Why there’s more to Latvia than Riga

Latvia may be most famous for its Art Nouveau capital, but the lesser-known west of the country has plenty to offer, discovers Lara Dunn

Tuesday 05 November 2019 11:44 GMT
Valguma Pasaule offers barefoot walking in an idyllic setting
Valguma Pasaule offers barefoot walking in an idyllic setting (Photos Lara Dunn)

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I’m strolling, shoeless, across pinecones, alongside a forest-bordered lake. I’ve not gone feral: I’m walking the 3km barefoot path at the former Soviet health spa at Valguma Pasaule. Eschewing shoes may not be for everyone, but in the few days I’ve been here in the Kurzeme (or Courland) region of west Latvia, I’ve seen enough to tell me there’s plenty of alternatives on offer for all kinds of visitors, from history buffs to wildlife enthusiasts, foodies to outdoor lovers. It’s an area that receives little in the way of British visitors, yet is only an hour or two by car from the tourism hotspot of Riga.

My visit began in the small town of Kuldiga, a two-hour drive from the Latvian capital’s airport. With a strong Germanic past, Kuldiga has prospered since the 13th century. Thanks to restoration programmes that actively involve residents, the town is a historic work in progress, with little in the way of modernity encroaching in the centre. Wandering the cobbled streets past the Lutheran church of Saint Catherine to the Venta Rumba, Europe’s widest waterfall, it was easy to imagine an older, more traditional Latvia from before the Soviet occupation began in 1940.

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