Beaches and Forests of Cape Kolka - Kolka, Latvia
During the period of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries much of the coastline was militarized and thus off limits from the mid-forties until 1991. One positive side effect of this terrible time is that there are a great deal of remote beaches to explore along the coast of Latvia. In this post I share about my experience running in Latvia and will share my trail running experiences in Estonia and Lithuania in my next posts.
My trip started by landing late in the evening on a rainy Friday night at the Riga airport. I picked a hotel in Jūrmala since there wasn’t much between it and where I wanted to start my run. I prefer to get some distance from the airport even if I will not make the entire drive that night. The hotel itself felt very much from the Soviet era since it had oversized features, grand stairways and lots of marble. I cannot quite describe my feelings for the building but I’d say it was as if something powerful had been abandoned. Jūrmala itself is a nice little resort area only 30 minutes from the airport with nice beaches, but I didn’t have time to experience them on this trip.
I headed out early Saturday morning for the two-hour drive north. I didn’t know what to expect but soon found out how remote the area would be. Most of the drive was a two-lane road through forest and I think in total I saw less than 10 cars on the entire stretch. Once I arrived at Cape Kolka, there was a small parking lot with maybe 20 cars.
I planned about 31 miles (50k) of running in the shape of a triangle. I found this route while searching for “Mountain Biking” in Latvia. It is hard to search for “50k runs” as there are not too many people publishing guides for 50k runs (maybe no one?). They call the route I found The Slītere Circle. The route is mainly on a road or trail that parallels the beach, but I figured I could run on the beach, and worst case, I’d just cut back over to the road or trail.
The first leg was all beach followed by a forest road / trail and then more beach on the final leg. While there were a decent number of people at the start taking pictures and walking the beach once I ran a mile (1.5k) there was no one to be found. The only exception was a few people camping (skinny dipping sometimes) and the runners of the Barefoot Baltic Ultramarathon that was going in the opposite direction that day. My main photo of this run is because I saw the photographer take a picture of me. I looked up local races after my run, came across the race website, found the photographer, chatted him on Facebook and he was nice enough to share the picture with me!
The beach was hard packed so made great footing for running. There were a few old fishing boats that also made nice photo opportunities. The forest comes up close to the shore so you really get the feeling you are cut off from civilization. Once I found the trail into the forest, it crossed a bog. I’m not entirely sure I followed the right trail at the beginning as there was nearly no sign of people taking it. The bog felt like walking on a giant sponge surrounded by dense forest and ferns. At the tail end of the forest trail were farms, but even such the entire way was mostly forested path or dirt / gravel road, great for running.
Once I exited the forest I turned left and headed back toward Cape Kolka. The beach was just as good to run on as the first leg but the water was much more calm. They call this part of the water the Gulf of Riga and the narrow inlet really cuts down on the wave action as compared to the other side. My feet got wet a few times on this leg since you have to cross streams that empty directly into the sea. At this point though the cold water felt nice on my feet.
I ended my run back at the point. I had originally thought it’d be cool to stay at the hotel right on the beach but decided I wanted to get back closer to the city so I could tour it in the morning. I’m glad I did since I got to see a few interesting things in the city. My three recommendations in Riga:
The Riga Central Market. Once the largest in Europe/World it’s interesting for its architecture and what you will see in it. Parts from World War I Zeppelin hangers were re-purposed for the roofs. Inside you will find an incredible variety of vendors; from trinkets to the large meat and fish displays.
Art Nouveau Architecture. Riga is famous for its architecture so is great for a walking tour for your post run recovery. I also think a great way to see the overall city is to go to the top of the St Peter’s Church. It is quite a nice view in all directions.
Water taxi. A nice way to relax your feet and get out on the main river and see the view from there.
And finally, visit the Freedom Monument as it’s an important reminder of the Latvian people reclaiming their independence. In addition, also visit the Museum of the Occupation. While I lived during this time, I didn’t understand the degree of oppression the population experienced.
I will end this post on a high note though. I thoroughly enjoyed Latvia and will look to return. I saw but a small bit along the coast but know there are other amazing national parks, castles and trail that would make another great ultrarunning destination.