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Kurzeme Coast of the Gulf of Riga
The Kurzeme coast of the Gulf of Riga undoubtedly has its own charm. This stretch of the coast is distinguished by the many fishing villages, small ports, exciting recreational opportunities - and all within an hour’s drive from Riga!
You will find that the south-western shore of the Gulf of Riga from Jaunķemeri all the way up to Ragaciems is already one big village: the ancient fishing villages of Bigauņciems, Lapmežciems and Ragaciems have merged together. They tempt a traveller with their many guesthouses, summer houses for rent to city dwellers, sandy beaches, pubs and freshly smoked fish. You cannot help but drool when approaching the Lapmežciems fish market, famous in the whole of Latvia.
Your nose will be teased with the aroma of freshly smoked flounder, eelpout, salmon, burbot, herring, carp, tench and other fish – here, local fishermen offer their own catch which they themselves have prepared, and every gourmet should try it!
Between Lapmežciems and Ragaciems, almost on the very seashore, there is a lake that is especially popular among bird watchers. This is Lake Kaņieris: a heavily overgrown lagoon-type lake that has one of the highest bird populations in Latvia. It has been designated a wildlife refuge and included among the most important birding sites in Europe, it is a Ramsar Convention site and it is part of the Ķemeri national park. A bird watching tower has been erected next to Kaņieris and the Kaņieris castle mound nature trail is nearby. Lake Kaņieris is rich in fish - it is a true angler’s paradise. Enquire about fishing opportunities with your local Tourist Information Centre.
On the shore between Klapkalnciems and Apšuciems you can find the Lāčupīte arboretum, containing various exotic tree species that have successfully adjusted to the maritime climate. Meanwhile, Plieņciems has been a famous resort for a very long time, and Elizabeth, the spouse of the Russian tsar Alexander I, stayed here for six weeks in 1810. A unique geological object – the Plieņciems Dune – is also located near Plieņciems, which is possibly the only non-vegetated sand dune on the Latvian coast. It is a sand drift 250 m wide and 3.5 km long and it protects Plieņciems from the maritime winds. A wildlife refuge has been created on the dune, but, interestingly, in 1810 it was dug through to ensure that Empress Elizabeth could have a view of the sea from her summer house window.
A much more substantial town on the Kurzeme coast of the Gulf of Riga is Engure. It has a yacht harbour from which you can sail to Ruhnu Island. You should also visit the Engure Lutheran church, a wooden house of worship built in 1804.
Between Engure and Mērsrags, a few kilometres inland, lies Lake Engure, which is the third largest lake in Latvia. It is an important nesting area for birds, which is why parts of the lake have been designated as a nature reserve. Several bird watching towers and trails have been set up for the convenience of nature lovers. Pastures have been set up for wild horses and cows in the littoral meadows. The Orchid Trail begins near the Ornithological Research Centre and fishing permits can be purchased at the lake’s boat stations that will allow you to go angling in the lake, which also abounds with fish.
It is here, on the Kurzeme gulf coast, that one finds the second largest headland on the Latvian coastline: Mērsrags. The waterlogged coastal meadows are an important site where birds congregate, while in the fishing village of Mērsrags itself, there is also a fishing port and a yacht harbour.
North of Mērsrags, in Kaltene, the beach turns rocky: the narrow strip of the beach is covered in boulders and pebbles for several kilometres, while the sea itself is actively eroding the shore, attacking the homes built there. Particularly shocking consequences of the sea’s assault can be observed in Valgalciems, where a number of buildings are now virtually in the water.
Roja is the largest settlement on this section of the coast. It is an ancient port, even used by the Vikings. During the reign of the Duchy of Courland, Roja was a shipbuilding site. The port of Roja is still buzzing with activity: fishing, cargo shipping. In Roja, you can book a boat to the exciting Ruhnu Island in the Gulf of Riga. There is also a Marine Fisheries Museum in Roja, whilst at No. 5 Celtnieku Street, you can view a private collection of model sail boats. You can find out more about recreational opportunities in Roja at the Roja Tourist Information Centre.
The furthest extreme of the Kurzeme coast of the Gulf of Riga is Kolka Cape with its ancient Livonian village of Kolka. Cape Kolka is one of the most popular tourist destinations and recreation sites in Latvia.