The Seaside Resort of Jurmala

A short drive from the capital Rīga one finds the seaside resort of Jūrmala. The city itself is actually a string of smaller resort towns that stretch some 20 miles along the Gulf of Rīga, which opens onto the greater Baltic Sea. The area offers beautiful white sand beaches that reach as far as the eye can see, backed by dunes and pine forests.

During Soviet times, Jūrmala was a favorite summer destination for high-ranking Communist Party officials, including Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Although one can still find Soviet-era "sanitoria" (hotel spas) – easily visible for their distinctively ugly, white concrete, monolithic architecture – Jūrmala, fortunately, seems to have avoided much of the other ugly construction that plagues formerly Soviet resorts like Yalta on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine. Today, with vacationing Russians largely precluded by restrictive Latvian visa regulations and western Europeans having many warmer and more luxurious resort options, Jūrmala is having a difficult time attracting new visitors.

Aside from the natural beauty of its endless beaches, Jūrmala also offers the visitor a glimpse of late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dotted throughout the area are wonderful old wooden homes and other buildings that display many decorative Art Nouveau details. Some of these buildings, unfortunately, are falling into neglect and disrepair, but others have been well-maintained, if not fully restored to former glories. The area also offers a pleasant pedestrian walk lined with restaurants and shops. During my May 2006 visit, the resort season had not yet started and so the area was rather subdued. But I can imagine it becomes a lively area in summer for residents of Rīga looking to escape the city heat and congestion.

If you are in the area, Jūrmala is certainly worth a visit. I cannot say, however, that I would consider it a destination resort worthy of a special flight.