Latvia has made huge progress in the field of tourist attractions and tourist services. Investments in infrastructure for travellers that were small, steady but smartly distributed are already yielding significant results. Many private individuals have become involved in the travel industry and have created interesting attractions. Latvia has invested more in attractions than in accommodation. This allows Latvians to stop the transit of travellers and to increase the length of stay of travellers in Latvia.
A weekend in Latvia without Riga
It's hard to imagine a weekend in Latvia without Riga and Sigulda. But driving through the Bauska - Dobele - Jurmala region, you soon realise that there are plenty of places to visit for many weekend getaways. There are places to suit all kinds of interests, restored castles and manor houses, gardens and flower gardens rich in flora. Well-maintained nature parks, nature trails, hiking and cycling paths. Sandy seaside, inexpensive and tasty food in local taverns.
You can find beautiful scenery, history, walks, cuisine and even a tasting of distillates on the map shown below.
Tourist attractions in Latvia
Here are some of the most visited places in the region, including restored castles and manors. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and learn some of the local history.
This magnificent palace was designed by the Italian architect Bartholomew Rastrel. The construction of this lavish and opulent palace began in 1736 as a summer residence for Empress Anna's favourite, Byron. Byron's vicissitudes also affected the construction of the palace. The palace was not officially completed until 1768. The palace has enormous halls of splendour. It was not possible to see them, as access is restricted due to reconstruction work. Two or even three hours can be devoted to visiting the gardens. The French garden, although relatively small, is very compactly designed. It has a large collection of tulips and roses. For those who like to take photographs, the morning is the best time, when the sun illuminates the façade of the Rundale Palace. Mid-May is the best time to visit to admire the tulips, followed by the abundant roses. There is an entrance fee to the garden and the palace.
Rundale Palace has a large and well-maintained garden.
We drive past Lake Valguma towards Šlokembek Fortified Manor. It is a restored 15th century fortification with a road museum inside. There is an exposition of road construction techniques and road signs. There is also a collection of ancient road signs. Less than half an hour for a tour. We saw a ski sign nearby.
Inside the Slokembek Manor. It has an exhibition of road machinery and signs.
Jelgava Castle is a name you'll come across in many places. However, this is the work of Rastrelli, who designed both Rundale and the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The huge palace was built on an island in the Lielupe River. The palace offers themed tours, usually for groups. You can leave your car in the nearby parking lot at one of the Jelgava rest areas. There are several restaurants by the water and a park.
Jelgava Palace is a nice place for a quiet stroll after driving.
Bauska Castle is built on the confluence of the Nemunelis and Musa rivers. Step by step, it is being restored and the exhibitions are being added. Although it is not possible to visit the inside, it is not very tempting. Bauska Castle is at its best when the sun goes down, and that's when access to the inside is closed. You can walk along the castle from the side of the Mūša River. Descending to the Mūša dolomite outcrop, which is the first point of practice for geologists in the distance. You can walk to the other side of the Musa and admire the view from there. It will soon be interesting to go inside the castle at Panašu, as the high tower of the castle is being rapidly rebuilt and should give a good view of the confluence and the surrounding area.
Bauska Castle is being rebuilt wall by wall. The residence of the dukes of Courland was rebuilt first, but now it seems to be time for the Teutonic castle to be restored.
Natural attractions in Latvia
If you are looking to run away from the fast-paced city life and enjoy nature, get some fresh air and excercise, then you the places discussed below will surely peak your interest. These include nature parks, nature trails and hiking paths.
Tervete Nature Park
In Dobele region, a visit to Tervete Nature Park is a must. The park's attractions start along the road to Dobele. The wooden castle on the left side of the road is sure to attract attention. The castle has an exhibition on the pre-teutonic period. Historical festivals are organised here. However, this is not the main attraction. The most famous attractions in Tervete are the children's play park, the mazes, the dwarf houses, the witches. It is linked to the famous Latvian writer Anna Brigadere, whose house is a museum next to the castle. From here you can walk or cycle around the park. The park's attractions include many characters from Anna Brigadere's fairy tales. The park offers interesting places to stay. Like the Botique & Spa Hotel Berkenes Manor. The attractions in the park are charged.
Tervete wooden castle is surrounded by a centuries-old forest.
Pēteris Upitis Garden Museum
At the end of May, lilacs bloom in this garden. There are about 130 different types of lilacs. The garden is large, even large crowds of people can spread out evenly. Admittedly, there are some difficulties with parking your car, but the Latvian officials don't mind the cars parked on the side of the road. The garden is perfect for complete relaxation, you walk around, admire and smell the different varieties of lilac. On our trip, we arrived at the garden for a late lunch. We found a quiet place to stretch out a blanket and eat the sandwiches we had prepared. During the olive blossom season, the Olive Festival is held on the last Saturday in May.
It's also a good time to visit when the apples are ripening. There are also hundreds of apple trees here, and an apple festival is held.
Peteris Upitis' lilac garden. This gardening enthusiast collected lilacs at his home and distributed them throughout the region. Seedlings can be bought in the nearby parking lot.
Great Kemer Bog
The walking route through the bog is worthwhile. There are hiking trails in the Great Kemer Bog. One is shorter and the other is longer. The hiking trail is circular, with an easy to find starting point and a guarded parking area. There is even an ice-cream and snack cart on the route. The grand route is about 3.5 kilometres long. While admiring the views, the walk will take about a couple of hours. There is plenty to admire. The little pine trees in the bog reach heights of only a few metres over the years. Their spreading stems are like Japanese bonsai trees. In the middle of the swamp there are many bog lakes. At the end of the route, a tower overlooks the entire bog. It should be a fantastic sight in the early morning when the sun rises and the mist covers the lakes. The views should also be beautiful when the sun goes down.
The difficult conditions prevent pine trees from growing large. They grow probably only a few centimetres a year. A park of bonsai trees is formed. The bog is clearly visible from the wooden lookout tower.
Slokas Lake nature trail
There is another nature trail just outside Kemeri. It's not spectacular, but it's a good way to get your body moving. The approach to the lake has an observation tower. It overlooks the whole of Lake Slokas and is dedicated to birdwatching. The sightseeing, or rather hiking trail goes along the lakeshore, through the bogs and then through the fir woods. The equipment along the route is a bit more interesting for walking on logs and keeping your balance.
The Slokas hiking trail starts from the lookout tower. A firm footpath through a marshy lake, then a trampled path in a dry forest.
Dunduru Pļavas is a national park where the course of the River Slampe is being restored. There used to be peat bogs and grazing meadows. After cleaning up the environment, semi-aquatic animals have been released into the meadows to protect them from scrub encroachment. These are the Konik breeding horses (Polish horses), which are very similar to the wild horse Tarpan, and the Hek cattle, which are similar to the Taurus. Three observation towers have been erected to monitor these animals, wild birds and animals. They are accessed by a gravel road slightly off the track to Jelgava. The wild horse herd is particularly interesting to watch. Youngsters play, some of them in the paddock, and older horses are figuring out their relationships.
Konik horses graze freely all year round.
Where to stay in Jūrmala
Part of Jurmala is within the Kemer National Park. Prices in Kemeri are slightly lower than in central Jurmala. We chose a modern hotel in Kemeri, with a private courtyard with a barbecue, a gazebo and a sauna.
It's not far from here, five kilometres, to go out for lunch or go to the beaches. Kemeri is or was a mud resort. The Kemeri bog, which has already been visited, is infiltrated by water, which passes through layers of dolomite and erupts in the surroundings of Kemeri. The water is saturated with hydrogen sulphide, which saturates the Kemeri muds. The former mud bath stands abandoned and I did not find out whether there is a functioning facility where mud baths can be taken.
Hotel in Kemeri
Where to eat in Jūrmala
Jūrmala is rich in places to eat some gourmet food. Since Jūrmala is by the seaside, it is most well known for the seafood. It would be a shame not to try some in the restaurants or in fish markets.
After an active day of travelling, everyone wants to have a filling meal. We went to the Kūriņš restaurant on the seafront. Although we had been warned about the large portions, we didn't expect them to be this large. The soup, a huge portion of the second course with a drink, cost about 15 euros per person. The food was very tasty, the meat was tender and the flavours were perfectly balanced.
While we were waiting for our meal, we went for a swim in the sea, which is a few dozen metres from the restaurant. After we had eaten, we watched the sunset. The view of the sun hiding behind the cape is fantastic.
Many of the seats in the restaurant were reserved in advance. It was more comfortable in the indoor restaurant with glasing, as there was a strong cold wind. The pork chops and braised beef were tender. Huge rhino steak of chicken stuffed with cheese.
Smoked fish in Ragaciems
The most famous fish smokers in Jūrmala are in Ragaciems. Get ready for a gourmet brunch. There are quite a few smokeries, the most famous being the fish market on Selgas iela 1. The best days are when the weather is not windy and the fishermen go out to sea. Then you can get smoked fresh fish. Cod trotters, salmon steaks are excellent. Salmon can be wild, local. It is incomparably tastier than Norwegian farms. But it is also quite expensive. Although you don't need much of it. If you prepare white bread and butter with a thin salmon cutlet, you can make a wonderful sandwich that shows off the flavour of the salmon. You can enjoy the fish just around the corner at Ragacieme sedums, the local fishermen's boat and net store. There are several benches or a walkway to the sea. We drove to the site a little further away, which is popular with kitesurfers.
Ragaciems has many small smokeries and fish restaurants. The biggest place to buy fish is the fish market. Several stalls offer card payments. It is worth taking cash as the range varies.
Other activities in Latvia
Here are some other fun places and activities to do in the Bauska - Dobele - Jūrmala region that are not as well known but nevertheless, are worth paying a visit. People of all age groups, young and older, will find something for themselves.
The distillery is open for tours for larger groups. There is also a classic tasting at the bar. The Calvados is well made, as you would expect from a fine aged yet slightly spicy. Ciders of several types, brut and semi-sweet. Not much yeast, clean taste. At least I like them better than Normandy ciders. At the Abavas distillery, a 0.7 liter of 3 to 4 year old fine cider distillate costs around 40 Eur. A bottle of cider is between 5 and 7 Eur.
The Abavas distillery has a fairly wide range of beverages. Non-barrelled, cask-aged fruit spirits. Ciders, fortified and natural wines.
From Jelgava we drive along a gravel road towards Bauska. The traffic is not heavy, but the cloud of dust on the side of the road makes it unpleasant to stop. Although we do pass the spectacular, open valley of the Lielupe River. There is even a wooden platform for viewing. And just a short distance from the entrance to the E67, a local farmer has set up a rabbit town. Instead of simple hutches, they have been replaced by old-style houses. There is an entrance fee and it is worth buying a bag of food for the rabbits. The teenager liked this attraction the most out of all the places visited in Latvia on this trip. Sometimes the fun is in the simplicity. There are houses like in a town along the road, surrounded by greenery. The rabbits are often with the whole family with small rabbits. Some distance away, turkeys, geese, ducks are roaming freely. They are also used to eating what the tourists offer. It's a whole flock.
A rabbit village with houses and churches. Simple, affordable, creative and fun.