Daugavpils is virtually unknown but it is Latvia’s second city.
Riga has had a reputation as a stag weekend destination. However, that is in the past. With a balancing of costs around Europe now the capital city is no longer a very cheap destination. Anyway, Riga and Latvia deserve much more than a few lads being loud in its cobbled and Art Nouveau streets.
Latvia’s second city is a three and half hour drive to the Latgale region. A land of lakes, pine forests and the meandering Daugava river, which has been a transport corridor for the many races who have settled the area during its history. Poles, Jews, Germans and Russians have all left their mark in the area around Daugavpils.
For my stay I was based in the Homelike Hotel in the centre of the city, which made an ideal base to visit the city and the surrounding towns and villages.
As a fortress city Daugavpils has one of the very best, preserved Bastion styled forts in Northern Europe. The earth and stone walls of the multi pointed star shaped castle are in near perfect condition. The city fathers have, over the years, worked hard to keep this fortress in great shape.
It also has art treasures too. Leading American artist, Mark Rothko was born in the town and has a gallery dedicated to him. And within the fort, a collection of his some of his works are hung. These are worth around $150M. Indeed, this is the only place in Eastern Europe that such works can be seen. The gallery also encourages local artists and has space set aside for other international artists too.
Not one but four churches stand on the highest point of the city – Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox and an Old Believers’ church too. Another tower on the skyline that is hard to miss is that of the Lead Shot Factory. This red brick 120 feet high construction is used to make shot gun shot by dropping molten lead through a fine sieve, letting it plunge down into a 50-foot deep well, where it is collected once cooled. This factory is used once a year for this and allows tours for most of the year.
Once out of the city, try to head for the Vasergelisku Viewing Tower, in this flat landscape a vantage point offers views over a bend in the Daugava River and national park area that it is located in.
The area around Kraslava has a range of tourist attractions. Kraslava Castle that does not look like a castle but is more a palace style building. Over 1,500 dolls are housed in an outbuilding, collected by enthusiast Olga Gribule.
The Old Believers, a group of Eastern Orthodox Christians who spilt from the main Russian church in the 17th century, can be more fully understood by a visit to SlutIski Old Believers Village. In general these people tend to live in remote areas and keep their religious practices using very ancient texts.
The Roman Catholic faith is represented too. Aglona Basilica is the most important church in Latvia, it is a major shrine and place of pilgrimage. On 15 August each year a celebration is held or the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. Pope John Paul II gave it Basilica status in 1980. He visited the shrine in September 1993 when over 300,000 pilgrims attended!
Aptly, there is a bread museum nearby whose delightful staff will demonstrate the baking techniques used in their local rye breads. And they also indulge in singing and dancing if they have time!
Dolls cropped up again: artist and doll maker, Vladlena has created her own little kingdom dedicated to her skills. Her masterpieces are on show for just a few Euros within the town of Preili. Mr Bean is one gem, with Captain Jack Sparrow or Johnny Depp modelled in great caricature detail. It’s great for the kids, but also adults can get involved as she offers her guests the chance to dress in one of her 500 costumes. This is a town of designers at the Nester Custom and Metal Art Gallery, five minutes away, weird metal creations are on show. Pottery is very much a skill found around the town with Latgalian pottery, using techniques dating back to the Neolithic Age, on show at Ceramics House in Preili.
Latgale and Daugavpils is an area of the country striving to let the world know of its presence. There is certainly more to Latvia than just Riga!
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