We start in Tērvete Nature Park, site of an ancient Zemgalian fort, and famous for its tall 300-year-old pines, used to create the park’s sculptures - fairy-tale characters of Anna Brigadere. Ramble the lush nature trails, row or fish in beautiful Swan Lake with its many birds, ride on the train.
Pēteris Upītis was Latvia’s pre-eminent horticulturist and the Museum and Garden named after him reflect his contribution. Spring is the ideal time to visit Dobele for the blossoming orchards or particularly lilac time to admire one of the largest collections in the world.
Located in the vicinity of Tukums, exotic Jaunmoku Palace, where Neo-Gothic intertwines with Jugendstil, was built in 1901 as the hunting lodge of the Mayor of Riga. Home to a colourful exposition about forestry and hunting, legend has it that the ghost of the White lady is always at hand.
Uphill from Sabile, the 100ha of the Pedvāle Open-Air Art Museum are covered with grassy meadows, gentle slopes and deep ravines, a winding river and woods. Here creative artists are free to express themselves, encouraged to draw their inspiration from nature and local materials, creating a place where stones, wood, landscapes and other natural elements take on a cosmic dimension.
The pearl of Kurzeme, Kuldīga is acknowledged to be one of Europe’s foremost tourist destinations with its enchanting narrow streets and courtyards. The Alekšupīte river flows along the walls of Old Town houses. The redbrick Venta bridge exudes a special charm. The Pilsētas dārzs gardens are embellished with sculptures. With its rapid flow and extraordinary width of 249m, natural monument Ventas rumba is the widest waterfall in Europe and is part of the Venta Valley Nature Reserve - abundantly forested and home to many rare and protected plant species.
A little to the north, the Riežupe sandstone caves are man-made. Carved out over centuries, the sand was first used for domestic scouring and later for glass-making. It is the longest cave system in Latvia, rumoured to be even longer, with labyrinthine underground passages lost to collapses. In winter, look out for hibernating bats.
Head west to the Baltic coast and the beautifully rugged, steep dunes of Jūrkalnes stāvkrasti.The appeal of this blend of 20m-high sand walls, rocks, clean water and stately pine trees dates back to the early 19th century when it was popular with the local landed gentry.
Just up the coast, the Užava lighthouse stands 30m above the sea on tall dunes. Originally built in 1879, the existing edifice maintains its initial appearance. Standing 16m high, it is also known as Bakofen as its three dunes are reminiscent of a baking oven.
One of many attractions in the port of Ventspils, the Seaside Park nestles in copious greenery. Chug along one of two routes on the antique narrow gauge railway. Walk the Jungle trail and greet its resident animals, exquisitely carved from wood. Try out different surfaces: dolomite slabs, wood blocks and chips, bark or cones. Energetic visitors can climb and swing through the trees on the challenging obstacle course.
Just up the coast, the Oviši lighthouse is the oldest in Latvia having been built in 1844, but reconstructed in its original form in 1905. The white tower is 38m tall and is unusual in that it has a second tower inside.
Once a Soviet installation to detect missiles, the Irbene Radio Astronomy Centre now serves more peaceful purposes. One of its two parabolic radio telescopes has a diameter of 32m, the largest in north Europe and the 8th largest in the world.
Kolkas rags is the northern tip of Latvia’s west coast, the meeting place of Baltic and Gulf of Riga currents, sunrise and sunset, and all four winds. Its sandy, pristine beaches are wonderful for relaxing by the water. It is the main attraction of Slītere National Park which has become popular with nature lovers, not only for its bounteous flora and fauna, but as a great place to see migrating birds.
Turning south-east along the Gulf coast, traverse deep forests to reach the wild, boulder-strewn beach at Kaltene where shellfish fossils date back to the Littorine era. Pathways lead back into the pines where you will find kalvas, huge piles of boulders left by the receding Baltic glacial lake. The nature trail includes two viewing platforms and a bird-watching tower.
Strike inland to Valdemārpils and the Laumu Nature Park, jam-packed with the Bee, Bird, Plant and Forest educational trails for experiencing the wonders of nature. Active leisure seekers will enjoy the Sports trail with its obstacles testing agility and balance. Try out other recreational activities - mini golf, trampolining, fishing, cycling, even candle-making. In winter, cross-country skiing is the way to go.
The Lake Engure Nature Park is a unique European wetland and one of the most important reserves in Latvia, home to 15 listed species and 23 habitats. The short distance between freshwater lake and the coastal dunes, replete with forests and marshes, offer a great variety of sights. Now equipped with trails and an information centre.
The Great Ķemeri Heath or raised bog has been formed over 8 000 years by the action of Sphagnum or peat moss, creating layers of peat as much as 8m thick, but still living. All the rain and snow falling on the heath is collected in the bog which can hold up to 20-25 times its weight of water. Take to the boardwalk, supported only by the quagmire, to see how the soil, poor in nutrients, acidic and water-saturated, lets only a few shrubs and stunted trees survive, hence the eerie landscape.
Having passed through Jūrmala’s many townships, Lielupe leads you to the Ragakāpas (Horn Dune) Nature Park. Follow the path to see 300-year old pines and one of the highest dunes in Latvia. Explore the open-air museum of a 19th century fisherman’s life. The Nature, Insect, Pine and Plant trails reveal 5 rare plants and 4 endangered birds. Viewing platforms, benches, stairways and information signs help you enjoy your visit.