THE RUSSIANS HAVE GONE, SO BAG A BALTIC BARGAIN!
DON’T let on, but this is one of eastern europe’s bargains. With 20 miles of beach lapped by the Baltic Sea and backed by pine forest, the latvian resort of Jurmala — three hours away by plane — is ripe for discovery.
Traditionally, it’s been packed with holidaying russians, but sanctions against Putin are biting and prices have plummeted.
‘Now I can take my wife to dinner and not feel frightened of the bill,’ says my guide, aldis. and it means visitors like me can buy a cup of coffee for half the price of one in corfu.
hotels are a steal, whether they are a gabled wood art Nouveau villas put up when Tsar Nicholas I and his family were popularising Jurmala or an eighties hotel built when the Soviet Union still had latvia in its grip.
I opt for the immaculate Jurmala Spa hotel where the humungous breakfasts keep you going most of the day.
One of the best things about Jurmala is that it’s only a 30minute, 1.50 euro train trip from riga, latvia’s enchanting capital, with its medieval Old city, art Nouveau quarter and opera or ballet at the latvian State Opera house for little more than £10.
I reel out of riga’s massive market, housed in and around five former Zeppelin hangars, with an armful of herbs, dried mushrooms, jam, bee pollen, honeycomb, an amber bracelet (amber is washed up all along the Baltic coast) and a carved pine cheese board, all for £27.
at the former KGB hQ, I pay £4.50 for a tour in english, following the guide around bloodstained cells, interrogation rooms and a bullet-pocked courtyard — all just as the hated secret police left them in 1992 when the Soviet Union withdrew.
Back in the broad, pine-lined streets of Jurmala, I head for a bargain evening at the Thirtiesbuilt Dzintari concert hall.
‘When russians used to come, tickets were 50 and 70 euros. Now just seven. Best seats are 20!’ crows aldis. hurrah for that. and long may the russians stay away. TRAVEL FACTS AIR Baltic ( airbaltic.com,
00371 6700 6006) flies from Gatwick to Riga from £84 return. Baltic Holidays ( balticholidays.com, 0161 860 5248) offers double rooms at the Jurmala Spa seven nights from £514 per person B&B, including transfers and two private day trips with a driver/guide.