With continuing restrictions on travel, it might seem like a crazy time to enter the hotel business. But one Riga couple has just opened a unique guesthouse with a taste of history.

A resort on your doorstep

Over the last decade, “tiny homes” have sprung up around the world as a creative response to skyrocketing housing costs. And Riga now has a diminutive hotel to add to this cosy collection.

Viesturdārzs, a lush oasis on the northern fringes of the city centre, is Riga’s oldest public park. The garden’s many curiosities include a cottage on its southern flank, which has served the people in many ways since it was built in 1900.

Photo by Philip Birzulis

A century ago, it hosted a newspaper stand, a refreshment bar, a bathroom and a clock, handy for commuters using a nearby tram stop. In more recent times, a teahouse, a Vietnamese restaurant and a champagne bar have all plied their wares on the site.

Now, entrepreneurs Ivonna and Agris Pīrāgs have installed Riga’s smallest hotel there. It’s a venture that comes as much from the heart as the bottom line.

Photo by Philip Birzulis

“We’ve always loved travelling, and I’ve often thought, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to run a little guesthouse, and create all kinds of nice surprises for people!”” gushes Ivonna. “So be careful what you wish for!”

Sweet dreams

Earlier, the Pīrags had been in the event planning business, which is deep in the Covid doldrums. So, in February of this year, despite having no experience in the accommodation sector, they took a gamble and signed a five-year lease with Riga City Council for the cottage.

With just 44 square metres of space on two floors, only one group of guests can stay at a time, who have the entire house to themselves. Upstairs is a queen-sized bed and fold-out settees, sleeping a maximum of five people. Descend the winding staircase to access a bathroom and shower, and a lounge area with a mini kitchen.

 Photo courtesy of Ivonna Pīrāgs

Bars of chocolate hidden in drawers reward anyone curious enough to open them, and a “sock mini bar” with locally knitted foot claddings reflect the owners’ whimsical humour. Unsurprisingly, kids love the place. There’s no TV, encouraging patrons to watch the passing parade on adjacent Hanzas iela, spin discs from the couple’s eclectic LP collection (Soviet releases of Barbra Streisand and Boney M., anyone?), or peruse a Latvian guide to household management published in 1877.

Free candy would not seem to align with the chapter on “Fighting corpulence,” but then who goes on a diet on holiday? Ivonna treats your correspondent to old school “Cielaviņa” cupcakes, and I promptly spill crumbs all over the sofa. She takes it in her stride – the odd broken glass just shows people are having a good time. And when curious passers-by from the street want to come in for a look, she is glad to show them around if there aren’t guests in residence.

“The cottage must be allowed to live its own life, and the main thing is that people enjoy themselves,” she says.

Holidays at home

So far, the overwhelming majority of customers have been Riga residents, some living just a few minutes’ walk away. With more distant romantic destinations ruled out, the cottage has become a magnet for wedding anniversaries. For others, it’s a pleasant break from the ordinary in these trying times.

“People say they feel like tourists in the best sense of the word,” says Ivonna. “Some of them are from new housing estates in the suburbs, and this is a chance to see the city centre in a new light, and we hope when theatres and concerts reopen, it will become a place to spend the night after an evening on the town.”

The Pīrāgs have done it on a shoestring, with most of the furniture either second hand or donated from their own apartment. A family heirloom chess set is also at the guest’s disposal. And they admit that it was hard to turn a profit at low season rates, particularly with chilly weather driving up the power bills.

But they refuse to curb their enthusiasm.

“It is a challenge for us to jump with both feet into a completely new field, and is a bit scary, because nobody knows how things will be, with not everyone being able to travel,” says Ivonna. “But we love what we’re doing, and we simply adore this little house, so we just have to do it.”

To make a reservation, search for “2stāvu parka namiņš” on booking.com. 

 

 

 

Philip Birzulis, 25.05.2021