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Go off the beaten track to explore one of Europe’s best kept and most enchanting Baltic secrets, Latvia. Here charming historic villages mesh with stunning Baltic seaside resort towns, while culture and history shine through in the narrow mediaeval streets of Riga, Gothic and Baroque churches, and grand castles and ruins.
Latvia has been inhabited since 9000 BC and various tribes have settled in the area, leaving their legacy in the names of today’s Latvian regions. In the late 12th century, Christians arrived in the country, converting part of the population to their beliefs; however, at the turn of the 13th century, the Germans conquered Latvia and founded the city of Riga. The country’s subsequent centuries are illustrated with defeat by Poland, and occupation by Sweden and Nazi Germany. The Soviets then occupied the country for 40 years, until it regained independence in 1991.
Founded by the Germans, Latvia’s ancient capital of Riga is crammed with historical and cultural sights to tickle your fancy. Tour the city in the shadow of the 14th century castle of the Livonian knights, and see traces of various eras of Latvian history. The extensive old town with its narrow mediaeval streets houses Gothic and Baroque churches, 19th century municipal buildings and Hanseatic warehouses. Dating back to the 13th century, St. John’s Church and Dom Cathedral should also be explored. For a dose of culture, head to some of the museums dotted around the city, such as the State Art Museum.
Located on the Baltic Sea, Latvia is blessed with a natural diversity that draws its visitors in. Lush sandy beaches, curious rock formations and quaint fishing villages line the 500-kilometre-long coastline, while vast forests, nature trails and serene rivers paint the inland. The country is also home to various wildlife such as moose, foxes, beavers and storks that you may be lucky to spot.
It’s hard to imagine the suffering that Latvia has faced over the centuries, when it is so alive with the vibrancy of modernization. Along with the feats of human engineering to be enjoyed, the picturesque scenery of the Baltic coastlines, the verdant national parks and the epic ruins of bygone years in the forms of castles and fortresses are just some of the fabulous attractions that have earned Latvia its reputation as one of the best up-and-coming destinations Europe has to offer. Just make sure you get there soon.
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