Europe, Latvia, Travel guides

Discovering Riga and Beyond

20/09/2016
Mezotnes Pils, Bauska, Latvia I must admit that Latvia was never on my must-see travel list but after visiting recently to attend my best friend’s wedding I soon realised that it should have been.  From the gorgeously quaint old town and the beautiful people to the lush green countryside and distilled vodka Latvia really blew my expectations and I cannot wait to go back.  Cosmopolitan city, historical town, pristine beach, snow-capped mountain, untouched forest ... whatever you are into Latvia has it. First things first, 'where the hell is Latvia' I hear you say.  Well, it is part of the Baltic states of northern Europe, next to Russia and sandwiched between Estonia and Lithuania.

Where to stay

As I said, we were heading to Latvia for my best friend's wedding which was held just outside of the capital, Riga.  Of course we couldn't travel all the way from Australia and not take the time to explore.  For 3 nights prior to the wedding we stayed in the Old Town.  Boy, it blew us away.

Old Town

We stayed in a beautiful art nouveau Airbnb.com apartment slap bang in the centre of Old Town.  We couldn't believe just how central the apartment was.  On the ground floor of the apartment was a quaint little restaurant with a plethora of bars, cafes and restaurants within stomping distance.  The downside was that we didn't realise it was a shared apartment until we arrived.  The host lives there and rents out the third bedroom but that was fine with us considering how little time we spent inside the apartment.

Bauska

The wedding was held in the most stunning neoclassical manor, Mezontnes Pils, located in Bauska, an hour and a half drive from Riga.  The grounds of the palace were beautiful with the stunning Lielupe River lining one side of the property.  As part of the wedding party, the maid of honour, I was lucky enough to spend a night in the palace just with the bride and bridesmaids the night before the wedding.  The spacious rooms were perfect for pre-wedding pampering. As with traditional Latvian weddings it was a 2 day affair. We stayed in the palace for a further 2 nights whilst the wedding festivities were taking place.  If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Latvian wedding I highly recommend that you do. It was hands down the best wedding I have ever been to.  There are so many fun and entertaining games and activities.  

Where to explore

Old Town

On our first day we meandered around the Old Town main square and across to the City Canal that lines the town on one side.  Shortly after we realised there was a lot to see so we jumped onto the City tour bus.  I do love a good sight-seeing bus.  It's such a great way to see everything of importance in a short amount of time.  Our bus drove through the Old Town, along the City Canal to on one side of town and across the Daugava River on the other.  In an hour and a quarter we were able to learn a lot about the haunting history of Latvia and a few things on art nouveau architecture. In the afternoon we stopped to have a beer in the Old Town.  The town is centred around the main square where all the restaurants, cafes and bars are located, the perfect place for people watching.  The quaint cobbled streets of Old Town are lined with incredible art nouveau buildings housing plenty of shops, cafes and beer gardens to keep you occupied from dusk till dawn.  But be warned, the beer is strong!  A night of drinking 4 or 5 beers was enough to knock me over the next morning. One thing I was pleasantly surprised with was that the town has quite a cosmopolitan vibe.  There are lots of very trendy looking Europeans wearing incredible clothes.  This is not something I expected of this historic city. Old Town Riga also hides a darker side with several pubs and clubs.  Just watch out for the hookers!  Buying a girl a drink might just cost you 35 euro! Once the wedding party had arrived we went to meet them for a quiet drink.  Of course, 'a quiet drink' never happens!  We strolled back into the apartment at 6am after bar hopping through the Old Town and clubbing at Klubs Studio 69.

Beyond Riga

Luckily for us we had a friend as our local tour guide.  The following day he drove us beyond the city.  An hours' drive from Riga through the beautiful forests is Sigulda.  Home to beautiful castles and adventure. Turaida Castle is something out of a fairy-tale.  A recently reconstructed medieval castle dating back to 1214.  Today it houses an interesting museum and offers incredible views over the forests and Gauju River from the 42 meter high tower.  We even had a go at some archery and wondered around the beautifully manicured Daina Hill Song Gardens. We also stumbled upon an adventure park, Tarzan.  We could have spent all day here.  There are so many activities on the menu ... riding a bike along a tight rope 100 meters in the air, rolling down a hill in a ball, tree top walking.  We opted for something a little more low-key and went up the gondala which gave impressive views over the untouched forests.  The boys opted for the luge that careered down the hillside.

What to eat

Breakfast | Breakfast is not the Latvian's strong suit.  We struggled to find anywhere open before 11am.  For 2 mornings in a row we ended up in a coffee shop.  A Latvian breakfast mainly consists of eggs any way you like, some form of meat and dark rye bread. Lunch or Dinner | I have to say that most of the Latvian people we saw look very lean and strong.  I would have to put this down to their diet of meat and vegetables.  Our local tour guide took us to where the locals eat, Lido.  Lido is basically an all you can eat buffet of epic proportions, Shaun was in heaven!  There are lots of Lido's dotted around with the best one a short drive away here. So if, like me, Latvia wasn't on your must-see list it should be! À la perchoine, Jodie

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