Are you planning to explore the culinary treats of Latvia? Be sure to include a tour to Latgale! It is one of the regions that you can visit multiple times, and we have come here several times in the past few years, as new sightseeing objects keep popping up! Latgale is still very off the beaten path destination for travelers visiting Latvia, but it offers truly authentic experiences that you don’t even have to search for too far!
The road trip itinerary we have described below consists of several experiences for food lovers, and also sightseeing objects that are open even off season, as you can’t eat all day long! Many of the experiences can be done on-the go without prior reservation, but for some you should book in advance! We did the tour with our own car, and you can also go by a rental, as the roads are quite good with just a few smaller dirt roads.
There are a couple other things you can do along the way if you plan a longer trip, some suggestions for those at the end of the article, as well as be sure to read our other articles about Latgale:
Latgale in the summer – Lake Lubans, Teirumnieku bog, Priedaine view point and more!
Northern Latgale in winter – Numerne, Stiglava, Stompaki bog, Balvi and more on nature!
Day 1 – Luznava manor and park, Nester Custom, Upenite, Folvarka & Aglona
Luznava manor and park, Svilpaunieki
We leave Riga quite late, after 7pm, so we reach the guesthouse Svilpaunieki after 11 pm, as we have to drive 245 km. It is right next to the Luznava manor, so on the next morning we enjoy breakfast there and head off to walk with the first light. As the manor opens at 9am, we start by exploring the park first, which is accessible for free all day and night long.
The Kerbedz family, who commissioned the manor in 1905 (it was finished in 1911), also had a beautiful garden spanning 23 hectares, it still has 17 local tree and bush species as well as 49 introduced ones. The park is very quiet in the winter, and apart from us, the only other life we see are woodpeckers in the old trees, there are so many of them that the air is filled with their calls and pecking!
Soon the manor opens and we head inside. The entrance fee is only 2 euro per person and it allows you full access to the building and the exhibitions located inside – glass, local ceramics and paintings. The building is recently renovated and is a pearl of art nouveau architecture in Latgale. It also hosts a lot of concerts, so check the schedule when you come, there may be something interesting for you as well! You can also stay the night here, many wedding parties choose to organize their receptions here, so during peak season book the stay in advance.
We especially liked the wallpapers in the manor, as they are very different in every room. The original prints unfortunately have not survived, but the themes of each room are known – flowers, birds, the size, so replacement wallpaper was ordered in a special historic wallpaper factory in Sweden.
The manor used to be a local center of art and culture. The owners only stayed here from May til September, spending winters in Italy, but the summers were full of life, with writers, painters and other artists spending their time here with the family.
Next we head to Preili, to a recently opened moto & metal gallery Nester Custom. In all honesty, I did not know what to expect, when I came here, but I definitely did not expect this to be one of the most interesting new sightseeing places in all of Latvia! A wife and husband – Alina and Alexander Nesteryuk – have created something extraordinary – from his love of motorcycles and her eye for design such an unusual place has been born.
Alexander guides us in the gallery himself, and shows us the first bike he renovated that took him two years, how he created the first sculpture that won the popular vote in a doll contest and the adventure had begun! The entrance fee is 5 euros, which may seem steep for a countryside gallery, but it is absolutely worth it! It is incredibly interesting to talk to Alexander and he shows a lot of details you would not notice otherwise! There is also a very cool souvenir shop with T-shirts and other small presents (you can also order online), as well as instagrammable cafe area where you can get a really good cup of coffee. Be sure to use the restroom here! A surprise awaits you inside.
Food places in Latgale – “Upenite”
Finally it is time to explore the food heritage of Latgale! In 2013 a society uniting 34 companies was created to promote Latgale culinary heritage. In 2015 Latgalian culinary heritage was announced as the winner of the best European tourism destinations or EDEN (European Dstinations of ExcelleNce) in Latvia in the nomination “Tourism and gastronomy”.
Our first culinary stop is the country house “Upenite”, located in Aglona next to Lake Cirisa. If you call the owner Inese (+371 26312465) at least an hour before (but if earlier – even better), you can taste a real Latgalian meal! She was waiting for us in a lovely little basement house with a warm fireplace and a nicely prepared table – sorrel soup, traditional gulbesniki with her grandmothers recipe – fried in oil, with cheese and meat inside. They do look similar to cepelinai from Lithuania, but these have already pre-boiled potatoes, and I find these much tastier! Then she brought some herbal tea, and cottage cheese cream with blackcurrant sauce and something very unusual that we had not heard of before – klockas! Klockas is a traditional sweet dish that used to be served in the biggest celebrations. It is a type of pastry with cottage cheese inside, boiled in cream sauce. Each house has a variation of the recipe, and we had a chance to try three different ones during our trip! Klockas was a dish I had no idea that I needed klockas in my life! Incredibly tasty!
Folvarka old believers prayer house
Initially we had not planned to visit Folvarka old believers prayer house, but when our Instagram followers recommended it, we thought – we must! It was Orthodox and Old Believer’s Christmas day, so we were hoping the church would be open, unfortunately, it was not, so we could only look at it from the outside. Had this church been in any other place in Europe, I think this would be the top instagrammer spot in the country, as a bright blue church next to a lake offers for some incredible pictures!
It was built at the beginning of the 20th century, and unfortunately had been robbed 12 times, so even the original fence has only the gate remaining. However, the church bell still is the same! Be sure to pay attention to the curtains in the church, those are very nicely done! No entrance fee to access to church.
Aglona basilica and Lejasmalas
We wanted to stay for the sunrise at the Aglona basilica, the main pilgrimage area for Christians in Latvia, but unfortunately the afternoon was as cloudy as the day, so we didn’t see much of color and headed off to our next guest house, Lejasmalas, next to the Lake Lejs. We were not even yet that hungry after the massive lunch, as we again had a chance to eat some more of those local culinary treats! Here we had a pike soup from a freshly caught fish, chicken fillet wrapped in bacon and potatoes as a side, and for dessert – klockas! As we knew well what it is by then, we dug in immediately!
After the massive dinner the hostess invited us for some sauna – about a 5 min walk from the guest house is a nice sauna house with views to the lake, and some traditional birch tree “brooms”! It sounds bizarre and painful, but it fact, it is not, and is one of the most traditional ways to take a sauna – think of it as Ancient Latvian Spa!
Day 2 – Lake Certoks, Kristus Karala hill, Museum of Bread, Slutiski courtyard, Smakovka museum, Restaurant Plaza and city skating rink
After a good hearty omelette with bacon at the guest house, we head to the famous Lake Certok or the Devil’s lake. It is one of the most well known natural sightseeing places in Latgale! In fact, it is a protected area spanning 53 hectares, designated in 1977, where the lake is the center piece, but the forest around is very beautiful as well. It is a mythical place with many legends about it. The first thing you might notice is that the lake has unusually transparent water and in the deepest area, 18m, the visibility is about 8m. However, you are not allowed to swim in it, and the information around it suggests it has a high level of mercury salts in it. Legends also say there is no life in the lake or around it. We do see plenty of birds, but can’t judge about fish or transparency of water, as it is all frozen over! We spent about an hour here, listening to the sounds of the forest and head on. There is no entrance fee to visit the protected area, but be mindful about how you behave – take everything that you brought with you.
Kristus Karala hill
After the lake we go back to Aglona, this time, to Kristus Karala hill or King Christ hill, which is a sculpture park spanning 20 hectares. Most of the sculptures are on the topics found in the Bible and majority of visitors – Christians coming to Aglona basilica. At the entrance there is a list of comments from visitors from all over the world. There is no entrance fee here, but you can leave a donation. We spend about thirty minutes here, as the wind is starting to pick up and suddenly it feels very cold. In a nicer weather you could walk around longer, and especially in the summer, when the area is bright green and all the plants are blooming.
Museum of Bread
Our lunch is planned in Museum of Bread, the only bread museum in the Baltics, and a place that many, many people recommended for us to see! It is by reservation only, and you should call at least a week in advance, but better, earlier (call Vija +371 29287044). The hostess shows us the process of making the traditional dark bread, as she owns a bakery for more than 20 years now, and also gives us a chance to form some loaves of bread ourselves and tells the story about the symbols women used to draw on the bread in the olden days.
While we eat, the bread is ready and we get to take out two loaves that smell very nice indeed! The lunch is incredibly good here as well, and all prepared in specially made local ceramics just for the museum. We eat bean & barley soup, potatoes, lard, pickles and mushroom sauce, and, of course, klockas! She also brings out some smakovka – traditional Latgalian spirit! We really liked the food here, as well as the fact we could take as much as we wanted from the main pot, without having to throw anything away or feeling shy to ask for seconds! Vija is a very fun hostess and told us many stories about her experience from guest all over the world, so you are guaranteed to leave in a good mood!
When we leave Aglona, the weather is turning from just grey to rainy, and if the day before there was a little bit of snow, it is nowhere to be seen anymore. When we reach Slutiski courtyard parking lot, it starts to rain quite strongly, and we have a good 10-15 min walk ahead of us. The courtyard exhibition is only is only accessible during the summer, so we can only see the outside. It is the only old believers cultural heritage museum in Latvia, but at least we get to see the beautifully done windows and the house!
For the way back, we walk by the river, there is a children’s playground and new walking trail.
When we arrive at the museum, a really cool guide Raivis Malnačs is waiting for us! In 1 hour he shows and tells us everything about the traditional Latgalian strong drink – the spirit smakovka in a nice modern museum! I never thought I would tell this, but this museum, primarily dedicated to alcohol, is actually suitable for the whole family. Children should only enter with adults, but you do learn a great deal about the history of the region overall – how the flour was made with a different kind of millstone – made of oak wood, how the fight for illegal alcohol trade happened, and also the chemical process.
It was interesting to see despite the fact that I have attended many distilleries and breweries in my life and I don’t drink alcohol myself. One hour passed very quickly, and the guide really added a personal touch when talking about the exhibits! I sincerely recommend visiting with a guide!
Restaurant Plaza and skating rink
Before we head home, we make a stop at the Hotel Latgola, to have a meal at the Restaurant Plaza, located on the 10th floor. If you want the best table with a view to the main square, reserve in advance! We had one with a beautiful view to the main square and the Christmas tree. Here we also had a traditional meal, eating lard & potatoes, and boletus mushroom soup for starters, and some ribs & pork with mashed potatoes and peas for the main course. We didn’t order a dessert as we were just too full, and actually had to ask to pack some of the food in a doggy bag. Benefits of visiting Latgale – the food servings are enormous!
Right next to the hotel you will find a skating rink, which is completely for free, and even skate rental doesn’t cost anything!
We had two packed days in Latgale, and it was really very interesting to see! There are new, modern guest houses, well equipped nature trails and interesting sightseeing places. For the food – even if you don’t eat certain kinds of meat, such as pork, or are a vegetarian, there will be something for you to sample that is local and tasty! Just be sure to let the hostesses know a bit in advance so they can prepare something suitable for you!
Don’t be afraid to visit in the winter, as there is still plenty to see indoors, the roads are manageable, and the prices in winter are better, as well as you are making a real difference for the local community, who do say the winters are a bit of a quiet season!
Other places to include that are nearby:
- Preili Doll museum
- Daugavpils shot factory
- Rothko art center
We thank Latvian Investment and Development Agency Tourism Department for support in making this article reality.