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Liepaja, Latvia

Latvias third largest city is located in the far southwest corner of Latvia on the Baltic coast only 100km from Klaipeda in Lithuania. Straddling a narrow strip of land between the sea and a lake, it began as a humble fishing village, eventually becoming a major trading port under the leadership of Jacob Kettler (1610 - 1681), Duke of Courland. The burgeoning city suffered heavily during the Great Northern War when the population was decimated by an outbreak of the plague in 1710. The city only regained its importance as a port and mercantile centre in the 19th century as a part of the Russian empire. Its significance was further buoyed by the creation of the Naval Port from 1890 1904 when it was home to the first Baltic fleet of Russian submarines.

The citys prosperity was at its zenith in the early 20th century when many of its beautiful parks and Art Nouveau buildings were constructed. Sadly, WWII brought Soviet and Nazi troops, bombings and devastation to the citys historic centre. After the war, the Soviets seized the naval base and Liepâja became completely isolated. Even Latvians from other parts of the country werent allowed to visit it and yet another Iron Curtain descended behind the one that already divided the captive nations of the East from the rest of Europe. Despite their unfortunate situation, the citizens of Liepâja managed to cultivate their traditions and were among the first to begin the independence movement in the 1980s.

Today, Liepâja is known as a progressive city with beautiful architecture, an internationally recognised Blue Flag beach and a raging nightlife that just wont quit. Considered the cradle of Latvian music and art, galleries have mushroomed all over town and even the smallest corner pub seems to employ a local musician to entertain its patrons. Visitors will be stunned to discover that locals wouldnt dare provide standard accommodation for their guests. Boutique hotels have become the standard, not the exception, in a city where nearly every guesthouse, hotel and hostel provides completely renovated rooms with interesting interior design. Whether it's white sandy beaches and the sea youre after, culture and centuries-old architecture, or extreme sports and even extremer nightlife, Latvias hippest city has it all.