Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Trip to Latvian countryside - Abavas valley, Sabile and Pure

It's probably already clear to everyone that The Old European charm of Riga totally won us over. It's not just very Old World and European, it's also very international. They have shopping oases stocking luxury brands you can't get anywhere in Finland. For anyone even just a little familiar with country's history it's astonishing, how far they've come, in a mere couple of decades.

You don't have to go very far from Riga to witness a totally different world, though. Abandoned fields as far as eye can see, ramshackle houses that barely stand up; entire villages that time seems to have completely forgotten. 

After the World War I Latvia handed out land to those wishing to farm. During Soviet era the lands were taken into state's use and by the time the land was returned to the original owners after the end of occupation, there wasn't know-how as to what to do with it and agriculture hasn't quite recovered.

That's what the surroundings of village of Sabile, located in the North West Latvia, look like too: empty fields after another. 

The history of the village, located in Abavas river valley, goes all the way to 13th century. Up until the World War II this was home to a sizeable Jewish community and that pink building on left hand side of the photo is actually an old synagogue. After the war there wasn't much need for one (seeing how there weren't any Jews left...) and these days it functions as an art centre. Another group to have long roots in the region are the Roma people. 

Strangely enough, the thing this village is most famous for is wine. Wine has been made in the region already in 14th century. The symbol of the village, Wine Hill, has made it into Guinness Book of World Records as the nothern ost open-air vineyard in the world. The area, some 1,5 hectares, is home to some 650 vines of 15 varieties. Most of these are Latvian-bred hybrids, most famous of which is Zilga.

Tuscany? Not quite...

Especially outside tourist season the village is eerily quiet...

... though it is home to another equally bizarre interesting sight: the biggest hay doll par in Latvia (?!).

I couldn't tell you how big the second biggest is though. Or, whether there are more of them. And if, then why.

A local lady (who sits in a car parked in the corner of the park) decided to bring some life into the village and put up 200 dolls stuffed with hay and dressed in the most peculiar outfits.

Not at all creepy. Not at all.... 

But you didn't think we'd drag you all the way to the country just to show you an abandoned tinned food factory? Oh, no.

In case you happen to be in the region, there's another village called Pure about a 10-minute drive from here. And Pure is home to a chocolate factory. And a chocolate museum!

And right next to the museum there's a great restaurant: according to our lunch companion, a local winery owner,"the best at about 100-kilometre-radius". 

Terase is a small and surprisingly contemporary restaurant with terrace overlooking the beautiful riverside. When they opened they had an ambitious plan to serve Riga-standard food but with only fraction of the capital's prices.

That's something they've achieved, too. Our lunch for 3 people, consisting of 4 starters(I couldn't decide!), one main course and a glass of wine and beer each the total came to roughly 40 euros. I honestly did not expect to encounter a menu like this (or complimentary amouse bouches!): they had ostrich tartare, rabbit ravioli, lamb liver...

Hmmm... a region known for its wine... a lunch with a local wine maker... Can anyone guess where we're taking you next?





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