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You wouldn't be here if you weren't curious.*

Hi! I'm Elena! Welcome to my travel blog Creativelena.com.
For me, it is all about “life-seeing instead of sightseeing”: Join me as I create, eat & live my way around the world. Curious?

*Check out my book, “The Creative Traveler’s Handbook”, for learning more about what we mean by creative travel. Travelling means the world to me, makes me fit for everday life and sometimes, I trust, also calmer on the inside. Read this blog with a smile, share what you love and remember to check back regularly: After all, when was the last time you did something for the first time?

Top Travel Picks for Riga & Rural Latvia: Cooking, Creative Jewellery Workshop & Country Sauna Experience

Latvia. A true “tabula rasa” in terms of travel experiences for me. I have never in my life been to either of the three Baltic States Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, but have been given a great deal of (positive) recommendations before. Thanks to my participation in the #NBEFinland Nordic Bloggers’ Experience, I have now been to Riga, as well as rural Latvia, together with a bunch of new-found, international friends meeting truly special, local people. Aija Gabrane, Latvia’s top chef. Janis Vanags, Air Baltic’s charismatic Head of Communications. Juris Dudko and his daughter Liene, who run a beautiful countryside spa hotel. A computer scientist, who in his “leisure time” doubles as a traditional sauna whisk master (more about this later).

 

“Let’s go (back) to Riga, and Latvia”, I tell my friends back home. “People are wonderful … and the value for money to travel there is really, really good – perhaps one of the best in Europe.”

Picture yourself landing in Riga. Latvia’s capital city, some 700.000 people strong, has a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere despite the chilly winter winds. The town’s origins date back to the 12th century, and I love tracing the remnants of various architectural styles as we stroll around town. Climbing the church tower of Saint Peter with its 360° views, we can easily see why Riga has been awarded special protection status by UNESCO World Heritage. Do not to miss a visit to the market halls of Riga: They are located in former zeppelin hangars and render a unique flair to an otherwise familiar market experience.

Riga: The hub of Air Baltic's well connected network in (North)Eastern Europe.

Flying to Riga from Helsinki: The hub of Air Baltic’s well connected network in (North)Eastern Europe.

 

On our first stroll around town ...

On our first stroll around town …

 

... we stop for lunch at a lovely local restaurant called "The Trumpet", featuring a stage for local musicians, too.

… we stop for lunch at a lovely local restaurant called “Trompete” (The Trumpet), featuring a stage for local musicians.

 

Brace, brace against the chilly winter winds!

Brace, brace against the chilly winter winds!

 

... and / or warm up from your walk by the river heading to the indoors farmers' market ...

… and / or warm up from your walk by the river heading to Riga’s famous farmers’ market …

 

... where most of what I remember being offered is fish, fish, and ... fish!

… where most of what I remember seeing (and smelling) is fish, fish, and … fish!

 

You can also head up the local church tower at Saint Peter's for some good views across town ...

You can also head up the local church tower at Saint Peter’s for some good views around town …

 

... enjoy the atmosphere day ...

… enjoy a walk around Riga during the day …

 

... and night. Love the view of night-time Riga!

… as well as at night!

 

Dinner, anyone? Head over to ... for a wonderful interpretation of modern-day Latvian cuisine.

Dinner, anyone? Head over to Valtera Restorans (Valter’s Restaurant) for a wonderful interpretation of modern-day Latvian cuisine.

 

Around Riga: Just an hour north-east of Riga, you can enjoy the “great outdoors” of Sigulda, in Gauja National Park, and stay at the most warm-hearted home that is Malpils Manor.

I will never forget the warmth of Aija Gabrane’s laughter. The local chef at Malpils Manor international guest house, she herself cannot communicate with us in fluent English, but everything else is said in her gestures, warmth of expression, and swift movements as she gently directs us around her kitchen. Aija Gabrane is Latvia’s top chef – but we only learn about this from her colleagues at Malpils Manor House: Aija herself is much too modest to brag about her achievements. I take to her immediately – and love my cooking course & tasting experience with her. After a full day of exploring the Sigulda countryside, including another creative travel experience with “Balts Jewellery” at Sigulda Castle, me and my group defy the notion, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Check this out.

Outside of Riga, Sigulda Castle ...

Outside of Riga, Sigulda Castle …

 

... offers us to try our hands at traditional archery ...

… offers us a chance to try our hands at traditional archery …

 

... silver jewellery ...

… Baltic jewellery …

 

... well done for creating a truly unique piece, Jerry! ...

… well done for creating a truly unique piece, Jerry! …

 

... cross-country skiing, too, is possible at the local sports centre in Sigulda ...

… cross-country skiing, too, is possible at the local sports centre in Sigulda …

 

... and I love our welcome home ...

… and I love our welcome home …

 

... at the beautiful countryside mansion that is Malpils Manor.

… at the beautiful countryside mansion that is Malpils Manor.

 

A little later, all of us are moving "behind the scenes" once more: Backstage in ... kitchen!

A little later, all of us are moving “behind the scenes”: Backstage in Aija Gabrane’s kitchen!

 

Isn't this one of the most beautiful salads you've ever seen? It tasted at least just as good.

Isn’t this one of the most beautiful salad creations you’ve ever seen? It tasted at least as good.

 

In the blind-fold tasting experience that follows, I beat my friend Dave by far ...

In the blind-fold tasting experience that follows, I beat my friend David by far (must be the force of the Baltic jewellery I’m wearing, having made it myself earlier that day) …

 

... love the dinner that follows and that we've created together ...

… love the dinner that follows and that we’ve learned to create together …

 

... thank you so much, my dear : It feels as if we have met before, just looking again at this photograph! Amazing.

… thank you so much, my dear Aija : It feels as if we have met before, just looking at this photograph! Amazing.

 

Very proud of our #LatviaOnFire gang: From left to right,

Very proud of our entire #LatviaOnFire team: From left to right, Rebecca Line from Denmark, Céline Simon from France, Michael André Ankermüller from Germany, Aija Gabrane from Latvia, David Hoffmann from the US, myself and Jerry Savolainen from Finland.

 

If spa is what you need (and trust me, you will love going to the sauna in Latvia during winter), look no further than Hotel Ezeri, again near Sigulda. The cottage sauna by the lake will leave you speechless with delight.

“Trust to master … He knows best”, Juris keeps reassuring me & my friends ahead of our first Latvian sauna experience. After travelling in Finland for the second time this winter, and being a true #saunalover since my early childhood in Austria, I thought I knew what to expect. However, as it turns out, Latvia, or indeed Juris and his team, have prepared a completely different type of sauna experience. A sauna that is deeply rooted in Latvia’s rural countryside traditions. There is scrubbing. There is steam. There is gentle whisking. There is ice swimming again, as in Finland yes, but also blissful sleep wrapped up in warm blankets following the ecstatic hot – cold experience that … well. Hard to put into words everything that we have experienced at Hotel Ezeri’s wooden cabin sauna & ice swimming hole, so I have made the following video for you to follow along:

(Feeling completely relaxed here with me?).

Welcome to the wonderful aromas of dried herbs & flowers at the sauna ...

Welcome to the wonderful aromas of dried herbs & flowers at the sauna in Latvia …

 

... and our sauna master Yuri ...

… and our sauna master …

 

... looking after the girls & me: Sauna in Latvia is split among men & women.

… looking after the girls & me: Sauna in Latvia is split among men & women.

 

It's cold after the ice swimming (yes, we've all done it ..!) ...

It’s cold after the ice swimming (yes, we’ve all done it ..!) …

 

... but you get wrapped up to rest from the steam, heat & cold dip in these beautiful blankets, capable to send you drifting off into heaven for a while ...

… but you get wrapped up to rest from the steam, heat & cold dip in these beautiful blankets, capable to send you drifting off into heaven for a while …

 

... yes, Hotel Ezeri: I'd stay here again anytime!

… yes, Hotel Ezeri: I’d stay here again anytime!

 

Check out my entire Flickr Photo Gallery of travel pics from Latvia:

<a href="https://flic.kr/s/aHskMJiF2P" target="_blank">Click to View</a>

 

Disclaimer: We have been invited on this trip by #VisitLatvia as part of our #NBEFinland Nordic Bloggers’ Experience. All opinions are my own.

Written by Elena

Elena writes about creative destinations, shares her personal travel stories and brings inspiring photography & interesting news updates home to you. Her mission is: "Continue to be amazed at this world, one creative travel experience at a time."

Ready for learning even more about creative travel?

Elena has recently published "The Creative Traveler's Handbook". Chock full of inspiratinal stories, travel tips and advice, it offers everything you need for planning and managing your next creative escape, addressing beginners and experienced travelers alike. Here's how to get your hands on it now!
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1 Comment

  1. Jerry / Escape the Mundane

    This was such a nice post, Elena :). You captured the whole trip very well! It was great to get to know you and the rest of our group :). We had so much fun!

    Reply

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