Latvia is known for its tasty and healthy rye breads, both dark and sour dough, and the Lāči Bakery near Piņķi is a wonderful place to discover them. Lāči (bears) stick to traditional methods like leavening in abras, time-honoured wood troughs, and wood-fired ovens. The huge range includes eco-breads made from organically grown ingredients.
Head to Krimūna near Dobele and wonderful aromas will lead you to Rūķīšu tējas(Hobgoblin tea). The range of health-giving herbal teas, grown and hand-picked right here, have been developed on the premise that the healthiest foods are sourced from what grows where you live. You will be astonished by the range, available singly or in blends.
Just by Jaunpils castle, in a walled yard built by Swedish prisoners of war in 1605, Niedru lija (Marsh-harrier) offers truly medieval activities including crossbow shooting, archery, axe and spear throwing, coin-making and blacksmithing. Build up an appetite and return to the castle for an authentic medieval feast with an explanation of the dishes.
Who is not attracted by the natural sweetness of honey and there is no better place to try some than at Blīdene, at the Kāres apiary. Take a guided tour to learn about honey and bees, taste honeys produced from specific blossoms and flowers, ambrosia and pollens. Brave a tour of the hives or participate in beeswax candle making.
In the Latvian language, Saldus implies sweetness and there is no shortage of it in the town by that name. Vote for your favourite ice-cream flavour at Druvas saldējums; discover the delights of Latvia’s milkier version of fudge, the gotiņa, at Saldus pārtikas kombināts; watch tasty bread, cakes and pastry being made at Saldus maiznieks.
Towards Liepāja, at Skrunda you will discover that milk does not come in cartons. The Latvian Dairy Museum relates the history of Latvia’s dairying traditions with artefacts and interactive displays. Let the museum staff know in advance and you can even make your own butter or cheese in a working dairy.
Liepāja, on the west coast, is better known as a commercial and naval port, but you cannot be by the sea without enjoying seafood. Hence the revival of signature dish, Liepājas menciņš (little cod), based on a traditional Kurzeme recipe. The key ingredient is sun-dried cod and you can try it in local restaurants, served in special ceramic bowls.
Liepāja is known as Latvia’s musical, particularly rock-music capital. Trace the musical notes of the Kā pa notīm trail to see pearls of Latvia’s cultural heritage: Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) buildings, Holy Trinity Church and its great organ, superb restaurants and hotels on the Promenade.
Follow the Baltic coast northwards to 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. As it has regained its allure, cafes and restaurants have opened to cater to the increasing numbers of visitors.
Before you reach Ventspils, be sure to stop at the Užava Brewery. Consistently ranked among Latvia’s best beers, Užava prides itself on maintaining traditional brewing traditions and the use of carefully selected malt, hops and yeasts, even water. Take a brewery tour and taste live, unpasteurised beer the way it should be.
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.
Ships have been entering the Ventspils port for 700 years, guarded by the Livonian Order castle. Now you can watch ships from the tree-lined terrace of the Castle pub, Melnais sivēns (Black piglet) as you try their fascinating fusion of international and local medieval cuisine. How about black pudding with rhubarb wine?
The Kolkas rags headland, where the Baltic Sea meets the Gulf of Riga, was once home to the Livonians. At the Ūši guesthouse and restaurant you can taste some of their culinary specialities. The žograusis or sklandrausis is a carrot tart and the bukstiņbiezputra, a porridge of groats, carrots and potatoes, is guaranteed to keep the cold out.
Along the east coast, enjoy a Banquet with Fishermen at the hotel in Roja. This is a full experience of a fisherman’s life as you ride out into the sea in fishing boats and then enjoy a typical meal - fish soup cooked on the campfire, rye bread and smoked fish. Learn local folk songs, dances and games.
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. Try out other recreational activities - mini golf, trampolining, fishing, cycling, even candle-making. In winter, cross-country skiing is the way to go. Relax with a tasty fresh pancake.
To the south at Lauciene, step into the largest Daylily Garden in eastern Europe, with more than 2 000 different examples of these striking blooms, many hybrids the handiwork of the owners. Take home bulbs and a bottle of locally made wine. The list of wine varieties is a botanist’s delight, from dandelion to quince and strawberry.
Continuing southwards on the main Riga road you arrive at the Rideļi Mill and its millpond. It has a long history and was first restored in the 1920s. No longer a commercial mill, it presents milling demonstrations and you can taste the results in the fresh pancakes at the on-site café.
Stay on the main road for the Ragaciems Fish Market. Just inland from Ragaciema rags, Latvia’s own Cape Horn, this is the place for freshly smoked fish, all caught and smoked by local fishermen. There is a great range, mostly recognisable, but for a truly Ragaciems experience, try a lucītis (a Viviparous blenny, no less) - ‘unzip’ it like a banana!