Latvia’s iconic barrel campsites offer simple accommodations in scenic, natural settings. // © 2015 Kolkasrags
Feature image (above): In the Latgale region of Latvia, local farm Zvejnieki offers thatched-roof cabins and boat rentals, plus regional cuisine made with ingredients from its garden. // © 2015 Zvejnieki
In Latvia — where visitors can walk along trails of wild orchids, take a “beer bath” at a traditional spa and harvest amber straight from the Baltic Sea — there’s certainly no need to stay in a boring hotel.
Take your pick of rural farmsteads whose owners can teach you how to make local delicacies (hemp porridge or berry ice cream, for example) and share personal stories about Latvia’s Soviet past. Or, take your history lesson a step further by spending a night “behind bars” in a former Soviet prison. It may not be the most relaxing part of the vacation, but it will likely be the most memorable.
Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils
Art lovers from around the world won’t want to miss out on Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre. The museum, situated in the Arsenal building at Daugavpils Fortress, is billed as the only place in Eastern Europe that showcases original masterpieces of Mark Rothko, one of the founders of abstract expressionism. It’s also one of few art museums that offer short- and long-term stays.
While its 14 residences are designed for visiting artists, there are six single guestrooms and eight double guestrooms open to the general public. Accommodations feature contemporary design and start at approximately $35. Museum access is an additional cost, and travel agents should consider adding commission to the overall package.
Barrel Campsites at Cape Kolka
For a romantic night by the seaside, snuggle up in one of Latvia’s iconic barrel campsites. At Cape Kolka’s Houses of Happiness, where the Baltic Sea meets the Gulf of Riga, guests can spend the night in a compact cylinder made from local fir trees. Each stand-alone accommodation features a round, mirrored window that is transparent on only one side (for added privacy).
Starting at approximately $50 per night, the accommodations are basic, with little more than a bed, a table and shower facilities. However, there is plenty of natural beauty to be had in the surrounding areas, so guests will want to grab one of Usi’s on-site bikes and start exploring right away.
Karosta Prison in Liepaja
Don’t expect the maid to pick up after you at Karosta Prison, a former military detention facility in Liepaja that now operates as a theatrical tourist attraction, museum and hotel.
Guests overnighting here have the unusual experience of pretending to be locked away abroad. They sleep on a spring mattress in a sparse prison cell. They eat plain, Soviet-style meals. And they obey a staff of “guards” who make sure that everyone adheres to the rules and plays along.
“I’d recommend trying it at least one time in life — that is, if you have strong nerves,” said Kaspars Porins, a local tourist and hobby photographer who spent three nights at the prison hotel. “The guards play their role very well. If you take part in it, you will sweat and do what they say, whether that’s making your bed, doing push-ups or shooting an air gun. This experience is really more for people who love strange places, military life and history. It’s very popular for bachelor parties too.”
Check in is at 9 p.m., and the bizarre, prison-themed performance lasts until 9 a.m. the following day. Hotel guests are required to sign a waiver in order to participate.
Lantus Homestead in Northern Latvia
Even city folk have to press pause from time to time, and Latvia’s guesthouses and farmsteads offer a bucolic break that traditional hotels just can’t match.
For a dose of elegant country charm, look no further than the Lantus homestead in Northern Latvia. Families or small groups can rent the six-room farm home, featuring a fireplace and two kitchens, or the “bath house,” a two-bedroom apartment with a private spa and a pool table.
Lantus promotes itself as a countryside spa, offering an on-site sauna and a range of treatments that make the most of Latvia’s natural resources, from a milk-and-honey bath to a firming seaweed body wrap.
Zvejnieki Farm in Latgale
In Eastern Latvia, travelers can stay in Latgale, which is one of the country’s last lakeside fishermen’s villages. Latgale is also the only region in Latvia that uses its own language, Latgalian.
Latgale’s Zvejnieki farm is a member of European Network of Regional Culinary Heritage. It features thatched-roof accommodations and traditional meals from the region, made with products straight from the garden.
Other highlights include a rural sauna, boats for rent, guided nature walks and opportunities to go foraging for wild mushrooms and berries. Notably, there are more than 230 bird species in the surrounding wetlands, and guests have access to six nearby bird-watching towers.