I looked out the window as the plane approached the international airport of Riga. It was a beautiful, cloudless day and the Baltic Sea sparkled in the afternoon sun. The Latvian coast soon came into view and the first thing that caught my attention were the endless white, sandy beaches. Beyond that, were mile after mile of forests occasionally interrupted by small lakes or grassy meadows. It was my first time in Latvia and I couldn’t wait to start exploring!
Riga turned out to be a truly delightful city. The Old Town, with its picturesque cobble-stone streets, colourful buildings and cozy squares is an absolute gem! There was a great number of things to do in Riga but my absolute highlight was the Art Nouveau architecture. After a few days in Riga, it was time for me and my friend, Abi, to see a bit of the countryside around Riga.
An unexpected culinary highlight
Our first stop, about an hour’s drive west of Riga, was in the town of Pure. The drive to Pure took us past mile after mile of forests, verdant meadows and the occasional lake, exactly what I’d seen from the plane window. We pulled up at the Terase Restaurant, a restaurant housed in a wooden building with glass walls that provided guests with lovely views of the green fields and forests.
Little did I know but I was in for a treat! Nauris Hauka, the young chef who runs the restaurant, has one goal: to make his mark on modern Latvian cuisine. He does this beautifully by combining quality local ingredients with contemporary techniques and stunning presentations.
The herring, cloaked in a light crispy batter, was served hanging on a string…
My appetiser, ostrich tartare, soon arrived and it was a gorgeous sight. Not only did it look great, the fine texture of the meat and subtle blend of egg, spring onions and herbs were simply exquisite.
This was followed by another delightful dish: Baltic herring with chips and red onion aioli, Chef Nauris’s take on a deconstructed ‘fish and chips’. I gasped when it arrived at the table. The herring, cloaked in a light crispy batter, was served hanging on a string hung between two branches! The smooth and tangy aioli accompanied the herring perfectly.
Our meal concluded with a sublime blueberry cheesecake with basil-mint ice-cream. To be honest, this culinary highlight was just about the last thing I’d expected in the Latvian countryside!
Coincidentally, Pure is also famous for another culinary attraction: the Chocolate Museum! Visitors can also attend a master class in chocolate there!
A fun wine-tasting experience
Our jaunt into the Latvian countryside continued with a wine-tasting – another totally unexpected experience – just outside Pure. There are various vineyards in the Abavas valley and I soon spotted them on the rolling slopes. We drove up to the Drubazas garden and farm and were met by Girts, a lanky young man, and his mother Smaida. They invited us into the barn-like tasting area where we gathered around a counter. Smaida spoke and Girts translated.
The wines soon flowed while Smaida regaled us with her stories of cultivating vines and fruits for her wines. Aside from a mysterious grape varietal that apparently does well this far up north, Smaida produces wines from raspberries, plums and lingonberries! We ended the tasting with something I’ve never had before: pumpkin wine! “Pumpkin is the biggest grape!”, Smaida exclaimed, with a wink and a chuckle. Meeting Girts and Smaida was a cheerful and heartwarming experience.
The wines were not what I’m normally accustomed to but Smaida’s exuberance was infectious. I’m sure the wines had something to do with it but we left the Drubazas farm feeling pretty chirpy! Note: book ahead if you wish to visit the Drubazas farm for a wine-tasting.
Sleeping in a historic manor
We soon arrived at our accommodation, the Kukšu Muiza manor in Kukšas, not far from Pure. This historic manor can trace its origins back to the 16th century. Through the centuries, the manor was home to various aristocrats of German descent until World War II when it became an office of the collective farm management system of the Soviets. After years of loving restoration by Daniel Jahn, a hotelier from Riga, the manor is today a national historic monument, being the only aristocratic manor still in existence in Latvia.
The manor, located next to a picturesque lake, is absolutely worth a visit and if you wish to stay there, it’s important to book in advance. The interior of the manor is stunning; exactly what you would expect of a historic manor. Daniel personally cooks for all his guests – it’s a treat to dine in the majestic restaurant and feast on Daniel’s culinary creations.
The following day, after a sumptuous breakfast specially prepared by Daniel, we continued our trip to Jurmala, Riga’s seaside resort. Sandwiched between the Gulf of Riga and the Lielupe River about 25km from Riga, Jurmala’s main draw is its 33km long beach, spas and beautiful Art Nouveau wooden mansions. Jurmala was the favourite seaside resort of the Russian Tsars and later, top Soviet officials such as Brezhnev and Kruschchev. I can imagine why: with its towering trees, beautiful sandy beaches and spas, Jurmala is a great place to relax and unwind.
We drove around Jurmala, admiring the stately wooden mansions and the gorgeous trees as we passed by, and stopped at the Amber Spa Hotel. After a terrific massage at the Amber Spa, we went for a stroll in the Dzintari Forest Park under a canopy of soaring trees. We climbed up the 100 meter tall observation tower in the park for wonderful views of the forests and the Baltic coast.
Our countryside tour ended with a fabulous lunch at the riverside Laivas restaurant. From here, it was a short drive to the airport. As I waited to board my flight home, I couldn’t help but smile about the wonderful surprises I’d encountered in Latvia: from the amazing architecture and cozy Old Town in Riga, to the culinary prowess of the country’s young chefs and the stunning beaches in Jurmala. I will return one day soon!
Latvia is a member of the European Union and the euro is the official currency. The main gateway to Latvia is the international airport in Riga. Air Baltic offers frequent flights that connect Riga with many cities in Europe. The airline offers a two-class layout (Economy and Business) – for those looking for more comfort, legroom and flexibility, I can recommend Air Baltic’s Business Class (which also includes Lounge access at Riga Airport).
Learn more about Latvia at Latvia Tourism.
Note: My trip to Latvia is a collaboration between iambassador and the Latvian Tourism Development Agency with the support of the European Union Regional Development Fund. As always, all opinions stated above are mine, and mine only.