An independent republic since its peaceful ‘singing revolution’ during Soviet ‘glasnost’, Latvia is an ancient Baltic marine state that benefits from the added protection of the Gulf of Riga – the capital was a member of the medieval Hanseatic trading League. The coastal region is increasingly popular, with clean Blue Flag beaches – notably a resort town, Jurmala, which in Latvian simply means ‘seaside’. Visitors to Latvia can stay in simple farmsteads – or in converted castles or grand manor-houses. National parks house wild-life including bear, lynx and wolves. Riga itself, however is the country’s focus. A spacious, easy-paced city, it has an impressive ‘old town’, with well-preserved wooden architecture, that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also has vestiges of walled fortifications such as the Gunpowder Tower, the richly- treasured Dome Cathedral, a very gentle-looking castle, and many 17th/18th century handsome ‘stepped-frontage’ buildings. An endearing newly-wed’s custom has furnished the many locked padlocks seen on city bridges as pledges of eternal love. Sheltered by the Gulf or not, Riga’s main Liv Square features a well-used ice rink through the winter.
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