Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus to the southeast, and shares a maritime border with Sweden to the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, a World Heritage Site.
In a typical Latvian landscape, a mosaic of vast forests alternates with lowland plains, moderate hills, farmsteads, and pastures. The country has many lakes and deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Latvia has a long undeveloped seashore, lined by pine forests, and white sand dunes. The Baltic Sea moderates the climate, although the country has four distinct seasons and snowy winters. Winter can be very long.
Latvia is known for its ancient trading point on the Amber Road, an ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from the Baltic coastal areas by way of rivers and overland to the Mediterranean region. The Vikings and the Greeks mentioned Latvia in ancient chronicles. The breast ornament of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen (King Tut) contains large Baltic amber beads. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Egypt. In between the Medieval and Middle Ages (12th century), the German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagans’ Christian faith. The Germans settled in Latvia and founded the capital Riga, establishing it as the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia has a long history of battles. After centuries of war with Swedish, Polish, and Russian rule, the Republic of Latvia was established in 1918. However, by the summer of 1940, Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union. Latvia reclaimed its independence in 1991.
Today the Latvians make up about three-fifths of the population, and Russians account for about one-fourth. Latvian is the official language of the indigenous people of Latvia. Latvian and Lithuanian are the only two surviving Baltic languages. Russian, which was widely spoken during the Soviet period, is still the most widely used minority language. The majority of Latvians adhere to Christianity, mainly Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Latvian cuisine has been influenced by neighboring countries, especially Scandinavians. It’s high in butter, and fat, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia’s maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favorites, and smoked and raw fish is common. Many types of food are flavored with caraway seeds. Fish is commonly consumed due to Latvia’s location on the Baltic Sea. And Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage. Unfiltered and unpasteurized beer can still be encountered on occasions.