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Known as the ‘Switzerland of Latvia’, the Gauja Valley, 50 kilometres east of Rīga, is distinguished more by its emerald rolling hills dotted with medieval castles, manor houses and rustic farms than its majestic snow-capped mountain peaks. The region’s picturesque town of Sigulda is best known for its 12th century castles and wellness resorts and is the gateway to Gauja National Park and a departure point for travellers setting off on adventure activities and winter sports in the surrounding area. Established in 1973, Gauja National Park was Latvia’s first national park, and offers travellers opportunities to do hiking, biking and bird watching along pine-forest trails and canoeing on its pristine waterways in warmer months.
For winter sports fans, Sigulda boasts a 1,200 metre-long Olympic bobsled track that snakes down through the scenic valley. Originally built for the former USSR bobsleigh team, these days it hosts the European Luge Championships in January. Visitors can zip down the 16-bend track at 80 kilometres per hour in a five-person Vuchko tourist bob or, if speed is not your thing you can watch others whiz down the valley from the viewing tower.Read more
Sigulda is more famous for its castles and churches, however, including the atmospheric ruins of the red brick Turaida Castle, northeast of the centre, dating back to the early 13th century, which was reconstructed after being destroyed when lightning hit its gunpowder store in the 18th century. Nearby, the tiny Turaida Church, dating to 1750, has wooden spires and a compact history museum, while Sigulda Church, first built in 1225, was subsequently reconstructed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ‘new’ Sigulda Castle, dating to the 19th century, was the residence of the Russian Prince Kropotkin and is now a wellness resort. Krimulda Castle, meanwhile, is best reached by a cable car offering spectacular valley vistas.