RIGA - Many Latvians say that to experience "the real Latvia", one has to leave Riga. Little more than an hour's drive from the capital, Cesis is right in the country's heartland and provides its visitors with small town charm and more history than the average person can contemplate in one sitting.
The Cesis Castle, now a majestic ruin, was in medieval times the residence of the master of the Livonian Order and the main stronghold of the Livonian knights, who ruled most of Latvia and Estonia. This is where Cesis, also famous for its beer brewing tradition since 1590, holds its myriad of festivals these days. The town is especially proud of its Medieval Festival which, taking advantage of the town's exciting and mysterious middle age atmosphere, attracts visitors from all over Europe each year at the end of July.
Harlequin-suited jugglers, fools, buffoons and court jesters will take over Cesis for a day at the annual Medieval Festival on July 23. Those looking for a piece of the action should head to old Cesis - the heart of the city - to watch costumed performers, hear medieval music and, of course, eat lots of food made from medieval recipes.
Stepping back into the Middle Ages, this colorful event really is sensory overload. Featuring fearless swordfighters, knights, live dance, theatre acts, concerts, minstrels, and acrobats, the festival offers a wide range of entertaining activities for both children and adults. Market stalls are laden with local handicrafts and produce, while food stalls tempt passers-by with an array of traditional fare including meats, pastries and beer. For the fashion conscious, a designer will offer all kinds of medieval clothes to visitors of the festival.
The culmination of the festival will be a real medieval wedding, where the burghermaster's classy daughter Anna and vassal's Rozenkrancs' son Valters will get married. The wedding ceremony will be from 4 till 5 p.m., but before that visitors should make a point to take part in the wedding preparations in the old town. And after the wedding, visitors looking for a bit more strenuous event might like to attend the strong man show 's the winner of which will receive the prestigious title of the "strongest man of the festival."
If you decide to seek "the real Latvia" and head out of Riga for the weekend sometime soon, you would be hard pressed to find a better time and place than the Medieval Festival in Cesis on July 23. Come to Cesis and take part in history.