Sigulda: Switzerland of Latvia?

Most of Latvia consists of low-lying, flat coastal plains. The highest point in the country, Gaizinkalns, is only 1,020 feet (312 meters) above sea level. Therefore, I was surprised to learn of an area some 30 miles from Riga (a coastal city) touted in the guidebooks as the "Switzerland of Latvia". I was even more surprised to learn that Sigulda (like Gaizinkalns) had a ski area.

Compared to the many vast and flat regions of Latvia that I saw in driving from Riga to the western coastal city of Liepaja, then from Vilnius through Latvia to Tallinn, and then back to Riga, the topology around Sigulda is certainly more varied. But comparing it to Switzerland may be a bit of an exaggeration. There are some rolling hills here and, from time to time, one chances upon a scenic vista that stretches on for miles. But no one should expect anything approaching the magnificent alpine landscapes of Switzerland.

Having said that, Sigulda is an undeniably scenic area. There are several historic castles in the region, including in particular Turaida Castle, which was founded in 1214 as a residence and fortification for the Archbishops of Riga. Nearby is the Dainu Hill Song Garden, a pleasant park that is dotted with sculptures of characters from Latvian folklore. The area also offered many opportunities to walk in peaceful forests. And then, of course, there is the ski area – admittedly not much to see during my off-season, May visit. It was interesting, however, because the ski area had developed a separate attraction for the warmer months: an aerial course of cable bridges, ladders and other features that were a big hit with youngsters all suited up with mountaineering gear.