The wind is whistling in our ears at minus 17 degrees. It’s so cold that I can barely take pictures. We are standing on an – who knows how thick it is – snowy surface, while cross-country skiers rush by, and we do not know whether there is the beach or the icy seawater underneath. Behind us, dense forest stretches itself along the coast. In front of us we see a small raising. Is this a frozen wave? We are standing at the beach of Jurmala. I can’t imagine that one should find a dune landscape here in summer. The experience of the sea and the beach is so different than the images I am used to. It was quite uncomfortable outside in Latvia on that weekend and yet it was incredibly fulfilling…
Riga’s architectural highlights in winter
Before our Nordic sea experience, we first explored the Latvian capital Riga on Saturday. Wherever you look to in Riga, you will find architectural beauty. This was also noticed by the UNESCO. Riga, also known as the “Paris of the East”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site mainly because of its Art Nouveau gems. And that in turn was also noticed by the tourists. However, in winter Riga is little visited. Even in front of the most famous sights you only meet few travelers. Most Riga visitors start their tour in the old town. However, since Riga is known for its Art Nouveau style, we have decided to start our tour in Centrs, where you can find the highest density of Art Nouveau buildings. Here we explored famous streets such as Alberta and Elizabetes Iela and we were delighted to find Art Nouveau as interior even in the beautiful Café Rasol.
Later we explored Riga’s medieval old town with its many imposing church towers. There is e.g. the famous House of the Blackheads. Because of its red color, it makes a particularly beautiful contrast together with the snow. Because of the freezing cold we also stayed in a cafe for a longer time during this part of our tour through Riga.
As a Munich resident I may be spoiled by the most beautiful Art Nouveau facades and as a Bavarian I may be also spoiled by charming medieval old towns, but my personal sightseeing highlight in Riga was something else. The sight of the Orthodox birth cathedral in the snow just made me speechless. It gives the city a touch of exoticism and I felt like I had landed in another world for a weekend.
Riga and its hipster flair
Hipsters and Riga? Yes, you heard right. Seen from the outside, the city has a little cold atmosphere and seams a bit unapproachable, especially in winter, but the trendy life is omnipresent in cafes and restaurants. This comes as a surprise, because when you stroll in Riga’s city center in the winter, you see many people wearing fur coats and corresponding caps (horror to me as a vegan!). Since this doesn’t only seem animal-unfriendly, but also rather old-fashioned, you do not necessarily expect to find the hippest vegan cafes a few steps down the street. The restaurant scene in Riga is innovative, diverse and creative. I like this kind of cafes and restaurants and was extremely happy that I could find great vegan food in Riga. We did a real cafe-hopping, since the cold of less than minus 10 degrees during the sightseeing was quite exhausting.
Warm up after a long day: spa
What could be better than enjoying sauna after a cold winter’s day? The Baltic states, like Finland and Russia, have a distinct sauna culture. So we chose the historic spa resort Jurmala at the Baltic Sea as the place to stay overnight. Jurmala is not far from Riga. Since we always want to enjoy as much of a day as we can when traveling, we rarely hop into nightlife. That’s why sauna time in Jurmala prevailed against the lively bar scene in Riga.
The stay in our SPA hotel in Jurmala was not too expensive compared with German prices, even if Jurmala has a reputation as a popular destination of the Russian jet set. Of course I cannot say if I was sharing the sauna with the “jet set”. Anyway, there are definitely many Russian-speaking people to be found in Jurmala. However, many people of Russian origin live in Latvia. They represent a higher percentage of the population than the Latvians.
Jurmala – a Dream of Sea, Forest and Wooden Houses
We explored Jurmala on Sunday. Riga may be beautiful and magnificent, but my personal highlight on this trip was Jurmala. The historic spa resort has a number of listed wooden houses with Art Nouveau elements reminiscent of small castles, but also of Swedish wooden houses. Jurmala is actually a collection of different villages and stretches for 25 km along the Baltic Sea coast. Some villages are picturesquely located in the forest. I found the lush forest particularly appealing. It does not only provide healthy air, but also is somewhat mysterious and archaic. This may be because of its size. It already impressed me after having landed at Riga airport. We drove from there to Jurmala on Friday evening with a rental car, most of the time along the almost infinite forest. Also at breakfast in the hotel, I had the feeling to sit in the middle of the forest. After venturing into the cold on the beach to take pictures of the icy sea, we tested the beautiful cafes of Jurmala. Some of them were historically decorated. After that, we felt warm enough to enjoy the view of the sea on this incredibly cold and windy day once again. The freezing cold of down to minus 17 degrees centigrade (1,4 °F) in February made it a bit difficult for us to visit Jurmala. Nevertheless, I’ m associating my best memories of this weekend with Jurmala. Can you guess how beautiful this place must be?
When I think of the winterly Latvia, I can still feel the terrible cold in my bones. But I also think of a real dream weekend, which was a wonderful and unforgettable trip within short time. I fell a little in love with Jurmala. This is one of the places I would return to anytime. And this is also possible, because Riga and Jurmala are just a two hours’ flight by air from Southern Germany.
Transparency: The mention / linking of commercial providers is based on my voluntary decision. I have paid for my trip completely myself.
If you liked my article, you might also be interested in my blog post about Piran in Slovenia.
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