A mansion turned into a luxury hotel — The Gallery Park features outstanding service, an amazing restaurant, and period decor in a UNESCO status building.
The Baltic countries are often overlooked by travelers. Tucked away in a distant part of Europe, overshadowed by more famous neighbors, and for a long time behind the iron curtain, they tend to get forgotten. How many people could point out Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia on a map? I bet not many of you reading this can tell me much about them!
Like everywhere in Europe, they have a lot of great history and some beautiful cities. We were in the region and wanted to get a taste of what these countries had to offer, so we headed to Riga – the capital of Latvia.
We had done a little bit of research beforehand, but we didn’t really know what to expect from the city when we arrived. We soon found ourselves impressed by its charm and relaxed atmosphere. Riga is an exciting place, with a busy and vibrant nightlife, many great restaurants and a pretty old town packed full of historic buildings. Walking its medieval streets makes you feel like you have stumbled into a fairy tale, and luckily for us our hotel was no different.
There are actually two distinct styles of historic architecture in Riga – the archaic old town which dates back hundreds of years and the Art Nouveau district which, while newer, is no less ornate and impressive. We were getting the best of both worlds by staying in between them. The Gallery Park Hotel is one of the older mansions (being built in the 19th century), and sits in the area where the two districts meet. Its building is UNESCO world heritage listed, and from the moment you set eyes on it, it is easy to see why.
Built by a rich shipping magnate, the building was originally a grand family home for years. The Soviets – recognizing a good thing when they saw it – used it as a military headquarters until Latvia got its independence in the early 1990s. Today its former grandeur remains intact, and its interior resembles a stately home or a museum.
The decoration can only be described as regal, with antique furniture and embossed leather wallpaper being used throughout. The design pays homage to a time long past, and everywhere you look ornate, intricate details compete for your attention. Much of these features are required by UNESCO as they demand that the traditional character of the house is preserved. This means that where the original work is not available, it has been lovingly restored to appear as it would have a hundred years ago. Despite all this, there are some nods to the present day, and a collection of modern art and sculptures are displayed in the lobby which is a nice touch.
It is safe to say that - having been awarded the title of Latvia’s best luxury hotel by the World Travel Awards - every room is special, but there are a range of suites available depending on how much you want to spend. We stayed in a Gallery Suite room which was a good size and had large windows with a view of the boulevard outside. It was snowing when we arrived, so looking out to the snow-capped trees and white roads was a beautiful experience. With its period furniture, the whole space felt palatial and grand, while at the same time being warm and comfortable. It had all the modern amenities you would expect, including a large TV, air conditioning, and even a heated floor in the bathroom!
The amenities continued outside the room, and if the decoration made us feel a bit like royalty, then the services on offer enhanced this even further. Throughout your stay a personal butler is available to attend to your needs. You also have access to a private assistant who will help you book tickets to local events or take you on a tour of the best shops in Riga. They will even act as your personal secretary if you are staying for business. The hotel offers a chauffeur service in one of its Mercedes S-Class saloons, or if you have your own car you can have it cleaned by their staff. Just to prove that they have thought of everything, they will walk your dog while you stay, so you can go out and explore.
Perhaps the hotel’s best asset however, is the spa. Here you will find everything you need to recharge your batteries and get yourself feeling healthy. They offer a range of massages and beauty treatments and have a jet-stream equipped swimming pool. There is also a gym complete with Technogym equipment, a sauna, and a jacuzzi which was perfect for soaking the winter chill out of our bones.
Dining at Renomme, inside the Gallery Park was a special experience. The style and design is an extension of the hotel itself, so you can expect a bit of antique furniture mixed with period appropriate design. Think red leather seating, Persian carpets and white tablecloths to give it the refined element. With its range of local Latvian dishes, it has consistently been listed as one of Europe’s top restaurants and it is not hard to see why.
The food is very typical to the region and the processes used are stemmed from long known traditions. You can expect dishes to be locally sourced with a bit of a creative twist. We were served dishes like pork in aspic (similar in looks to a French terrine), Baltic herring which was a colorful tower of egg, beets, carrots, herring and potatoes, and a perfectly steamed trout, carved table-side. The food was exquisite, the service great, and the dining room itself was as grand as the rest of the hotel.
Just outside the hotel sits wide boulevards, and large city parks. These can be followed up to the elegant Art Nouveau district in just a few minutes and it is definitely worth having a look. This is where the city’s rich built their mansions, and they competed with each other to create the most decorative facades. The result is the largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Today many of these buildings have been turned into embassies, government offices, and museums.
Walking the other way, towards the river, within fifteen minutes you reach the old town. This is even more impressive and where you should spend most of your time when you visit. Cathedrals, squares, and palaces sit alongside each other, while the shops and cafes will keep you entertained as you wander the cobbled streets.
If you love history, then Riga is somewhere you should put on your list of destinations. If you really want to understand that history, you can’t really do better than staying in a piece of it and living as its richest inhabitants did in days gone by. Even if the past is not your passion, everyone loves being treated like royalty, and the facilities, staff, and decoration combine to make this a truly special place to stay.
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