As life in Latvia for centuries has been related with the sea, throughout all of Latvia’s seashore, traditional fishing villages are present. Some of them developed into small port towns, but others have almost turned into open-air museums.
The Baltic Seashore villages
On the very south of Latvia’s seacoast is the Kurzeme fishing village – Pape. Sandy dunes encircle small fishermen’s houses, near which one can still now find old fishing gear such as boats and nets, but the most interesting is Pape’s Ķoniņciems. This is an unusual seashore village of the 19th century which should be perceived as a construction monument. It is the location of the “Vītolnieki” branch of the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum where visitors can see old fishermen’s houses and learn about the life of a fisherman (tel.: +371 63400332).
Between Pape and Liepāja there are two other interesting fishing villages – Jūrmalciems, with the highest dunes in Latvia and Bernāti, where the sea is advancing on the shore-side buildings and it can be observed that some of the houses are on peninsulas in the sea.
A typical Kurzeme fishing village is Pāvilosta, which has now evolved into a small town. In the middle ages, the estuary of the River Saka had an active port, but after the Polish-Russian war of the 17th century, the port was filled in and came back to life only at the end of 19th century when the river bed was deepened again. The historic part of Pāvilosta is called Āķgals, an example of the peculiar town planning and building at the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20st century – every street reaches the sea.
Pāvilosta is popular among windsurfers and kiteboardists because of the strong winds, peaceful nature and clean beaches, yet other holidaymakers also like this place very much – a tidy environment, the possibility to eat fish and to venture into the sea themselves. The history of old Pāvilosta and its environs is presented in an interesting and even unique exhibition at the Pāvilosta Museum. The Museum is located by the sea in the town’s first brick building – Loči.
Fishing villages are different in Kurzeme’s north, the old Līv Shore (LV, Līvu krasts; Livonian, Līvōd rānda) where the Livonians, a Finno-Ugrian nationality, used to live. There are twelve villages and each is interesting and unusual. For example in Ovīši, there once was a narrow-gauge train terminal; now there are a few inhabitated farmsteads which are famous for their ancient construction and an unusual system of fences. In turn, Lūžņa was once spread over several kilometres and ships were even built in this village. Miķeltornis has the only remaining Livonian village pub and the highest lighthouse in the Baltic States – Miķeļbāka. Also, Lielirbe once was an economically active centre where sailing vessels were built, but now it is a quiet seaside village by the River Irbe.
One of the oldest Livonian settlements is Sīkrags, now a state town-building monument, but Mazirbe, which used to be the largest location inhabitated by the Livonians in Kurzeme, is still the centre of the Livonian culture. Košrags is a town-building monument, and Pitrags is famous for many ships that sank on its shallows. The remains of ships are often washed ashore by storms. Saunags is a popular holidaymakers’ location. In this village there is a medieval cemetery. In “Purvziedi” in Vaide village, one can be see the unique forest animal horn collection gathered by local forester Mr. Edgars Hausmanis (tel.: +371 63244217).
The furthest northern point of the Kurzeme peninsula is Kolka – an ancient Livonian fishing village which during Soviet times became one of the most important fish processing centres of Latvia. Today, smoked fish is also popular among tourists and holidaymakers here. In “Zītaru mājas” in Kolka the Livonian Centre has been established, which has a collection of Livonian household items. The last North-Kurzeme Livonian village is Melnsils. It has several archaeological sites and on the shores of Baķupīte are high dunes with a view of Cape Kolka.
Kurzeme seaside villages
There are particularly many fishing villages on the Gulf of Riga’s Kurzeme shores. Roja is an old port. Once it was used by ancient Vikings, as evidenced by their burial site near River Roja, the so-called devils boats [LV, velna laivas]. In the times of the Duchy of Kurzeme, ships were built in Roja and nowadays Roja Port is also active in fishing, freight shipping, and in Roja it is possible to arrange for a boat trip to the fascinating Roņu Island in the Riga Gulf. The Sea Fishing Museum is located in Roja, and at 5 Celtnieku Street visitors can see a private collection of sailing ship models (tel.: +371 69234345). More about the leisure opportunities in Roja can be learned at the Roja Tourism Information Centre (33, Selgas Street; tel.: 371 63269594).
On the road from Roja to Mērsrags is Kaltene – a small village famous for its several kilometre long stone beach, which is not typical for Kurzeme. Near the second most pronounced Latvian seaside cape – Mērsrags – there is a village by the same name and a small yacht and fishing port. Mērsrags has fish processing plants, and wet sea side meadows are a significant Latvian seaside bird concentration location.
The next fishing village is Engure. Its name in Livonian means an eel place. This is a popular resting place with several campgrounds on the seashore. Also, it is a yacht port from where it is possible to reach Roņu Island. Between Engure and Mērsrags, several kilometres off the sea is the Engure Lake – a lagoon rich with fish and the third largest lake in Latvia, and a significant bird nesting location. This is why parts of the lake are assigned as nature protection zones and, for the convenience of nature lovers, several bird watching towers and nature trails have been created.
Only 50 km from Rīga, on the southwest part of the Gulf of Riga, there are several nice fishing villages popular with tourists and holidaymakers. The proximity of Rīga, established infrastructure, peacefulness, sandy beaches and green pine forest are appreciated by everyone. Ķesterciems, Plieņciems, Apšuciems, Klapkalnciems, Ragaciems, Lapmežciems (next to Kaņieris Lake, a lake rich in fish, with excellent opportunities for anglers) and Bigauņciems offer relaxed holidays, mushroom and berry picking, fishing and angling, fish smoking, freshly smoked fish markets and other pleasantries of the seaside. In these villages there are guest houses, campgrounds and it is possible to rent a summer house.
Vidzeme seaside villages
Also on the east shores of the Gulf of Riga – the Vidzeme seaside – there are more than one fishing villages worth visiting. Only 40 km from Rīga is Saulkrasti – a popular holiday place formed in the place of several fishing villages. In the centre of Saulkrasti there is a comfortable swimming area. Next to the River Inčupe is one of the most beautiful nature objects – the White Dune [LV, Baltā kāpa]. From there to the centre of Saulkrasti stretches the scenic "Saulrieta taka" [LV, Sunset trail] trail. A unique bicycle museum is located in Saulkrasti, with the only old bicycle collection in Latvia. In Saulkrasti there are also several restaurants and cafes.
Artists and photographers like Zvejniekciems and its stony seaside. In this part of Saulkrasti is the first port of Vidzeme – Skulte, today the largest small port in Latvia.
The north part of the Vidzeme seaside boasts Salacgrīva and Ainaži. The port of Salacgrīva not only transfers timber shipments and is a fishing port but also hosts a yacht port. Salacgrīva is a very popular place for recreation with a wonderful beach, hotels and restaurants offering local fishermen’s catches. Ainaži is also an interesting, quiet small town right next to the Estonian border.