After a grey couple of days in Riga, we were ready for some sunshine and countryside. We were lucky to get both.
After picking up our rental car, a rather snazzy black golf from Sixt, we ventured out into the Latvian countryside. Driving in Latvia, and Estonia to be honest, was a little like taking your life in your own hands. They all have relatively slow speed restrictions but very, very few people follow them. Add that to their main roads consisting mainly of single lane carriage ways where overtaking was common place it made for a fun drive. Latvia is pretty flat as a country so the roads tended to be long and straight with pine forests either side.
It was exactly what I had imagined driving in the Baltic’s would be like.
After an hour or so we arrived at Kemeri Bog. Located on a windy road off the main highway there were zero other tourists or locals. One man appeared once we’d parked to take a small 2 euro parking fee and directed us towards the trailhead. Not only were there no other cars we encountered no other people until we had just about made it back to the start. It made for an eerie but relaxing 5k walk.
Given that it is a bog and you’re walking on it the lovely Latvians had placed some boards down, creating a boardwalk. It was quite dry while we were there so the bog didn’t look as boggy as it probably was. The boards were 2 wide which meant we had to walk the majority of the way round in single file.
The bog was expansive and flat. Trees did grow out on the bog but they weren’t very tall. We wondered if growing in bogs had the same effect as growing on a glacier in Canada. It appeared at first sight that this was all the nature that was there but as we worked our way round we spotted sunbathing lizards, frogs, a few birds, butterflies and some weird bee wasp things.
It was quiet. We were the only sound around.
The bogs were beautiful with pools located here and there and a great lookout point to give you a bird’s eye view.
It felt like the path was never ending with twists and turns at every point. Eventually, we made it back to the beginning with a feeling that this setting would make for a perfect murder story or home base to sit, write and while away the days.
On our way out we spotted a beautiful natural graveyard that was nestled in the trees, barely noticeable from the road apart from the flowers and headstones. I’d love to end up somewhere like that one day.
However, our day was not done.
We got back in the car and drove for an additional few hours deeper into Latvia. Our destination was Sigulda. I’d read this was a really pretty place to come with a nice castle. Given that information about Latvia is sparse on the internet we ended up parking miles away from the sites which meant by the time we got there we were exhausted.
Sigulda is nice to wander around with some parks and pretty churches. We made it to the castle to find it under renovation, closed and covered in scaffolding. Not the pretty site we were hoping for. Plus it isn’t really a castle, it’s the new castle which is actually a manor house in 1878.
Top Tip – park at the castle to be much better located in town
Just behind the ‘new’ castle are the ruins of the medieval castle which was built in 1207!! This was open and gave a great view over the valley but we opted to give it a miss as the ticket prices were quite expensive.
If we had more time I would have liked to have caught the cable car across the river and also walk to Turaida. As time wasn’t on our side we drove straight to Turaida.
Turaida started its journey in 1214 on the site of a wooden castle called Liv. A castellum fortress was then built and called ‘Fredeland’ meaning ‘Land of Peace’ but soon became known as it’s Livonian name of Turaida. Over the following centuries, various bits were added and fortified until it was abandoned in 1776 after a fire.
Much like the Weald and Down Museum in Sussex, Turaida is a huge site with ruins and sculptures and lots of green space. We could have easily spent all day here, and I would advise that based on the ticket price. I’d love to take children back there one day and watch them run around, preferably dressed as knights.
We went straight for the castle ruins and climbed up one of the towers. It was pretty high and had many many steps but we made it and it rewarded us with some great views over the River Gauja. You also had a bird’s eye view of the rest of the castle ruins.
All I needed was my knight in shining armour to actually be wearing armour and not just a hipster beard.
We continued our day of driving by heading deeper into the national park along 20km of gravel road. My heart was pounding at the thought of invalidating the insurance when we skidded a couple of times but all was well.
We stayed at Viesu mājas Briedīši in a small wooden cabin. It was in the middle of nowhere with hardly anyone around and hardly anyone who spoke English. We managed to check in and quickly settled into cabin life. What really made this was the in-cabin wood burning sauna. Shut off from the outside world and powered by logs we partook in several during our 2 days there.
The Latvian countryside hadn’t disappointed so far. Of course, we only scratched at the surface in a small corner of this country but it gave us a great insight. The expanse of space without mountains was quite freeing, being in a small cabin away from cities and stress always puts a smile on my face and this place certainly did that.
The next couple of days were filled with more bogs and countryside before we headed to a spa for some more relaxation.