Adventure Tour to Latgale: Day First

It is Saturday, September 25. It really is a wonderful Indian summer day as promised by meteorologists and the weather is fabulous. I wake up at 5:00 AM so that I could be in Viļāni (213 km from Riga) at 10:00 AM. Viļāni is the place from where usually start the adventure tours with 4×4 off road jeeps to Latgale, organized by Edvīns – the managing director of Baltic Adventure Tours.

At 6:30 AM I sit in Edvin’s Toyota Hilux – a 4×4 jeep for off road adventures – and we are passing the scenic Vidzeme elevation and rushing to meet all other participants of Latgale adventure tour. In Viļāni we meet Uldis with his friends and their Toyota Land Cruiser 120 series and Olga and Nikolajs, who have just returned from adventure tour in Iceland with their Toyota Land Cruiser 120 series Short Wheel Base. They promise to show pictures and travel notes in the evening.

After a meal in a pub “Lāču leja” in Viļāni, Nikolajs reduces the pressure in the tyres of his off road jeep to 1,5 atm in order to make a better road adhesion and achieve a greater comfort during off road driving.

We start our adventure tour at 11:00 AM as we go to south-east, in the direction of Malta. And soon a beautiful landscape of Latgale with its russet-yellow autumn leaves and its wide, elongated and hilly relief reveals to our sight. Cultivated fields interchange with fallow lands, every here and there we can see farmers picking potatoes and in general we have an impression that economic activity in Latgale is high.

A surprise awaits us in Paramonovka -a small village in Latgale. There we found a simple wooden church with very interesting “bell” – it was a piece of rail, left from the time of German occupation, hanged in the chains. But it chimed even better than some regular church bells. But the deeper in Latgale you go, the bigger and notable churches there are, because Roman Catholicism predominates in this region.

We approach slowly to the first stage of off road of our adventure tour. During the adventure tours, Edvīns uses detailed maps of the region and GPS navigation devices to orientate in the region, although most of all the little roads he knows by heart.

Part of the road near Marnova used to be very interesting and attractive for off road adventures but now it is reconstructed, so we can only grumble at the “evil” road workers that have repaired a good off road. But after a few moments we cross the ditch and drive through an overgrown meadow and finally find what we’ve been expecting for – our first obstacle of this off road adventure. After entering the forest that is decorated with the orange autumn leaves, we have to put the saw in action, because several trees have been knocked down on the road by the recent storm.

After the accomplishment of this off road stage, an unforgettable and glittering view on Lake Salmejs reveals to our sight. We take some pictures and after a short reflection on “how nice it would be to live here”, we reconcile with the thought that it is way too far from Riga and continue our off road adventure and we cross the ford that has been “improved” by tractor. Slowly, passing by autumn landscapes of Latgale lakes, we reach the top of the hill and a wonderful view on the neighbourhood greets us there.

We can se from the hill the most beautiful places in Rāzna National Park – hills Mākoņkalns and Lielais Liepukalns. Our adventure tour will soon take us there, but now it’s time for a picnic, so we organize a table right on the cargo box of Toyota Hilux to have some meal before we can continue our off road driving. As we notice a fire fighting tower, we have the temptation to climb it up, but it is closed for the visitors.

Usually Edvīns leads the adventure tours both on well known roads and off roads and at the same time he also makes experiments is searching for some new roads (to be precise – off roads) that are marked on the USSR army maps, because clients demand more and more off road adventures. In the language of off road driving it means – more puddles, more water and more mud.

However we must admit that off roads in Latgale are quite dry this weekend and there are very few muddy places. And we proceed with our quest for adrenaline and continue our adventure tour in beautiful and hilly pinewood, where we drive on very steep clearances. Olga, frightened by the steepness, tries to get out from the wheel tracks and needlessly turns the steering wheel to the left, but her Toyota just continue to slide down along the well-beaten wheel tracks. But it turned out well at the end and we could sigh with relief and stop worrying whether this off road jeep is going to roll over or not.

There is one quite big gravel-pit on the way to Mākoņkalns hill. It’s a place where the drivers of 4×4 off road jeeps can compete and compare their skills by driving up a little slope. The gravel on the slope turned out to be dry and loose, that’s why neither Edvīns with Toyota Hilux, nor Uldis with his Toyota Land Cruiser 120 series Long Wheel Base together with 3 passengers inside, managed to drive up.

Our off road adventure tour is approaching Mākoņkalns hill. It is almost 5:00 PM and as the sun sets, it highlights even more the scenic hills of Latgale and golden autumn leaves. We are making jokes that in Latgale every lake has its own hill, and every hill – its own lake. But actually it is not a joke – there really are so many lakes in Latgale.

Near Mākoņlakns hill Edvīns decide to search for a new off road and after a while we knock against a little ditch with very steep banks. According to off road driving tips, we start with exploring the neighbourhood and estimating the best trajectory for the crossing. At first we dig off the banks a little and Edvīns is submerging slowly the nose of his Toyota Hilux in the ditch. Soon we realize that there isn’t going to be any problems for the front part to drive through. But as quickly as that, we also understand that the draw hook is going to get stuck. Yet Edvīns manages to drive out of the ditch without skidding and we can continue our off road adventure on other roads.

Rāzna National Park

Rāzna National Park

Rāzna National Park was founded with the aim to preserve the special rustic charm of Latgale Region, its amazing landscapes with woods, hills and lakes as well as to protect the diversity of species and the habitat diversity of Lake Rāzna and the surrounding territories. There are many lakes on the territory of park. With a surface area of 57.56 square kilometres Lake Rāzna is the largest lake in the park and the second largest lake in Latvia. Because of its sandy beaches it is often called the Sea of Latgale. Among all lakes on the territory of Rāzna National Park, Lake Rāzna is the richest in fish. There are 27 different fish species in the lake and it is approximately 90 % off all fish species living in Latvia’s lakes. Seven of these species are specially protected species whose use is limited.
Lake Ežezers is unique in Latvia and also in all Europe, because in this scenic lake there are around 30 isles. The third highest hill of Latvia – hill Lielais Liepukalns (289 metres above sea level) – is located in the territory of the Park. And it stands out with its impressive relative height in the scale of Baltic States – 89 metres!
But from Mākoņkalns hill (248 m a.s.l.) there’s an unforgettable view over Lake Rāzna and its surroundings. On the top of the hill Mākoņkalns there are ruins and fragments of wall from Volkenberga Stone Castle, which was built by the Livonian Order in the 13th century and was almost inaccessible. In the territory of National Park there are representatives of all orders of terrestrial mammals and 12 specially protected species of mammals. There is also a great variety of birds in the Park with many rare and protected species.

At the culmination point of this adventure tour there is Mākoņkalns hill that is 247m high and reveals to our sight an unforgettable and fantastic view over Lake Rāzna – the second biggest lake (according to the territory) in Latvia. On the shores of the lake there are guest houses and other populated areas.

Our adventure tour will continue around the Lake Rāzna so that by nightfall we would manage to get to the place of the overnight stay – this time it is going to be guest house “Rāznas pērle”, that is located on the shore of the lake.

We are driving through very charming villages – Lipuški and Zosna. We are heading north and once again we are facing with the “evil work” of road workers, who have reconstructed a country road that used to be an interesting challenge for off road driving just 3 years ago. Near house named “Bulāni” we turn and drive away from lake to accomplish an interesting off road stage that goes through an overgrown meadow. Here we have to put our Fiskars machetes in use – all the off road jeeps that participate in this adventure tour are relatively new and we take care of them and try not to scratch them too much.

There are only 25 minutes left till the sunset and we are on top of a little hill on the east side of the lake and enjoy the beautiful view from there. We take some pictures and then with our stomachs already rumbling, we rush to the guest house, where the dinner with nice and warm home made food awaits us. The conversation at the dinner table fluently passes over to Olga and Nikolajs who are reporting about their off road adventures in Iceland in august. We are drinking cumin flavoured liquor from Iceland, eating smoked eels offered by our host Staņislavs and the guest house is slowly filling up with the songs in the accompaniment of a guitar, played by Edvīns.

Staņislavs tells us where the best off roads are in the neighbourhood and we decide to try them the next day.

Read next:
Adventure Tours to Latgale: Day 2

View larger map

Length of the tour in 1st day: 12 hours
Tour distance in 1st day: 330 km
Tour route in 1st day: Rīga – Jēkabpils – Viļāni – Feimaņi – Puša – Zosna – Čornaja – guest house “Rāznas pērle”
Difficulty level: Easy-Medium
Group size: up to 21 person (min. 3 persons)
4×4 off road jeeps in group: up to 7
Self driving: Yes
2 day tour pricing per person: 240 EUR (includes all taxes, breakfast, dinner and 2 picnic meals)

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