As our guide, Ilma Lomanovska, leads us confidently though the narrow lanes, she gives us a brief history of the city.

“The written history of Riga dates back to the end of the 12th century when historians began to record monks and knight invasions,” she says. “Latvia was one of the last pagan countries.”

Also the subject of intense battle between Russia and Germany, Latvia is now experiencing a period of growth and reinvention — evident on all the street corners of Riga.

The Russian occupation of this small Baltic country can be seen in the bleak grey Stalin-esque buildings that sit next to the older baroque architecture of the city.

Lomanovska explains there are strong feelings of patriotism among Latvians, and they’re proud to have retained their language despite attempts over the years to make residents speak German or Russian.

Most of the city is built on top of an old river bed, so the pavements slope as we head towards the large Dome Cathedral, which boasts one of the world’s largest organs that when played can be heard several blocks away.

The church that dominates the skyline of Riga though, is St Peter’s. It offers superb views of the city once you reach the top of its 70m-high viewing tower.

From there, Lomanovska shepherds us towards the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. Built on a square next to the Town Hall, the museum is an ugly horizontal steel building that isn’t exactly inviting to tourists.

After traversing the city on foot, I’m keen to put my feet up and so head towards the nearest cafe for a reprieve. Luckily there are several cosy options nearby, all serving the speciality pear cider.

Latvians sure love their meat, and vegetarians may find it difficult to find something to eat with the meat-laden menus.

After a long day mixing the new with the old in Riga, I relax with large servings of pork and potato-filled dishes, washed down with a few ciders.

» Erin Miller travelled to Latvia on a nine-day Baltic Explorer tour with Topdeck (0845-257 2515). Tours start from £649.

Cool Runnings

Bobsled in Sigulda

About a 45-minute drive from Riga is the sleepy countryside town of Sigulda where adrenaline junkies can get a fix on a bobsled run. The 1.2km long track is Olympic-standard and used by both the Latvian and Russian Winter Olympic teams as a training site.

For the first run downhill, I position myself at the back of the four-man sled, which resembles a disused rocket launcher from the set of Play School. The sled gains speed as it hurtles round icy corners, but at the back you can’t see where the hell you’re going and I feel slightly nauseous by the end of the trip.

For the second ride, I position myself at the front, and feel the wind whistling past as I hurtle down the icy slope. It’s not as scary sitting at the front, but my stomach certainly prefers it.

The half-day trip to Sigulda from Riga will cost about 38 lats and includes transport and three runs on the bobsled.