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Countries Information & Lifestyle
 Latvia Latvia

Country Information & Lifestyle

 What's in Your Mind and Heart Lasts Forever

What's in Your Mind and Heart Lasts Forever

Latvia is a small country located on the Baltic Sea. Bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus to the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west.

Latvia boasts diverse and beautiful scenery that belies its size. Long a favourite destination for holidaymakers from the Baltic region, Latvia's charms are increasingly being discovered by visitors from further afield. Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are rich in wildlife. There are many lakes, especially if you go to the Latgale region. There are deep river valleys, and the wild beauty of the unspoiled sea coast which is 500 km long and consists of mainly white, soft sandy beaches.

The dramatic hinterland much of which is protected in nature parks comes replete with vast swathes of forest, tranquil lakes and gushing rivers. Discover picturesque medieval towns, country castles, museums and folk parks, ruined fortresses and grand palaces.

Latvia is yet to be discovered by the large tourist crowds. You will find yourself most positively surprised by the charms of this Baltic country.

The dynamic capital Riga is a World Heritage Site and a great place to spend some time. It boasts a truly lovely old quarter, full of magnificent Judenstil architecture, winding cobblestone lanes and many steeples. In stark contrast to this ancient history and fabulous architecture is one of the liveliest nightlife scenes on the continent. To get a sense of the city, wander through its large, manicured parks, stroll through the historic quarter and then kick back in one of the many cafes or outdoor terraces.

Riga is divide into two parts by the River Daugava. Old Town is in the centre of the city on the east side of the river. Many Soviet-era movies set in Western Europe were filmed here. Walking is by far the best way to see the Old Town and the nearby centre sights. The House of Blackheads is where the merchants-to-be had their guild, part is the tourist office, the rest is a fascinating museum. The House of the Black cat has a legend that a disgruntled tradesman who was not accepted into the Big Guild, built this house and put the cats on it with their tails pointing towards the Big Guild, thus expressing his scorn.

Wagner once lived in Riga on the street named after him The Wagner Hall is where he occasionally performed. One of Riga's symbols is the Cathedral which dates back to 1207. Visit the museums in Riga Castle and the Swedish Gates which is the last remaining gate from the old city walls.

Andrejsala is an artist's island which is starting to emerge behind the passengers port, a short distance north from the Old Town. Agenskalns is a very picturesque historical part of Pardaugave - in the 19th Century it was a district for mansions and manors, some of which still remain. Cross the Vansu bridge over the Daugava to Kipsala, an island with Nordic dwelling architecture, solitude and a delicious sight of Riga over the River Daugava.

Sigulda is a small town beautifully located in the picturesque Gauja Valley with its steep banks and cliffs, and has been called Te Switzerland of Latvia. Halfway between Turaida Castle and Sigulda is Gutmanis cave. A little creek flows from it and a legend states that the water in the creek emanates from Gutmani's tears and is supposed to be healthy and boost one's lifespan.

Sigulada's medieval castle ruins are located next to the New Castle. About 800 m further from the cave is Krimulda Palace and ruins, they can be reached by a cable car from Sigulda. Take the cable car across the valley, then up and down a variety of paths and steps to Turaida village and castle before returning along the river valley.

Jurmala, the pearl of Latvia, is the largest resort town in the Baltic. The beaches in Jurmala are amazing, with breathtaking views of the bay, as well as pine forests along the coastline. No other place has beaches with tens of kilometres of such white, fine sand. Nowhere else do the pines on the dunes murmur so restfully. And the air is full of ozone and sea freshness. Right behind the dunes are the wooden houses so characteristic of Jurmala, with their finely divided window, veranda and rooftop structures.

The coastal city of Liepaja is known to Latvians as The City Where The Wind is Born, for the sea breeze it constantly enjoys. Liepaja is surrounded by water. There are the Baltic Sea coast, two big lakes, some smaller ones, and four channels in the city. The city, especially the southern part, is almost an island. There is a nice beach and a charming town centre with a colourful mixture of architectural styles, from wooden houses and spacious parks to Art Noveau and concrete, Soviet-era apartment buildings.

Liepaja's neighbourhood of Karosta was built in the late 19th century as a naval base for Tsar Alexander III and was later used by the Soviet Baltic Fleet. On the seashore of Karosta is the longest one of Liepaja`s breakwaters, stretching 1.8 km into the sea, and you can go on it by car until approximately half of its length. There are eight fortresses all around the city. The Ziemelu forti has underground labyrinths and tunnels to explore. The Karosta Prison is now open for tourists where they are treated like real prisoners, and, if they are brave enough, can even stay overnight. Unfortunately the castle is in bad condition.

In Liepaja region there are some nice towns, 100 km of beautiful Baltic coast, lots of forests and in the Pape Nature Park wild horses and wild boars. Town of Aizpute has medieval atmosphere with little irregular streets, old wooden buildings and castle ruins. It is on the way to Kuldiga, the medieval town with Europe's widest waterfall.

Ventspils is a city on the western coast on the Baltic Sea and one of Europe's busiest ports. Ventspils is the Latvian flower capital that is adorned with flowers from spring until autumn. The Livonian Order Castle is one of the oldest medieval fortresses that has survived to this day.

Cesis is one of the country's oldest towns and has a charming center with cobble stoned lanes, historic wooden buildings and a few impressive castles. Cesis lies in a hilly area and has two beautiful castles and parks, period houses and small cobbled streets.

Lagatne is a scenic town surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, considered the winter sports capital of Latvia. A nature reservation contains bear, lynx, Moose, elk, European bison, roe deer and red deer, as well as many species of birds. The Lagatne paper mill, in operation since 1816, a great natural park with wildlife animals and "fairy tale" forest with characters from famous Latvian fairy tales, lots to do and see here.

Jelgava has two fine sights in its baroque style Rundale and Jelgava Palaces. There are lots of possibilities to practice winter sports snowboarding, cross country skiing, downhill skiing etc. There is an International Ice Sculpture Festival every February. Visit Jelgava Palace on the island of river Lielupe.

Kurzeme region and Valley of the River Venta is known as The Latvian Venice. Indeed the river flows along the walls of many of the town�s houses. The historic and architectural heritage of Kuldiga is well preserved. In the town are based on its historical and cultural heritage and the Venta River which is one of the largest and most picturesque rivers of Latvia.

The old brick bridge across the Venta, built in 1874, is one of the longest of such type of bridges in Europe. The Old Town Hall was built in the 17th century, the cellar was the first prison in Kuldiga. Traditional cultural heritage is part of everyday life in Kuldiga with textile workshops, celebrations of national festivals and also with more contemporary events such as the annual running competition on the Alekupote (River of Aleksis) and the naked people run over the historical bridge on the Venta River at Midsummer night.

Daugavpils in the Latgale region, is the second largest city in Riga. The city has a quaint atmosphere, is delightfully charming, spacious and offers modern conveniences and services. The unique Daugavpils fortress (biggest in Europe), which has withstood many many wars and remains virtually unchanged since its construction in the 19th century. Daugavpils is more endowed with water space than other cities of Latvia. There are 15 lakes, 8 rivers and numerous brooks its territory.

Seda is a town in the Valka and lies just 20 km from Valka and the Estonian borer. An industrial town it only has three streets so walking will only take around an hour. Or, take a trip on a narrow-gauge train going to the peat marshes. Valka is a unique town on the border - that crosses the town center - with Estonia. 160 km from Riga the town and the Estonia town of Valaga are actually one town, divided by Estonian/Latvian border.

Whilst in Latvia try some of the unique dishes. Latvian cuisine comes from its peasant culture with rye, wheat, oat, peas, beet and potatoes the staples. Smoked bacon, sausage and other pork products are favourites, smoked and raw fish is common. Many types of food are flavoured with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. Smoked cheese goes very well with wine.

Some dishes to try are Commorgan-wieders once braised chuck, ground with celery, and onions and wrapped in a crepe and sauteed, Piragi bacon and onion wrapped in a thinish yogurt dough, a real classic Latvian dish. Griki is buckwheat eaten as a main course, Kotletes are meatballs serve with potatoes, Gailenu merce- chantereles sauce in sour cream, usually served with potatoes, Silke ar biezpienu herring served with cottage cheese. For desert Kiselis is thickened fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) or eclair.

One of the most famous figures of Latvian myth is Lacplesis the Bear-Slayer. The legend of Lacplesis tells how he could break a bear's jaw with his fist and even get bears to pull his plow. Although Lacplesis wanted to help others, he often did not know his own strength and would end up breaking peoples' tools. According to legend, Lacplesis was finally defeated by a vicious three-headed monster. The monster's mother told her son that Lacplesis would lose his great strength if his ears were cut off. The battling Lacplesis and the monster plunged into the Daugava River and were swept out to sea.

Latvia is full of many such legends, along with wonderful people who are just longing to show you their beautiful country, so come on, what are you waiting for.

Purchasing a Property

Foreigners can freely buy, develop and dispose of movable property (buildings) in Latvia, provided that the property was acquired separately from the land on which it stands. Direct acquisition of land by foreigners is subject to permission of the local municipality. However, foreigners may lease land for a period of up to 99 years without any restrictions.

After a property has been chosen, the buyer and seller sign a preliminary contract. Upon signing the buyer pays a 10% deposit, which can be held in an escrow account by the lawyer or notary. Once all is well with the property, the Notary Act or Contract of Purchase is drawn up by the buyer's solicitor and then signed by both parties in the presence of a notary in Latvia, or in the buyer's local Latvian embassy if he cannot be in the country on the day of contract completion.

All immovable property must be registered in the Land Book. Land and buildings are registered separately. If the real estate transaction is not registered in the Land Book, the purchaser may not effectively transfer the title or enforce other real property rights until the registration has taken place.

It takes an average of 18 to 33 days to complete the nine procedures needed to register a property in Latvia.

Fees & Taxes

Stamp Duty is levied at 2% on either the sale price, or the cadastral value of the property, whichever is higher, but capped at LVL30,000.

Notary Fee 0.10% (+ 22% VAT)payable by the buyer.

Registration fees include application fees and processing fees for registration of title and receipt of registration certificate. While a lawyer or notary is not required, some parties prefer to hire one. Notary fees are generally around LVL120 (225), plus + 22% VAT. Total notary and registration fees are minimal and are not expected to exceed 0.5% of property value.

Real Estate Agent's Fees are negotiable and generally range from 2%-5% of the purchase price payable by the seller.

Value Added Tax (VAT) of 22% is imposed on the sale of newly built real estate (or for properties sold within one year of construction or reconstruction), but is exempt on used real estate.

Visas

US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. A visa is not required, for stays of up to 90 days per half-calendar year.

Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visa is required, for a stay of up to 90 days per half-calendar year.

Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. Passport exemptions apply to holders of a Document of Identity issued to nationals of Australia. No visa is required, for a stay of up to 90 days per half-calendar year.

South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay, and require a valid Schengen visa to enter Latvia.

New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visa is required, for a stay of up to 90 days per half-calendar year.

Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visa is required.

British citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. Passport exemptions apply to holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authorities, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'. A visa is not required for passports endorsed British Citizen; nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authorities, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'.

No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days per half-calendar year, for holders of passports endorsed British National (Overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and British Subject (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom).

The border-less region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries.

Additionally, foreign passengers to Latvia must hold valid health insurance, that includes provision for repatriation costs. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

All other nationals must check with their Embassy/Consulate prior to travel.

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