The weather in Latvia this July has been extraordinary, with balmy temperatures more in line with the Mediterranean than Northern Europe. I’ve even heard that we’ve experienced a record-breaking number of days over 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit). I thought it was supposed be cold in this country!
It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Baltic Sea was the place to be, specifically, the coastal resort of Jurmala. Only 25 minutes by train from Riga, it’s easy to see why the locals flock there in droves. 32 kilometers of pristine white sand connects the 14 townships that constitute Jurmala and which only just peek through the dense pine forest. Once the go-to holiday spot for the Soviet elite of yesteryear, the peaceful beachfront today remains surprisingly undeveloped.
For my first day trip to the beach, I took the train from Riga’s Central Station to Majori township in central Jurmala (€1.40 each way). The walk from the station to the seaside took all of 10 minutes, and that included plenty of stops for photo-taking. I skipped the touristy main drag, which connects Majori with the other major township, Dzintari, and focused instead on the charming wooden art nouveau cottages for which the area is known. On my next visit, I’ll definitely allow more time to wander the side streets and admire the unique architecture!
The dominant feature of the Jurmala skyline is the impressive Baltic Beach Hotel, which looks a bit like a cruise ship that’s washed ashore. Situated literally on top of the dunes, I imagine the guest room views are hard to beat. Lounge chairs, umbrellas and private cabanas are available for anyone to rent, though I was told that on busy days hotel guests take priority over the general public.
I enjoyed a leisurely lunch under the neon-green umbrellas of the Beach Bar & Grill, which was surprisingly reasonably priced given the prime location. Patrons also had free access to the large lounge pillows tossed casually in the sand.
No trip to Jurmala would be complete without a visit to the spa, the feature for which the town is most famous. So after lunch, I headed inside to the Baltic Beach Hotel Spa Center, one of the largest in Northern Europe. The spa is spread across three floors and offers more than 400 different treatments that promote health and relaxation.
In need of a little pampering after my big international move, I opted for the Hot Chocolate Cosmetic Body Wrap. This entailed being slathered from head to toe in a warm chocolate mixture, wrapped in plastic sheets and covered with towels, and left to marinate for 30 minutes while I daydreamed about dessert. The treatment, said to moisturize and rejuvenate the skin, cost €29 and included access to the Banja bath complex.
The rustically-styled complex included two saunas, or pirts, of differing degrees of heat. One steam room was so sweltering I could only stay inside for a few minutes. The other, which recreated the feeling of jogging in Thailand in April, was more tolerable. Still, an attendant did insist I don a wool hat to generate more body heat. The humid air reportedly increases circulation and lung function, purifies the body and clears out your pores.
After sitting in the sauna for as long as you can, you then need to cool your body down. This can be done sitting in the spa’s “ice room,” which features a bucket of snow you can rub over yourself. Or, you can pour a bucket of ice water over your head or jump into a pool of bitterly cold water (both highly desirable post-sauna activities in these parts). I opted instead for the cool waters of the central wading pool.
Note: the complex is co-ed and, during my visit, not everyone was wearing their swimsuit. Some things you cannot un-see.
Have you ever been to the Baltic coast?
What’s the most interesting spa treatment you’ve ever gotten abroad?