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DESTINATION LATVIA
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Those who dub Latvia the 'Switzerland of the Baltics' need a thorough talking-to. For a start, a tenth of the country is below sea level, sometimes up to 50m, and Latvia toes a most-un-Alpine line in being the small, flat and largely boggy meat in the sandwich between its Baltic neighbours - Estonia and Lithuania. Lat packs a lot in though: Riga, its vibrant coastal capital, is a chief visitor magnet. From Riga, it's an easy daytrip to the coastal resort of Jurmala, the Sigulda castles overlooking the scenic Gauja river valley and the Rastrelli palace at Rundale.

Although Latvians are as keen on reinvigoration and nation-building as any newly independent nation, about 30% of 'Latvians' are actually Russians; even in Riga ethnic Latvians are outnumbered by Russians. Although this identity crisis hasn't prevented the rapid transformation of one of history's doormats, it has given the situation a certain frisson. This is one of those 'check it out before it's chocka' places.


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