© Edgars Pohevics

The Sea

With a great part of the country’s border making up the coast with the Baltic Sea, Latvians have a close relationship with this seemingly endless body of water.

The coast continues to be significant culturally, socially, and economically. It is dotted with fisherman towns that are still alive and kicking, with periodic fresh smoked fish stalls where you can buy UNESCO heritage-protected produce. The cities of Liepāja and Ventspils continue to be major shipping ports, with the Ventspils Freeport designated as a “special economic zone,” which offers various incentives for eased business processes.

© Edgars Grundšteins

The Forest

More than half of Latvia’s territory is covered in forest. Made up of pine forests and mixed forests, not only is hiking through the forests a popular pastime, it is also an essential part of the Latvian economy, with wood and wood byproducts making up the largest part of Latvian export products.

The forest provides the setting for one of Latvians’ favorite activities – foraging. Scouring the forest floor for mushrooms or berries is a national pastime, the results of which are often on sale in local markets.

Fun fact: in shipbuilding days, Latvian pine trees were one of the top two preferred sources for building masts, as Latvian pine was known for its length and straightness. The other source was Canada’s Newfoundland.

Meadows

Latvia’s expansive, untouched nature extends to meadows and grasslands – a crucial biotope to maintain the biodiversity of many protected herbaceous plants, insects, and animals, while also serving as breeding grounds for protected bird species, such as the corncrake, the lesser spotted eagle, and snipe.

Several meadows are renowned for hosting a variety of endangered plants. Visitors will find nearly all of the Latvian seaside biotopes in the Randa meadows, along with 40 protected plants. Other meadows include the Vekši meadows, the Balone field in Sigulda, and Kandavas Kuršu Pilskalns, which is a historical site that used to be the location of a castle, and now is a natural oasis.

They say the first inhabitants in modern day Latvia arrived 11,000 years ago. Millennia have passed but Latvians still retain an utmost respect for nature. If anything, the bond between Latvians and their land has only increased.

© Filips Baumanis

Not only is untouched nature easily accessible regardless of where you are (you can reach both the beach or the forest within a 20 minute drive from the center of Riga), but it is also a big part of how Latvians spend their time. A walk along the sea or a stroll through the forests is usually considered highly regenerative. Weekend hikes during all seasons are common, and walking the sea shore in the summer is a common pastime. Because the sun is scarce during the winter, Latvians will make use of every opportunity to enjoy the sun when it’s out.

Latvians highly value that which has come from nature, with great love for fresh produce, natural fibers, natural remedies, and more – very often driving innovation with their love of nature in mind.

Did you know, that…

The unofficial Latvian passtime is mushroom foraging

Every Latvian knows “a spot” – an untouched corner deep within a forest rich with wild blueberry bushes or chanterelle spawns. It’s not uncommon to come across a lone Latvian in the woods with a basket and a knife.

Taste the Richness of Latvia

In the heart of Latvia, apples hold a cherished place in culinary heritage, symbolizing cultural richness.

Latvians have passed down generations of traditional recipes, from mouthwatering apple pies to hearty apple-filled dumplings, showcasing the fruit’s versatility.

Latvian nature – untouched, understated, unparalleled

  • Latvians have traditionally been an agricultural society, learning early on that in order to achieve sustainability in their symbiosis with nature, it is best to leave it alone or farm it as non-intrusively as possible. This has let Latvia become one of the few countries left in the world where natural ecosystems, largely untouched by man, still thrive in half of its territory.

  • At present, 8.5% of Latvian natural territories are protected by law. There are four state reserves, three national parks, 22 nature parks, 211 nature reserves, six protected landscape areas, and one biosphere reserve. Families of storks, lynx, and other rare species happily give their seal of approval to the virgin and unpolluted nature, fresh and pristine air, and clean water around them.

  • Latvia has the benefit of experiencing all four seasons, but summer is magical. With 18 hours of sunlight at the peak of the season, summertime is prime time for enjoying the great outdoors – be it for leisure or for work. Latvia’s long summer days are particularly appreciated by filming co-ordinators, who have more time to get their outdoor shots.

54%

of territory covered by forest

496 km

white sandy beach coastline

2,000

lakes

12,000

rivers

8.5%

of Latvian natural territories are protected by law

658

natural territories with special national protection status

Latvians have long-since looked to nature to find peace, relaxation, rejuvenation, and energy. Most Latvians will feel the greatest connection with the sea or the forest. Both are crucial to the Latvian psyche.

Traditions with roots in nature

Since nature was the defining factor of life for decades, it’s only logical that many of the culture’s traditions have deep roots in nature. Celebrations that are still observed today are closely tied to the importance nature has had in Latvians’ lives.

© Rihards, Adobe Stock

Cultural symbols

Latvian symbols that stretch back to the times of the pagans are deeply rooted in natural phenomena. The sun, for example, was the most important element to the ancient Latvians. It dictated their lives, their wellbeing, their happiness.

Other symbols also represent natural phenomena – water, earth, and thunder, to name a few. Another symbol is that of the horse, who is thought to pull the sun across the sky. These symbols were found present in archeological findings, and can still be seen etched into pottery, woven into textile, and carved into wood.

© Rihards, Adobe Stock

Jāņi – summer solstice

By far the most popular holiday in Latvia for young and old, rural and urban, religious and non- religious. Everyone heads to the countryside to celebrate the longest day and the shortest night. Latvians light fires, sing songs, dance, eat cheese and drink beer all night long waiting for the sunrise.

“Jāņi” was thought to be the time when the forces of nature were at their most powerful, and the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds the closest. Similarly it was believed that this was the best day for collecting herbs as they were believed to hold magical qualities specifically at midsummer.

Today it is an occasion to be in the countryside, to spend time with friends, to just have fun while taking advantage of an almost full day of day-light, a day off work, and of course a chance to enjoy some of the ancient traditions which brought about this fantastic celebration.

Innovations inspired by nature

  • Because of Latvians’ reverence for forest, forest management is at a high level. The Latvian co-state-owned company “Latvijas Valsts Meži” are among the world’s leaders in forest management technology, exporting their app “LVM Ģeo” to Germany, Sweden, Canada, and more.

  • Borne out of necessity of the Covid pandemic, the Algae Tree acts as a natural air purifier and humidifier, and is 50x more efficient than house plants at absorbing and eliminating harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Startup Aerones has developed a robotic system to perform maintenance and repair for wind turbines, thus reducing wear and tear and increasing efficiency. The startup has raised over $39M to date and is used in Europe, North America, South America, and Australia.

  • An AR-powered art installation has been launched in the seaside town of Carnikava, where visitors can use their smart devices to see visualizations of the fish that laid the foundation for the local fishing traditions and economy.

Health

The average Latvian will look to both modern medicine as well as natural remedies and approaches to address any ailments they’re experiencing. Passed down over the generations, many of these approaches go back centuries, if not millenia.

 

Go-to natural remedies

  • Herbal teas – every family has several kinds of dried herbs that serve as the number one panacea when the usual symptoms of a cold are looming upon you.
  • Honey – either added to the tea or eaten off a spoon, honey is arguably the tastiest way to strengthen your body in times of need.
  • Cranberries – loaded with vitamin C, cranberries help a sore throat and weakened immunity and can be found in Latvian swamps till October.
  • Black radish – black radish combined with honey is a miracle worker against coughs, bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Garlic – considered to be the last line of defence by some due to its, ahem, specific aroma, garlic is irreplaceable for improving metabolism, resisting viruses and clearing the respiratory tract.

Plenty of ways to feel good

  • A profilactic stress reliever and immunity booster – Latvians do not shy from the sauna as a regenerative experience for the body and soul. It is commonly followed by a dip in cold water to reap the benefits of contrast therey – even in the dead of winter.

  • Latvians have long-sinced turned to mineral-infused mud and clay to enjoy topical treatments for health and beauty.

  • Latvians know that the key to good health is not only in taking care of the body, but the mind as well. A prescription to relax by the sea is still common, and many healthcare clinics are still stationed by the sea to reap the benefits of the fresh, ionized air.

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