Veclaicene - Winner 2019
Winner in the ‘Health and wellbeing tourism’ category
Veclaicene has an ideal range of attributes that make it the perfect place for physical and mental wellness in nature. Veclaicene is a protected diverse landscape, and cultural environment typical of North Vidzeme in Latvia. This area includes more than 40 lakes of various sizes, the unique Korneti-Peļļi Glacial Valley, Alūksne and Haanja Highlands, the Vaidava river at various stages of its course, and the Grūbe waterfall.
There are several nature trails in this area, many different-sized large stones with intriguing stories, Opekalns Evangelical Lutheran Church - the highest above the sea level church in Latvia, the ancient manor houses in Romeškalns, Jaunlaicene, Ziemeri, the Jaunlaicene manor Museum and the Mišu Honey museum. Come experience wild horses and farms, meet local craftsmen with a variety of homemade goods, walk the Latvian-Estonian border roads, forest roads and trails. Go to one of the two sightseeing towers on the top of Dzērves Hill and Deliņkalns to enjoy the idyllic scenery. Relax at one of the wooden nature houses by on the shores of the beautiful five lakes setting where you can view educational expositions and ‘camp out’ in one of the nature houses.
What makes Veclaicene special
The landscapes is perfect if you like to indulge in light or in thorough adventure in any season. Ride a bike, walk, go on longer hikes or just marvel at the striking hill shapes rising from the land.
The area offers a variety of experiences - rejuvenation, body and spirit refreshment, quality time, inspiration, as well as active recreation experiences in the symbolic landscape of Latvia.
Come for fresh air, active walks and bike rides, swimming in lakes, local healthy bathhouse rituals and quality food. Get away from the daily rush and flow of digital information overload. Veclaicene has everything you need for health and wellness.
Health and wellbeing tourism
The roads in the Veclaicene have been in Shell's road guide since 1935. They lead to countless mountains, lavish hand-scattered lakes, streams and forests, showing you the beautiful magic of Latvia. Veclaicene offers a balance between nature and convenience, community and solitude. There are self-service information points, nature houses, cycling and hiking routes, sauna treatments with local rituals and guidance. The Jaunlaicene Manor Museum helps raise awareness about culture, the local healthy lifestyle and the uniqueness of local resources and the ‘Malēnieši’ language dialect.
Created in a landscaped area on the shores of five picturesque lakes, the thermoregulated nature houses with several modern amenities, but without electricity. Just enough convenience to relax, just enough nature to disconnect and enjoy the atmosphere. The air is fresh and clean, and the guest will feel energetic and protected from allergy risks. For full enjoyment of nature there are boating and fishing opportunities.
Stay at holiday house ‘Dzērves ezers’, located on the lake shore for peaceful scenery and boat rentals. For a different vantage point, visit the nearby farm 'Mucenieki' to explore the landscape by pony ride or horse- drawn cart.
- The nature reserve of Dēliņkalns Hill, covering 44,7 hectares in the Alūksne region on the borders of the Jaunlaicene and Ziemera rural districts.
- Hike or bike the trail to the Drusku Castle Mound, dating back to 2,000 B.C., where you can see Estonia’s border on the summit and explore EU-protected flora.
- Visit the Jaunlaicene rural district, rich in picturesque landscapes, small lakes, brooks and marshes, as well as part of the ‘Dēliņkalns’ nature reserve, Apukalna church, Jaunlaicene manor, Lake Vārņu dwelling site and Ķauķu ancient burial place.
Cēsis Municipality - Winner 2017
Winner in the Cultural Tourism category
Cēsis is a town in Gauja National Park, in the Vidzeme region of Latvia, located on the Gauja river, roughly 100 km to the east of the capital Riga.
Cēsis is one of the oldest and one of the most beautiful Latvian towns. Throughout the year, Cēsis receives visitors who appreciate historical and cultural heritage, natural beauty of the landscape and the peaceful life rhythm of a small town.
For long, Cēsis has been known for its rich cultural and historical heritage, art treasures and captivating cultural traditions, etched in the eyes and minds of travellers.
What makes Cēsis municipality special?
Visitors are often amazed by the unprecedented exhibitions of art, bold reflections of history and inspirational natural surroundings.
Cēsis pays homage to the traditions and cultural heritage of ancient times, while showing ever-new reasons to call itself the Latvian capital of culture.
The old town of Cēsis has maintained an authentic atmosphere and medieval city planning, leading city visitors through the narrow streets of the city, encased by the ancient buildings. Visitors can take part in authentic historical theatrical programs, the centre of medieval activities, and creative workshops. You have the opportunity to actively engage with the family of representatives of the creative industries.
The municipal agency 'Cēsu Kultūras un Tūrisma centrs' (Cēsis Culture and Tourism Centre) was founded in 2004. It aims to preserve cultural and historical values. So, the education of society and visitors plays a large part in the tourism and cultural sectors of the region.
Cēsis is a place of celebration. There are contemporary art exhibitions during the Cēsis Art Festival, ancient activities at the medieval festival, and warm summer evening concerts on an open-air stage in the Castle Park.
During summer, the town tempts with the unspoilt nature of the Gauja Valley: breathe in the Middle Ages and modern art. In winter, Cēsis invites you to visit the largest ski centre in the Baltics.
- several historical and architectural monuments, such as the Rucka Manor, the Cēsis Medieval Castle, the Cēsis Sv. St. John's Church and Castle Park
- the 'Old Brewery' where the Center for Science, Art and Gastronomy is located and the yearly 'Biennale of art' is organised
- take the 'Cirulisi nature trails' route and see the caves, springs, rocks, natural habitats near the Gauja river
Latgale - Winner 2015
Winner in the Tourism and Local Gastronomy category
The Latgale Region stands out with its unique scenery, traditions and diverse culture. But it is the hospitality of Latgallians that serves as the region's trademark - no one has ever left a true Latgallian's home with an empty stomach. Still it must be said that the local culinary heritage is quite distinct, with dishes like 'grūsle' (a type of potato mash), 'kļocka' (cottage cheese patties), thin and thick pancakes.
Latgale is a fine destination for lovers of 'exotic' food. Visitors can sample homemade cheese and ice-cream, honey and herbal teas, bread and linseed oil, become involved in the bread-baking process and taste homemade wine from berries.
Going on its 12th successful year, the Latgale Region is a member of the European Network of Regional Culinary Heritage. By working in this network, Latgale keeps developing and promoting regional cuisine and identity, supporting the region's proprietors, domestic producers and facilitating cooperation and exchange of experience among European regions.
The identification mark of culinary heritage – a chef's hat against light-blue background featuring a knife and fork on both sides – will be your guide to supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, guest houses, recreation centers, and companies that protect and improve the traditions of local culinary heritage in Latgale.
Only locally-grown, ecological products are used in the food bearing the mark of culinary heritage.
The foundation of Latgale's culinary heritage is products of local origin, grown in the region, facilitating and promoting a positive image of Latgale Region. The delicious and authentic food made of local goods, based on local growing and cooking traditions, makes Latgale Region a wonderful, matchless place.
Traditional Latgallian food recipes stem from the women of Latgale, handed down from generation to generation. Many food recipes have been speckled with new flavor aspects from other ethnic groups that live in Latgale Region.
Latgallian food is simple for practical reasons: living and working on a farm leaves one with limited time for cooking. The home-made food has endowed the people with vitality and strength.
What makes the Latgale Region special?
The Latgallians pride themselves on their land. The people describe their beloved Latgale as a place beyond compare – no where else will you find better bread and apple pies, more revitalising saunas or glittering lakes, beautiful blossoming meadows, crisp forest air or a sweeter home, sweet home.
Latgale is a place where traditions are upheld. Music festivals, annual fairs, and historical town celebrations attract everyone – young and old, and offer an opportunity to witness values and traditions long forgotten elsewhere in the world.
Acquisition of ancestral handcraft skills and wisdom of life has a special place in Latgale. Don't miss the Latgallian potters, who can turn a lump of clay into a beautiful, potbellied container, a supple vase or a simple whistle.
Highlights of the Latgale Region
Latgale is home to many famous people. Among them are the prominent Latvian poet and politician Rainis (Janis Plieksans, 1876-1929); noted Latgallian book publisher Andrivs Jurdzs (1845-1925); the most famous Latgallian politician, Catholic priest, public servant, and writer Francis Trasuns; seminal American painter, pioneer of Abstract Expressionism Mark Rothko; composer Oskars Stroks; and director, Herz Frank, who has made about 40 movies, many of which have been internationally recognised at important global film festivals.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Aglona Basilica every year on 15 August. Among the most famous urban and regional festivals in Latgale are Augsdaugava Festival in Naujene (May), Culinary Heritage festivals in Kraslava (July), the Great Latgallian Fair in Ludza (June), the international mask festival in Daugavpils (February), the international sacred music festival Sudraba Zvani (Silver Bells) in Daugavpils (June), and many others.
The most spectacular natural wonders in Latgale are Razna National Park, nature parks Daugavas Loki and Dvietes Paliene, Ezezers Lake, Velnezers Lake, Lubana Lake, Makonkalns Hill, and the Great Liepu Hill.
The most popular cultural tourism attractions in Latgale are the Aglona Basilica, Daugavpils Fortress and Mark Rothko Arts Center, Medieval castle ruins of Ludza City, castle complex of counts Plateri in Kraslava, Aglona Bread Museum, Livani Glass Museum, the Rezekne Concert Hall 'GORS, the Embassy of Latgale'.
Liepaja - Winner 2013
Winner in the Accessible Tourism category
Liepaja is an old fisherman's city located on a stretch of land between the Baltic Sea and the fifth largest lake in Latvia. It is a place with a rich history, various cultural traditions and beautiful sandy beaches.
Local architecture and art reflect the different historical eras, and the traditional Latvian culture entwines with German and Russian influence here.
The Byzantine splendour of the Russian orthodox cathedral in Karosta mixes with the Soviet military austerity, and modest wooden houses in Jaunaja are in contrast to the magnificent German churches in the old city centre.
Liepaja also offers many cultural, art and sport attractions. Apart from sight-seeing, you can enjoy white sand beaches, beautiful sceneries and colourful sunsets. Summers are usually full of various events and festivals – starting from the whopping beach party Summer Sound to the Speed Festival Rally Kurzeme, when thousands of guests gather in the city.
Less sunny months of the year do not stop the vivid cultural life from shining. Travellers can visit various exhibits, expositions, or concerts.
Liepaja provides high quality tourism services to the broad and diverse travellers groups, including people with special needs.
The City Council, together with a local NGO, has adopted guidelines for accessible tourism development. As a result, the public infrastructure of the Liepaja town is suitable for many disabled people: streets, parks, public buildings and also the public transport are easily accessible for all.
Special walking trails in the historical centre and in the nature are designed for disabled people, including description of touristic attractions on information plates in Braille.
A trail near the Liepaja Lake allows bird watching for people in wheelchairs, and there is also a beach adjusted for the needs of blind people and wheelchair users.
- Visit Karosta (Navy port) and see the Officer’s Palace, Marine Cathedral, Riding Manege, Fortifications and the Northern Breakwater, Old Prison and the interactive show Behind the Bars.
- Go to a concert by Liepaja Symphony Orchestra and afterwards relax in one of the beautiful cafes and restaurants in the city centre.
- Go for a romantic walk in the Seaside Park enjoying the wind and the sunset reflections in the linden trees.
- Come to the City Celebrations in the middle of July and see Rally Kurzeme.
Ligatne Village - Winner 2011
Winner in the Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites category
The scenic village of Ligatne is situated in the north of the country, 75km from Riga.
This part of the country is often called the heart of Latvia, with its countless legends, cities and castles. In many ways, it characterises Latvian identity.
Located in one of the most beautiful spots in the famous Gauja National Park, Ligatne owes its picturesque scenery to the stunning sandstone cliffs on the banks of the Ligatne and Gauja rivers.
Magical caves, clear waters and lush green trees paint an unforgettable picture.
Regeneration and revival
The decline in productivity at the local mill in the 20th century had direct impact on the village and local economy.
An overall regeneration initiative sought to preserve the mill and ensure it remained a working mill. Today, it is the site of various tours and excursions, where people can learn about the different techniques of paper-making and recycling. You can also learn about the history of the factory, life in the village and the factory workers.
Other initiatives include the creation of The Gauja National Park in 1975. The park provides a protected environment for endangered animals, trees and plants from across the country.
- Take a walk through Vienkoci Park, situated on Ligatne River. Here you will find various wooden sculptures and have the chance to learn how to make wood furniture during a workshop.
- Visit the Kempju Lutheran Church built in the 19th century. The architectural style of the building is unique to Latvia.
- Visit the Ligatne Nature Reserve, home to various animals such as bear, lynx, roe deer and red deer.
Jurmala - Winner 2010
Winner in the Aquatic Tourism category
Jurmala is the largest resort city in the Baltic States, located 25km from Riga. It is known for its natural treasures – the mild climate, sea, healthy air, curative mud and mineral water.
The main attraction of Jurmala is the 32.8km stretch of white sandy beach, surrounded by large pine forests and the river Lielupe. Further, beaches of Majori and Jaunkemeri have received The Blue Flag – an eco-label proving the best quality of water, infrastructure and safety in the beach area.
What sets this destination apart from other beach destinations is the beautiful natural surroundings and unique wooden architecture of early 20th century that play an important role in preserving the local history and culture.
What makes Jūrmala special?
As a resort city of all seasons, Jurmala offers a wide range of leisure activities. It is a perfect place not only for swimming or playing frisbee at the beach, but also for Nordic walking, kitesurfing and windsurfing, water cycling and water motorcycling.
Jurmala is also known for its wide possibilities for active leisure in the nature. The Kemeri National park is a paradise for birdwatchers. You can also go an interactive walk on the nature trails and visit the Open-Air Museum to try out the technique and methods of stranding a rope and other handcraft activities.
Covered by white quartz sand, the long beach of Jurmala is a great experience for the whole family. In the shores of Lielupe River there are several yacht-clubs where you can order boat or yacht trips in the river.
- Enjoy water activities all year long in the Aquapark Livu.
- Visit the Jurmala Open-Air Museum to try out the technique and methods of stranding a rope and other handcraft activities.
- Visit the Kemeri National park, a bird watcher's paradise!
Tervete Nature Park - Winner 2009
Winner in the Tourism and Protected Areas category
When it comes to things to do in Tervete, visiting the beautiful Swan Lake is a must. At the lake, boats are available for hire and are an ideal way to enjoy the water. The Lake is known for its plentiful fishing and is also a great place for bird watching.
Other recreational activities that are popular in the park are swimming, cycling, camping and winter sports.
For a glimpse into Tervete's past, a visit to the Tervete History Museum is strongly recommended. There visitors can see centuries-old weapons, ornaments and household objects. Another plus (if you happen to be at the museum on the second Saturday in August) is the annual majestic Zemgalians Festival and Craftsmen Fair.
What makes the Tervete Nature Park special?
Tervete is famous for its old and especially tall pine trees. The trees have been used for years to make ornate wooden sculptures, some of which have been placed in the park to reflect the fairytale characters of the famous Latvian writer Anna Brigadere's work. The characters in the park, which consist of the King of the Forest, a witch, dwarfs and others, are popular attractions to visit amongst younger people.
Even today, you can visit Brigadere's actual house Spridisi, which contains many original furniture pieces and her literary works.
For nature lovers, Tervete is home to 72 endangered plants that grow wildly throughout the park. The region is also a haven for many other forms of wildlife such as birds, reptiles and amphibious creatures.
Tervete Nature Park is a distinctive place and the methods used to keep the park as clean as possible are of the highest standard. There are designated protected zones that keep the park's rare species free from intrusion.
Recently, investments in infrastructure and other park attractions have made the experience of the park even more enjoyable for visitors, and more foreign tourists are coming to Tervete each year.
What to do in...
- spring: See the young people leaving goodies for their favorite fairy tale characters.
- summer: Join the eager boaters on Swans Lake.
- autumn: Watch the birds migrating to a warmer climate.
- winter: See cross-country skiers cruising along trails.
- Drift off into fantasy land for an afternoon.
- Breathe the fresh air in the pine forests.
- Search for constellations on a dark night.
- Take a relaxing swim in Swan Lake.
Latgalian Potters, Masters of Clay - 2008 Winner
Winner in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category
Rezekne, poetically described as a flower bursting into bloom, is a city in the heart of the Latgale region in eastern Latvia, famous for its pottery traditions.
Rezekne has been a centre of spirituality, culture and education. It is defined by green fields and lakes, unpaved roads and woods.
Rezekne is located at the intersection of the two highest hills of Latgale – Makonkalns and Lielais Liepu – and the largest lakes of Latvia – Razna and Lubans, connected by the river Rezekne. Rezekne borders Russia, Lithuania and Belarus, making it both a border city as well as an EU border area.
Rezekne is not only the historical and spiritual centre of Latgale, but also its geographical centre. Strategically important road and railway links at the crossroads between Riga, Moscow, St Petersburg and Warsaw create good conditions for the successful development of the city.
Rezekne is naturally hilly and lies on seven hills.
Located in the Atlantic continental humidity zone, Rezekne enjoys cool summers and mild winters.
What makes Latgale and Rezekne special?
Traditional pottery forms a vital part of culture and tourism in Latgale.
The Latgalian potter is seen as a craftsman and a master of the traditional art. With his ceramic creations he is able to connect with modern humanity. He is also able to satisfy its need for aesthetic and practical things and works creatively to promote the development of a craft based on ancient traditions. He is a reference point for the next generation of ceramicists.
The annual pottery days and openings of new kilns are important fixtures in the social calendar of Latgale. The ceramics masters of Latgale are always ready to open their studio doors to visitors with a genuine interest in pottery.
There are many sights to see in Rezekne:
- The ruins of Rezekne Castle on the banks of the river, dating back to the 13th century, are the most remarkable and most visited attraction in Rezekne. Due to its strategic position, the castle was highly treasured, but it was destroyed by the Swedes in 1656-60. The castle was not re-built and its stones provided the foundations for local houses and domestic buildings instead.
- Built on the remains of a wooden church in the early 20th century, Rezekne’s Heart of Jesus Cathedral combines pseudo-romantic and gothic styles. It is one of the biggest churches in Latvia, with curved wooden altars decorated by sculptures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, St Teresa and others. The cathedral is famous for its depictions in stained glass of the very first Livonian bishops – St Maynard and St Albert.
- Other religious and tourist sites include the St Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is a venue for concerts of classic music and worship, the Roman Catholic Church of the Anguished Virgin, the Orthodox Church of the Birth of Holy Jesus’ Mother and the St Nikolai Old-Believer Preaching House.
Arts and culture
The United for Latvia monument (Latgale’s Mara) by the famous sculptor Karlis Jansons is the most recognisable symbol of Rezekne and a must-see for visitors.
Symbolically situated at the heart of the city, the bronze composition of the monument depicts Latgale’s as much as Latvia’s struggle for freedom. It was removed twice during the Soviet period. In 1992, the United for Latvia monument was restored to its rightful place.
The art house of Rezekne’s secondary school, adorned with rich 19th-century woodcarvings on its façade, was originally a merchant’s mansion. As a public building, it then hosted a teachers’ institute, a school and the military registration office.
Visitors to the art house can enjoy ceiling paintings, grandiose tile stoves, unique parquet flooring as well as displays of art works. The Latgalian painting exhibition presents works from both old and new generations of Latgalian painters, such as J. Beketovs, F. Varslavans, S. Ludborža and G. Rancane.
The major collection of Latgalian ceramics, paintings and ethnographical objects in the Latgale cultural history museum should not be missed. The collection can be seen at two permanent exhibitions – Rezekne in the phases of epochs, and Latgale ceramics.
Kuldiga - Winner 2007
Winner in the Best Emerging European Rural Destination of Excellence category
Kuldiga town in the Kurzeme region (formerly Courland) with its historical district and Valley of the River Venta, is known as 'The Latvian Venice'. Here, the river flows along the walls of many of the town’s houses.
The vision of the local authorities is to make the old town of Kuldiga an important international tourism destination, with the potential to attract domestic and foreign tourists and contribute to the sustainable development of the town.
A unique natural environment
The tourism offers of Kuldiga are based on the town's historical and cultural heritage, as well as the Venta River, which is one of the largest and most picturesque rivers of Latvia.
Ventas Rumba is the widest waterfall in Europe (240 metres). Many legends and historical events are connected with it. In ancient times, Kuldiga was considered the place 'where salmon were caught in the air', thanks to Duke Jacob’s invented devices for catching fish on the Venta Rumba. Flying fish shows (jumping salmons over the Venta Rumba) is a popular attraction for visitors in the spring.
The waterfall on the river Aleksupite (4.5 m) is the highest waterfall in Latvia. In the 17th century it was embanked to be used in conjunction with the first paper mill in Kurzeme.
Historic and architectural heritage
The historic and architectural heritage of Kuldiga is well preserved.
In the park near the Kuldiga district museum fragments of the stone wall and the cellar of the first Kuldiga Castle, built in 1242 by German knights, have been preserved to this day.
Later, Duke Jacob’s Castle (ruined in 1701) was situated there as well. Today it is a sculpture park.
The old brick bridge across the Venta, built in 1874, is one of the longest of such type of bridges in Europe. The bridge was built according to the road standards of the 19th century (500 feet long and 26 feet wide), so that two carriages could pass next to each other on it.
The Medieval Historical Centre of Kuldiga on the banks of the River Aleksupite is a unique area. Originally built as the suburb of Kuldiga castle, it is the only ensemble of buildings of this type, on the River Aleksupite, which has remained in the Baltics, from the 17th-18th centuries.
St Catherine’s Church was originally built in 1252. However, it was built anew with baroque style wood carvings on the altar. In this church Duke Jacob was baptized and later married to Princess Louisa Charlotte from Brandenburg. The church was given the name of St Catherine, the patroness of the town.
The Old Town Hall was built in the 17th century. The cellar of the building was the first prison in Kuldiga. The oldest wooden building in Courland was built in 1670 near the Town square on the banks of the River Aleksupite.
The town square was an old assembly place for townspeople. Traditional cultural heritage is part of everyday life in Kuldiga with textile workshops, celebrations of national festivals and also with more contemporary events such as the annual running competition on the Aleksupite and the 'Naked People Run' over the historical bridge on the Venta River on Midsummer night.
A live museum
Kuldiga Town Council is aiming to establish a functioning complex of a 'live museum' in the historical centre of the town, providing:
- restoration and enhancement of the cultural heritage and encouraging tourists to participate in it, with harmonisation of cultural and natural tourism resources
- quality tourism services
- initiatives on including the town in the UNESCO World Heritage List
- environmental and landscape protection and usage to the educational work.
Several projects co-financed by the EU are running in Kuldiga, such as the 'Development of the ecotourism infrastructure in the Venta Valley' (NATURA 2000), the development of the cycling infrastructure in the Kurzeme region, including a GPS system. In this context, an old red brick bridge over the Venta River will be renovated and pedestrian roads to the Venta Rapids and the town centre will be established.