Latgale is often referred to as the land of blue lakes, it remains Latvia’s most untouched area with ancient forest, unique culture and its own language.
Latgale is Latvia’s easternmost region, bordering Russia to the east, Lithuania to the south-west, and Belarus to the south. It shares more borders than any other region in Latvia and this influence has helped to shape everything from the region’s culture to its food and even religion. Exploring Latgale is guaranteed to tick plenty of boxes, with pristine nature which includes 10,000 rivers and lakes and endless forests and meadows being a huge part of the region’s appeal. This is a land where it is still commonplace for locals to work the fields, draw water from wells and where many still live self-sufficiently consuming the crops, vegetables, fruit, and livestock they or family members have provided for themselves.
If visiting urban areas isn’t your thing, then you will be very pleased to know that Latgale is a nature lovers paradise. From untouched, ancient forest to pristine lakes that carry tales of myth and legend. Latgale is home to the largest concentration of lakes in Latvia, with many of them interconnected, perfect for a kayaking holiday with friends.
Away from the forest and lakes, you will find the Daugava river and the Daugavas Loki nature park. Featuring the Adamova nature trail that winds along the river, the trail will take you through gullies to the Adamova Castle Mound and beyond.
Latgale has a unique history and identity. It was ruled by the Latgal tribes from the 12th to the 16th centuries before Lithuanian and Polish rule followed. This Polish rule was to reinforce the region’s devotion to Catholicism while many Old Believers also settled in the region due to persecution in Russia. These two religions have strong and devout followings in the region even today with Aglona in particular known across Europe as a place of religious pilgrimage.
In future years, Latgale, as we know it today, became part of Belarus and the Russian Empire. All these factors along with the obvious geographical factors help explain why Latgale sometimes feels like a bizarre and fascinating mix of Latvia, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Poland mixed into one. And to further confuse this ‘where am I in the world?’ sense you might feel when visiting Latgale, there is also a local language – Latgallian – which you will see on street signs in Latvia’s oldest town, Ludza.
The region of Latgale is rich in culinary culture, with many recipes handed down from generation to generation.
Latgalian Šmakovka or moonshine as it’s better known is famous all over Latvia. Other regional foods include ‘Kļocka’ or cottage-cheese fritter, and Guļbišņīki, essential fried potato balls stuffed with smoked meat and onions. Popular staples of the Latgale region include Buļbu Bļīni or potato pancakes and Asuškas an oblong, small white bun served up with milk and sweet cream sauce. Slokatnis, a hearty homemade pie, is made with rye flour and is filled with smoked meat and onions.
And while it is fair to say that most Latgalian food is designed to fill you up and add a few layers of fat to help you in the cold winters, natural farm foods and beverages such as cheeses, honey and herbal teas are always ready to be sampled by inquisitive visitors. There’s even the opportunity to try your own hand at baking rye bread and making homemade berry wine.
Dining out in Latgale is always a delight, with homestyle restaurants serving up generous portions of local cuisine as well as their own delicious unique versions of international dishes.
What to See and Do
In many ways, Latgale is the quintessential modern-day tourism destination. It is off the beaten track and in some senses lost in time. Latgale boasts unique regional culture and food and offers an escape deep into nature that anyone arriving from overpopulated towns and cities abroad will cherish.
Latgale is packed full of things to do, from nature trails that you will have almost entirely to yourself to regional art museums, gastronomy tours to farmsteads, watching craftsman hard at work in their chosen trade, boating trips on deserted lakes, and indulging yourself in the famous local black sauna, there is something for everyone who appreciates true authenticity.
Daugavpils, Latvia’s second city, is home to over 80,000 people. Due to the city’s proximity to the Russian border (120km) and Belarus (the city is just 200 kilometres from Minsk), Daugavpils is predominantly Russian speaking, while retaining its own character and mix of identities (Church Hill, for example, boasts four churches of four denominations). The unique atmosphere and culture are reason enough to visit Daugavpils but the city is also home to Europe’s best-preserved early 19th-century fortress, the marvellous Mark Rothko Museum and thanks to the opening of some high-quality hotels in recent years, makes a great base to further explore this region of Latgale.
Other cities and towns to visit in Latgale are Rēzekne, referred to as the heart of Latgale (the Castle Hill ruins and the incredible Zeimuls building are the two top attractions here) Krāslava, and Ludza. Ludza boasts the ruins of a Livonian stone castle (first mentioned in 1433), a fascinating old town full of centuries-old wooden houses with Latgallian street names, and is Latvia’s oldest town, dating back to 1173.
If holidaying in towns and cities isn’t your thing, then this nature lover’s paradise is likely the escape you have been searching for. From untouched, ancient forests to the region’s 12,000 pristine rivers and lakes that carry tales of myth and legend, this is a place to relax, eat homemade food and breath in fresh clean air.
Away from the forest and lakes, you will find the mighty Daugava River, a waterway at the heart of Latvian mythology and culture. There are countless natural wonders to enjoy such as the little known Daugavas Loki nature park. Featuring the Adamova nature trail that winds along the river, the trail here will take you through gullies to the Adamova Castle Mound and beyond. And then there are the dozens of former manor 18th and 19th-century manor houses to explore some of which offer an overnight stay.
How to get around
New faster intercity trains have cut the travel time from Riga to Rezekne, Ludza and Daugavpils. Intercity and regional buses also link many parts of Latgale to Riga. For travelling further off the beaten track there are infrequent bus services so a private car or organised tour might be a better option. Those wishing to experience the region in all of its glory have the option of cycling holidays. With so much water in Latgale, you can also spend time boating, canoeing or trying out the increasingly popular SUP.Share this tour