Summer weather in Latvia can be surprisingly warm given its Northern European location. Come July, locals flock to the Baltic Sea shore in droves. One of Latvia’s best beaches, Jurmala, features thirty-two kilometers of pristine white sand and tranquil blue water. What began as a collection of humble farming villages has become the premier beach resort in the Baltics. Don’t expect to find glitzy high-rise hotels crowding the coast, however. Nature reigns supreme in Latvia and the beachfront remains mostly free of development. In fact, the fourteen townships the make up the whole of Jurmala barely peek through the surrounding pine forest!
Dzintari and Majori are the two main towns within Jurmala and are connected by a pedestrian street lined with shops and cafes. The quiet neighborhood is dotted with charming wooden Art Nouveau cottages, many of which have been restored and converted into restaurants and inns. It’s easy to get from Riga to Jurmala beach by train. The ride from Riga’s Central Station to Majori Station takes just a half hour, making this a very easy day trip from the city. (Click here for train schedules and ticket prices.)
The dominant feature of the Jurmala skyline is the Baltic Beach Hotel, which looks a bit like a cruise ship that’s washed ashore. Situated literally on top of the sand dunes, the guest room views are tough 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. The Hotel’s Beach Bar & Grill is a great option for lunch that’s surprisingly affordable given the prime seaside location.
No trip to Jurmala would be complete without a visit to the spa. The Baltic Beach Hotel Spa Center is one of the largest in Northern Europe and offers hundreds of treatments that promote health and relaxation. I went for the Hot Chocolate Cosmetic Body Wrap, which supposedly moisturizes and rejuvenates the skin. 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.
Access to the spa’s Banja bath complex was included in the treatment cost. The rustically-styled suite includes two saunas, or pirts, of differing degrees of heat. One steam room was so sweltering I could only stay inside for a few minutes, while the other was more tolerable. 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 possible, you are supposed to cool your body down. This can be done sitting in the spa’s “ice room,” which has a big pile of snow you can rub over yourself. Other options including dumping a bucket of ice water over your head and jumping into a pool of bitterly cold water (both highly desirable post-sauna activities in these parts). I opted instead for the more temperate waters of the central wading pool. Note that the complex is co-ed and, during my visit, not everyone was wearing their swimsuit. Some things you cannot un-see.
(You can read more about the Latvian sauna experience in this post.)
Have you ever been to the Baltic coast?
What’s the most interesting spa treatment you’ve ever gotten abroad?