Travel 6 minutes 12 June 2024

A Culinary Road Trip in Latvia

The Michelin Inspectors recommend a short trip in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, taking in amazing sights as well as top-class meals

Think of Latvia and it’s likely Riga will come to mind, but how many towns or villages can you name outside the capital? The further you move away from the Baltic Countries, the less travellers seem to know about the region, but there are so many fabulous places just waiting to be explored. We asked a Michelin Inspector to give us their suggestion for a short road trip which takes in some top activities as well as some great culinary experiences.

When to Visit

Latvia is a place with a lot of greenery, from a host of forests to no less than five National Parks, making late spring, summer and early autumn all great times to visit, from the first blossoms to the moment the leaves start to fall, creating some spectacularly colourful scenery.

If you’re coming in winter, make sure you’re around for the Independence Day of Latvia, when there’s a real celebratory vibe and some impressive military parades take place. Christmas is always a great time too, when the warm, friendly glow of the towns invite you in to cosy up amongst the falling snow – you’ll need to bring your warm weather gear though.


There are no motorways in Latvia, however there are dual carriageways that radiate out from Riga and run to the other major cities and towns. Turning off these eight main arteries, the towns are linked by main roads, with the villages reached by smaller side roads. As long as you’re not looking to get anywhere too quickly, the latter provide a great driving experience and a superb opportunity to get to know the local area.

Pavāru Māja, Līgatne, in Winter
Pavāru Māja, Līgatne, in Winter

Where to Go

For our culinary road trip, we are going to take the A2 (E77) and then the A3 (E264) from Riga out to Valmiera, which is situated just over 100km northeast of the city. From Riga Airport it’s just 12 miles to the capital, where you can head straight through its heart or skirt around it and make directly for Valmiera. We suggest the former, for a bit of extra sightseeing – as well as some tasty meals of course!

Valmiera (107km Northeast of Riga)

Founded in 1283, Valmiera is one of the oldest cities in Latvia. The Gauja River runs through its centre and is often referred to as the city’s ‘main street’ – a fitting name considering the number of traders who arrived here by boat during its Hanseatic times. Stunning sandstone outcrops surround the river – many of which are designated as protected natural monuments – making it a great spot for canoe enthusiasts as well as walkers. Not far from the city sits Sietiniezis Rock, one of the Baltic Region’s largest sandstone outcrops at 15m high and 400m in length. It’s a great place for exploring thanks to the surrounding pine forests traversed by walking trails and dotted with picnic spots, along with many intriguing natural formations, including caves, grottos, gullies, ravines and pillars. Head for its southern point to take in impressive views of the ancient Gauja Valley.


To See and Do In and Around Valmiera

* Valmiera Museum and Herb Garden
* St Sīmanis Church – combining Romanesque and Gothic styles, this is one of the oldest stone buildings in Latvia
* A tour of the ruins of the Livonian Order Castle and the medieval fortification outcrops
* A boat trip the Gauja River Tram – learn more about the area and view the city as visitors of the past once did
* Valmiermuiža Brewery – discover the art of Latvian beer brewing and, of course, enjoy some tasters
* Zrailbikes – these four-seater self-pedal bikes run on a disused narrow-gauge railway track, covering 4km from Zilaiskalns Village to the peat bog

Sietiniezis Rock, Near Valmiera
Sietiniezis Rock, Near Valmiera

Where to Eat in Valmiera

Akustika, Diakonāta iela 6, Valmiera, 4201, Latvia
After a long day exploring, make the short walk from the city centre to this semi-residential spot. Here you’ll find one of the grandest buildings in town – the old post and telegraph building – which plays host to this lovely neighbourhood brasserie with distressed walls and a faux-industrial feel. It was created by three friends, who set it up to be the type of place they themselves would like to dine – and from the many regulars, it’s clear that they have succeeded. If you’ve not had too much sun already, the pavement terrace is a lovely place to eat – and they host occasional music evenings, giving it another dimension. There’s value to be found on the appealing menus, with good quality seasonal produce and adventurous modern dishes based on Latvian flavours leading the way. The wines are well-priced too – with many offered by the glass – and the cocktails are a hit.

Akustika, Valmiera
Akustika, Valmiera

Cēsis (30km Southwest of Valmiera)

From Valmiera, take the P20 or the P14 to Cēsis, one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the Baltic Countries. It dates back to 1206 and with its 800-year-old castle and peaceful atmosphere, has a particularly magical, fairytale feeling – especially when enveloped in the winter’s snow.

Located in the heart of the city, the iconic Cēsis Castle is the most obvious starting point for your visit. A well-preserved example of medieval architecture, its construction was started 800 years ago by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and continued under the Teutonic Order. The castle and the kitchen garden are wonderful places to simply walk around (look out for the same herbs, vegetables and plants that once grew in its original Livonian gardens), but in the summer months it also offers some more interactive experiences: try your hand at archery, have a go at forging your own jewellery or simply watch the master craftsmen at work creating paints or weaving ropes.

Be sure to stay in Cēsis long enough that you can make a side trip to nearby Āraiši too.

Cēsis Castle
Cēsis Castle

To See and Do In and Around Cēsis

* Walk the medieval streets of the Old Town – visit the former marketplace and fountain, and spend time in the shops and coffee houses
* Cēsis History and Art Museum
* St John’s Lutheran Church – a medieval Basilica
* An event at Cēsis Vidzeme Concert Hall – enjoy classical or modern concerts, theatre performances and film screenings
* Walk, Nordic walk or cycle the Cīrulīši Nature Trails – discover bottomless caves and sacred springs
* A day in nearby Āraiši – visit the Archaeological Park for reconstructed heritage buildings and the 19th Century windmill, complete with exhibition
* On your last day, draw straws for who will drive the car to your next stop in Līgatne! Everyone else can then take a leisurely day-long boat ride along the Gauja River to the Līgatne Ferry point, where your driver will pick you up!

The Reconstructed 9th-10th Century Latgallian Lake Fortress at Āraiši Archeological Park
The Reconstructed 9th-10th Century Latgallian Lake Fortress at Āraiši Archeological Park

Where to Eat in Cēsis

You’ll be here for at least two meals, which works out nicely, as the Michelin Inspectors recommend two different restaurants within Cēsis.

Kest, Valmieras iela 1, Cēsis, 4101, Latvia
You know you’ll be well-looked-after at Kest, as the front-of-house team won the Michelin Service Award 2023 thanks to their natural warmth and enthusiasm. The young team are charm personified and achieve the delicate balance of being attentive yet not overbearing, carefully explaining each dish to you with pride and passion. The restaurant sits on the main street, within the town’s former fire station, and is an experience of two contrasting parts. On the right-hand side is a bright dining room serving a modern 5 course tasting menu crafted using local ingredients – definitely opt for the interesting alcoholic drinks flight too; meanwhile, on the left-hand side is a dark, moody lounge-bar with a speakeasy style that’s perfect for a post-meal coffee or a relaxing drink.

Kest, Cēsis
Kest, Cēsis

H.E. Vanadziņš, Rīgas iela 15, Cēsis, 4101, Latvia
A little less obvious to locate is H.E. Vanadziņš, which is tucked away in the centre of town. It’s certainly a spot the locals know about though and is always packed with plenty of regulars. This is not the type of place you expect to discover in such a quiet and traditional town: it’s big, modern and lively, with a welcoming vibe and a convivial feel – and you’ll be greeted with a satisfied wall of noise as you open the door. The next surprise is the chic black furnishings, which are a complete contrast to the classical wooden exterior. The food here is hearty and regional, with a north Latvian bias, and there’s plenty to choose from for all the family. When the sun’s shining, head to the rear and pick a spot on the lovely terrace, and if you fancy making a night of it, stay over in one of their bedrooms.

H.E. Vanadziņš, Cēsis
H.E. Vanadziņš, Cēsis

Līgatne (25km Southwest of Cēsis)

Take either the P20 then the A2 (for a slightly longer but quicker journey) or the P20 then the Cēsu iela and the Spriņģu iela. Either way, there’s only 3 kilometres and 3 minutes in it. Following the latter, however, you can stop off at Amatas Dabas Taka – the Amata Geological Trail (see below).

Līgatne itself started life in the 19th Century, originally constructed around a paper mill, before expanding into a small village and later a town in its own right. The Līgatne Paper Factory Village survives to this day and is now a site of national importance – it’s a great place to wander around while discovering the heritage buildings.

The Old Anfabrika Paper Mill, Līgatne
The Old Anfabrika Paper Mill, Līgatne

To See and Do In and Around Līgatne

* Walk around the historical village centre
* Soviet Nuclear War Bunker – a 9m deep Cold War shelter where you can view an exhibition, have a 1980s dinner or take part in a reality game
* Gūdu Cliffs and Ķūķu Cliffs – during winter you can see beautiful frozen waterfalls at the latter
* Zvārtes Rock – one of Latvia’s most scenic sandstone outcrops and the spot to watch boating enthusiasts making the most of the spring floods. Raganu Plavina (The Witches’ Meadow) and Miglas Rock are also nearby.
* Līgatne Nature Trails – a network of hiking trails and a 5km paved vehicle route which becomes a cross-country ski track in winter. Climb the 24m viewing tower for great views, and keep an eye out for everything from stags and wild boar to racoon dogs and eagle-owls
* The Amata Geological Trail – choose between three different sections of varying scenery and increasing difficulty: Veclauči bridge to Zvārtes Rock (3 km); Kārļu bridge to Zvārtes Rock; and Melturi to Kārļu Fish Farm (3 km).

Līgatne Nature Trails in Winter
Līgatne Nature Trails in Winter

Where to Eat in Līgatne

Pavāru māja, Pilsoņu iela 2, Līgatne, 4110, Latvia
Our culinary road trip finishes on a high note, with a meal at the only Michelin Green Star restaurant in the country, which is set within a former maternity hospital on the edge of the village and surrounded by woodland. Awarded to establishments at the forefront of the industry when it comes to their sustainable practices, the Green Star highlights restaurants combining culinary excellence with outstanding eco-friendly commitments.

Chef Ēriks Dreibants explains: "We collaborate with Līgatne’s farmers, as well as exploring the surrounding wilderness in search of the characteristic flavours of our region. Our menu focuses on seasonal, natural ingredients – unharmed by man or industrialisation – and we strive to follow a nose-to-tail principle in our cooking."

They are so in tune with nature here that you are even encouraged to arrive early to spend time in their Nature Observation Garden – a spot the owner himself loves to relax in. The raised beds supply the kitchen, and they also undertake regular foraging trips, so the tasting menu is informed by whatever is available each day. Guests are served all at the same time in sleek, modern surroundings, and this will be an experience you will remember long after you’ve left.

Pavāru Māja, Līgatne, in Summer
Pavāru Māja, Līgatne, in Summer

This rounds out your culinary road trip to northern Latvia – from here it’s an easy 80km journey back down the A2 all the way to Riga Airport.

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