Sigulda and Turaida
“Sigulda is NOT the Switzerland of Latvia!”
“After I had read several references to Sigulda being the “Switzerland of Latvia”, I was so confused that I resorted to consulting an atlas. Latvia is, after all, a very flat place” – some quotes by Catherine Reichardt on her article Sigulda.
I am in full agreement including with her conclusion both that the comparison seems delusional but also that Sigulda is a nice place.
When guidebooks like the Lonely Planet (at least my old edition) merely repeat its nickname, one can no help thinking that such a comparison may have been thought up by tourist agencies trying to mug the traveller expecting Switzerland but getting Sigulda instead. I guess if you close your eyes you could imagine you are in Switzerland.
Not to say Sigulda is not beautiful. It was my favourite place in my trip but rather it is different and worth seeing in its own right.
The town itself is small and although the immediate station area is nice there is not much to see. What are really special here are the Gauja national park and the castles within. Valeria and I visited the New Sigulda castle and the ruined castle nearby on our first day. The day had started in perfect sunshine but unfortunately ended early with torrential rain. We and not a few others got completely soaked and we had to make our way back to Riga where the weather was miserable but better. The castle ruins are with the moderate cost better than the castle in Trakai. Not much more to see but nice surroundings and costumed staff. There are nice views over the castle towards Turaida. A stage for events (which are held there but none while we were visiting). Go on the right day and it is a nice day out.
Also within Sigulda is the rather strange walking stick park. Quite why it was chosen I don’t know but it looks different and is a photo magnet. It is quite close to the Lutheran church (in Sigulda not Turaida).
One of the highlights is the Aerial cableway which takes you up to near the Krimulda manor house, gives a beautiful view of the Turaida Museum reserve, The Gauja valley and river below and is inexpensive. I definitely recommend visiting. The ride is short but the views beautiful. It is possible to get a return ticket but it is worth going on from this point to explore the manor house and some old buildings around before going on to Turaida.
It is a hike to the museum reserve and I am not sure we took the most convenient walk but there was one other couple doing the same route.
The Turaida museum reserve is not just the restored castle but lakes, parks, a Lutheran church and the grave of Turaida Rose.
As on occasion I found published in my Lonely Planet and In Your Pocket do not seem to coincide or mis some important parts with the general accepted story.
The Turaida Rose
Apparently the Rose of Turaida is Maija, a young orphan found in the arms of her dead mother after a battle. She grew up to become a very beautiful young girl (known as the rose of Turaida) who had many suitors. Despite many wanting to take her as a bride she only had eyes for the gardener of Sigulda castle, Viktor). A Polish nobleman Adam Jakubowski set eyes upon her and forged a letter (to pretend to be Viktor) and lured her to the cave in order to force her to become his wife.
She gave him a scarf which she said would protect the wearer from harm. And wore it round her neck as proof and urged him to test it. He took a swing from his sword which killed her (and the story stays protected her dignity). Although suspicion first lay upon Viktor the true story was soon established and the nobleman was hanged (accorrding to some accounts). Viktor buried her by the linden tee and left Latvia forever. It is custom now for newlyweds to lay flowers here as a sign of love and devotion.
Maija was 18 or 19 when she was murdered (in 1620).
The main destination for the museum reserve other than the Turaida Rose grave is of course the restored castle, which does have a nice view from one of the towers. However also in the park is a hill with many statues erected. A kind of sculpture park, the nature there is also nice and it can be a nice place to sit on the grass and relax.