Dobele, Latvia and the Largest Lilac Garden in Europe

Pin It

“You’re going all the way to Dobele to see bloomin’ lilacs? I have those in my backyard.”

When I told my Riga taxi driver that Dobele, Latvia has the largest lilac garden in Europe, he didn’t believe me. But it’s true – the Peteris Upitis Garden in Dobele boasts more than 200 lilac trees! The first were planted in 1956 by Peteris Upitis, an avid horticulturist and head of the Latvian Fruit Research Laboratory. His job was to create hearty varieties of trees that would bear fruit in spite of Latvia’s harsh winter climate, but his real passion was lilacs. Now we get to enjoy the fruits of his labors in late spring when the lilacs are in bloom. The fragrance is intoxicating!

Dobele Lilacs

Dobele Lilac Garden

IMG_7338-001

Lilac Blossoms

If you’re able, try to coordinate your visit with the annual Dobele Lilac Festival, when a classical music concert and other events are held among the blossoms. I went a week earlier, when some of the nearly 5,000 apple and cherry trees were still flowering. Friendly vendors sold ice cream and souvenirs, while fruit and lilac products were available for purchase at the ticket booth. (There is also an apple festival in autumn.)

Dobele Fruit Trees

Pink Tree Blossoms

Dobele Apple Trees

But even if you aren’t able to see the lilacs at their peak, Dobele still makes a fun day trip from Riga! The Knights of the Livonian Order built Dobele Castle on a strategic hill in the 1330s which remained in active use until the Great Northern War nearly four centuries later. The heavily damaged castle was abandoned in 1736 and fell into ruin. An impressive amount of stonework remains intact, including much of the bailey’s perimeter wall.

Dobele, Latvia Castle Ruins

Dobele Castle Ruins

IMG_7231

Dobele Castle

IMG_7252

The old town center of Dobele dates to the late 1400s when the Livonians constructed a Lutheran Church a short distance from the castle grounds. The beautifully restored church features original stone floors, 17th and 18th century woodwork, and a gleaming new organ. As ever, the ladies inside were delighted to welcome tourists, though some knowledge of Latvian was necessary to understand them.

Dobele Lutheran Church

A marketplace grew around the church and attractive two-story brick buildings appeared much later. The vast square was given a makeover in 2011, with new paving stones and fountains adding charm. The centerpiece is a giant well-shaped fountain whose bucket tips over once full. The fountain was shut off for cleaning at the time of my visit, but a kindly worker turned it on so I could see. I was surprised by the crowd that quickly gathered to enjoy the show!

Dobele Latvia

Dobele Well Fountain

Note: The crowd was standing behind me. I didn’t make that bit up.

Just around the corner is the Dobele Craft House, which hosts rotating exhibits and workshops relating to Latvian arts and handicrafts. Knitters are encouraged to add a few rows to the lengthy scarf which has been an ongoing group effort since the House opened in 2010. Sadly, not much was available for sale.

Dobele Craft House

Dobele is home to several important memorials which document the region’s turbulent past. The Memorial to the Victims of Communist Genocide stands near the train station, where deportations to Siberia began in 1941. Little fanfare is given for the nearby Soviet Soldiers Cemetery, although the site is well maintained. Much more celebrated is the Dobele Liberation Monument which stands proudly near the castle ruins. The massive stone statue depicts two Latvian figures in traditional costumes ready to fight for their country. The original monument was erected in 1940 but blown up by the occupying Soviets 10 years later; the current version dates to 1996.

Dobele Communism Memorial

Memorial to the Victims of Communist Genocide

Dobele Bralu Kapi

Statue in the Soviet Soldiers Cemetery

Dobele Liberation Monument

Dobele Liberation Monument

For lunch, the ladies at the Tourism Information Center (opposite the well fountain) recommended the Gardi Gan Cafe en route to the castle ruins. If you want a classic Latvian dish with a twist, try the chicken cutlet “French style” – i.e. smothered with cheese and tomatoes. Order fries and a salad to round out the meal!

Where to Eat in Dobele Latvia

Latvian Cuisine

Vistas Karbonades Francu Gaume

Dobele is easily reached by bus from Riga, 1.5 hours each way. I recommend purchasing tickets in advance to secure a good seat as this is a popular route and some of the buses are small. (Sit on the right side of the bus for a view of Jelgava Palace.) Signage around town is sorely lacking so be sure to pick up English brochures from Dobele’s tourism office. Happy travels!

PIN IT!

IMG_7344a

Tell me: Have you ever traveled to see flowers in bloom?

8 thoughts on “Dobele, Latvia and the Largest Lilac Garden in Europe

  1. I would have loved this trip. The fragrance from the lilacs must have been awesome. Great pictures as usual.

    • Yes, you would have! This was one of the stops I considered making on our little road trip last summer, but decided against it because the lilacs wouldn’t have been blooming.

  2. I *adore* lilacs, and wish they could better withstand DC’s warmer weather. Also – LOVE the fact that they turned on the fountain just for you. 🙂

    • I’ve never seen lilacs like this Daina. Riga has some pretty trees by the opera house, but this garden is simply extraordinary! And I wanted to hug that worker when he asked “jus grib udens?” The ladies in the tourism office told me I was very lucky, but I’ve found that Latvians are eager to show off their towns’ best bits. I was taking photos of a (closed) church in Kandava when a man riding by on his bike asked if I’d like to see inside. Amazingly, he parked his bike, took out his keys, and let me have the run of the place! 🙂

    • The end of May is a perfect time to visit Latvia! The weather is warm and sunny and mountains of flowers are in bloom. Definitely something to keep in mind for next year 🙂

  3. When we went a few years ago it was too cold for lilacs and hardly any were in bloom. We were disappointed by the lack of food to buy and by the lack of souvenirs. In our opinion, the Latvians are not as business-minded as us, their neighbours the Lithuanians. But this year I went to see lilacs in Vilnius botanical garden and it was a blast. I hope to come back to Dobele another time. But Jelgava is my all-time favourite, followed by Rundale.

Comments are closed.