Latvia's Swiss inspired gem

  • 2009-03-25
  • By Kate McIntosh

OH DEER: Visiting Sigulda's deer farm is one of the many attractions in the picturesque region.

RIGA - Sigulda is affectionately known as the Switzerland of Latvia.
And while you won't find the same heart stopping peaks or quaint chalets of its borrowed namesake, Sigulda has a charm all of its own.

If it's an adrenalin rush you're chasing, then there's plenty on offer.
Home to Latvia's largest ski resort, Sigulda offers year-round outdoor adventure activities including skiing, hiking trails, balloon rides, bungee jumping and a famed bobsled track.
Dominated by castle ruins and unspoiled nature, this historically rich town boasts an abundance of recreational activities and natural wonders.

Some 1.5 million tourists visit Sigulda each year.
But the origins of tourism date back much further to the 18th and 19th centuries when local pioneer Nikolay Kropotkin began attracting upper class aristocrats from Russia. Convenient links to Riga also drew increasing numbers of tourists.

People came then just as they do today 's to explore the nature trails, inspect castle ruins and caves and enjoy the adrenalin rush of a ride on the bobsled track.
Kropotkin, who developed Sigulda into a recreational area that was popular throughout the Russian Empire, is widely credited as the forefather of modern day tourism. The original guesthouse he established still stands today.

Located at the center of the Gauja National Park, Sigulda's picturesque surroundings include dense forests, ancient castle ruins, mysterious caves and glacial lakes 's perfect for hiking or passing the time.
Its lifeblood is the beautiful Gauja River, which at 452 kilometers in length and 100 meters in width is the second largest river in Latvia.

Its banks can be crossed via a unique air tram, stretching more than 1,000 meters. The panoramic views from both sides will take the breath away.
Perhaps due to its popularity and tourism potential, Sigulda has an exhaustive array of accommodation and dining options.

One of the most ambient dining options has to be the grandly cozy Pilsmuiza Restaurant. Located inside New Sigulda Castle, the restaurant offers dining options on its terrace in summer or inside overlooking crumbling castle ruins.
The region of Sigulda has a tumultuous history dating back to the 11th century. It has been the site of various religious and territorial struggles.
Remnants of Sigulda's glorious past can be found everywhere, and visits to Medieval Sigulda Castle, or the new Sigulda Castle (Kropotkin Palace), should be high on visitors' wish-lists.
However, the jewel in its crown is undoubtedly the impressive Turaida Medieval Castle, which has sweeping views over the valley.

This resplendent 14th century red brick castle sits sentry on the hills overlooking the region.
If it's a relaxing escape from the city's hustle bustle or an adrenalin rush you're seeking, then Sigulda can accommodate at any time of the year.

*Journalist traveled courtesy of Rivasi Tours and Sigulda Tourism Information Center.