National Geographic Traveller (UK)
DAY ONE HISTORY & HIDEAWAYS
Take a stroll through Riga’s Esplanāde park, dotted with domed churches and monuments, before exploring the cobbled old town (Vecrīga). St Peter’s Church, with its gothic tower, is surrounded by tight, lamplit streets that lead across the canal to Riga Central Market. All of Riga convenes here — babushkas at the market stalls, hipsters nibbling crescent-shaped piragi bread rolls, and families huddled over bowls of pork dumplings. Out in the marketplace, where vendors hawk flowers and matroyshka dolls, you’ll find grand Gogola Street, where the ruins of the Great Choral Synagogue stand. Back in the centre, and surrounded by parkland, is the Museum of the Occupation, tracing Latvia’s history from the Nazi and Soviet eras to independence in 1991.
It’s an easy drive across the Daugava River and out of town, heading west on the A10 motorway. With spruce and birch forests to either side, the road winds around the Gulf of Riga to the former resort town of Ķemeri and its eponymous national park. From the rustic welcome lodge, timber boardwalks span miles of ancient bogs splayed out among the reeds. A striking silence percolates through the deserted wilderness, interrupted only by the twittering and pecking of birds. From the lookout tower it’s easy to spot cranes and sandpipers wading in the same mires where Nazi soldiers sank so many tanks during the Second World War; they’re still down there, somewhere. Linger a while to watch the sunset over the marshes.
Latvia’s beaches are delightfully undeveloped, and Jūrmala Beach, in the nearby city of Jūrmala, to the west, is one of the longest and loveliest. Rigans of means have long gravitated to the city’s calm, adjacent suburb, Bulduri. A century ago, well-to-do Latvians built elaborate clapboard cottages on the leafy streets set back from the sea — some are available for holiday rental, but all are beautiful just to look at on a slow neighbourhood drive. Jūrmala is a fine spot for dinner, too: 36. Line does deliciously light herring sushi, and steamed Baltic Sea mussels cooked in a in white wine sauce. After dinner, carry on an hour west to Kukšas to bed down in Kukšu Manor, a 16th-century menor stuffed with Russian antiques and fine art.