A long snake-like strip of land between Rīga and the Lithuanian border, southern Latvia has been dubbed the ‘bread basket’ of Latvia for its plethora of arable lands and mythical forests. The region is known locally as Zemgale, named after the defiant Baltic Semigallian (or Zemgallian) tribe who inhabited the region before the German conquest at the end of the 1200s. The Semigallians were a valiant bunch, warding off the impending crusaders longer than any other tribe. Before retreating to Lithuania, they burned down all of their strongholds rather than surrendering them to the invaders.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the region (along with Kurzeme) formed part of the semi-independent Duchy of Courland, whose rulers set up shop with two mind-boggling palaces in the town of Jelgava (also called Mitau) and in Rundāle, just outside of Bauska. Today, the summer palace at Rundāle is Zemgale’s star attraction, and a must-see for art and architecture buffs.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern Latvia.