Unique, historical buildings, medieval castles, cosy hotels and cafes – this and much more create the special charm of these towns and are the reasons why tourists from all over the world flock to visit them.
The Pearl of Kurzeme – Kuldīga
Kurzeme’s pearl Kuldīga has always been considered the most beautiful town in Latvia. One of the oldest cities, a member of the Hanseatic League, the capital of the Courland Duchy, a prospering city in medieval times, the mightiness of which was brought to an end during the Northern War at the beginning of the 18th century and by the plague soon afterwards, but later recovered again. Since Kuldīga did not suffer during World War I and II, the town still has its old buildings and its historical town centre is a beautiful place to walk around – the slow observer will turn his/her attention to the carvings on windows, doors and other wood engravings. Kuldīga is called the Venice of Latvia, as the Aleksupīte River flows right along the walls of the houses.
The special romantic feel of the town is also created by the old brick bridge over the Venta River, which is one of the longest brick bridges in Europe (164 m) and is a candidate for inclusion in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites Monuments. Right before the bridge is the widest waterfall in Europe – the Venta Rapids (approx 250 m wide and 1.75 m high), where in spring one can observe the jumping of spawning fish.
The Scenic Towns of Kandava and Sabile
Much smaller, though no less landscaped and beautiful, are the towns of Kandava and Sabile on the banks of the Abava River on the way from Riga to Kuldīga. The Abava Valley with its banks, many nature monuments, hill forts and magnificent scenery is worth seeing, as is the town of Kandava on the banks of the Abava River. Talsu Street, Sabiles Street and Loka Street are lined with buildings typical only of Kandava – yards with closed courts and passages. Also noteworthy is the mighty powder tower of the Kandava Knight Castle, while a great view can be seen from the Kurši Hill Forts onto the Abava and the oldest rock bridge in Latvia – the bridge over the Abava.
In Sabile, many cultural-historical monuments are concentrated in a small territory and the historical town centre of Sabile is a town-planning monument from the 15th – 19th centuries. Sabile is also proud of its vineyard, the most northern open-air vineyard in the world as registered in the Guinness Book of Records, and the Pedvāle Open-air art Museum.
The Town on Nine Hills
Another town in Kurzeme attracts every guest with its marvellous surroundings – Talsi. It is located across nine hills and is enclosed by two lakes. The historical centre of Talsi has changed little since the 19th century and the town still has narrow, paved streets and the buildings are notable for their ridged roofs characteristic only of Talsi. In turn, the surrounding scenery of the North Kurzeme Highland with its wild forests, steep hills and deep valleys has been declared a nature park. Several skiing paths have been established the steep hillsides there and a folklore path has been created near Jāņkalni House. Near Sabile one can also visit an impressive (on a Latvian scale) waterfall – the Abava waterfall, which have always gathered aquatic tourists.
The Town on a Peninsula
In Zemgale, one should definitely visit Bauska – an old city that was built on the peninsula between the junction of the Mūsa and Mēmele rivers. The pride of Bauska is the Livonian Order Castle – the walls of the Bauska castle were built up to three metres thick and had five towers, some of which are still standing. The old city of Bauska is an exciting sightseeing object; not far from Bauska stands the majestic Mežotne Castle – a striking architecturalmonument of the classicism style, as well as Rundāle Castle – the rococo and baroque pearl of the Baltics.
The towns of Subate and Ilūkste in the north-eastern part of Zemgale have a different aura. Subate was built on the banks of two lakes and its historical town centre is a town-planning monument of national importance. Ilūkstealso has very interesting surroundings where the exciting nature reserve "Pilskalnes Siguldiņa" was built and has several tourist paths.
The Latvian town most visited by tourists is Sigulda. Its beauty has been known for several centuries, since visitors from all over the world first started to visit the city, dubbed the Switzerland of Vidzeme. The main value of Sigulda is the Gauja River and its valley, as well as the many nature, culture and history monuments. The picturesque river valley is beautiful in all seasons and is riddled with sandstone detritions and caves, old fort hills and stone walled castles of knights. Worth mentioning are Turaida Castle, the winter sports centre that houses the Sigulda luge andbobsleigh track and the city’s many skiing locations – they are only a part of the scenic Sigulda located in the Gauja National Park.
There is one more Latvian town on the banks of the Gauja River worth seeing – Cēsis. It is one of the oldest towns in Latvia, a former member of the Hanseatic League, famous for its Livonian Order Castle and several unique sightseeing objects. The Cēsis Castle was once the strongest fortress in the Baltics; the walk through the old city centre of Cēsis and the castle park is a real treat for every romantic and lover of historical auras. Winter sports lovers should travel to Žagarkalns. And a sacred spring near Cīrulīši flows forth from a cliff and supposedly has medicinal properties.
The cultural-historical colouring of Latgale can be felt in Rēzekne, called “the heart of Latgale”. Its picturesque surroundings are famous for its many gorgeous Catholic churches. Ludza, the oldest city in Latvia, is located on several hill forts on the banks of three lakes, where the majestic Order castle ruins are still maintained, as have the 19th century wooden buildings with closed courtyards in the historical centre after several devastating fires. The town of Krāslava is also located nearby in one of the most magnificent places on the steep banks of the Daugava River.