt holes in the entire country. Furthermore, locals are proud of their tram line which was completed in 1899 and is still running with a regular 10 minute service. Air Baltic has several good value flights departing daily from Riga (check www.airbaltic.com).  Well worth a stay.

St Catherine's church. Kuldiga

St Catherine's church. Kuldiga

We also visited Kuldiga – a medieval town mentioned in 8th century Chronicles. The old city, built round the Castle of Livonian Knights (1242) close by St. Catherine’ Church.

The widest waterfall in N. Europe, Kuldiga

The widest waterfall in N. Europe, Kuldiga

Latvian Venice in Kuldiga

Latvian Venice in Kuldiga

Kuldiga boasts the widest waterfall at 249 m in Northern Europe: Ventas Rumba. In the centre, channels off the river Aleksupite run through the wooden houses of Latvian Venice (1750). Many of the shops, houses and municipal buildings have been preserved and faithfully maintained.  Picturesque Kuldiga is a photographer’s dream and has been a location for many films showing rural scenes in Germany, Poland, Sweden and …….Latvia.

Up to scratch in Jurmala

Up to scratch in Jurmala

‘Unspoilt’ is arguably the best single word to describe the Latvian countryside. There are many Manor Houses offering accommodation with excellent home cooked food, bikes to hire, horses to ride – and even a number of golf courses.

Need to know:

Air Baltic
www.airbaltic.com

Tourist information
www.latviatourism.lv

Promenade
www.promenadhotel.lv

Baltic Beach Hotel
www.balticbeach.lv

Kuldiga

www.kuldiga.lv

Tour packages

www.baltictravelcompany.com

www.baltictours.com

Money
1 Lat = £1.15 (variable)

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