Sabile is a town a drive a bit less than two hours from Riga. Officially granted the status of a city only in the 20th century, Sabile nestles in one of the most beautiful spots in the Abava River Valley and looks like a fairy-tale land.
Colorful houses scatter both sides of the river, their aged wooden shutters and red-tiled roofs making them look all the more charming. Latvia's beloved storyteller Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945) once wrote:
"Sabile was pressed in between [the river's] two shores; what a marvelous little town! A sparkling spring flowed downward along a stone-lined ditch by the footpath. Who would not want to live on such a warm riverside slope?"
Sabile and the wine tradition
Sabile is a town with narrow and hilly streets - an unusual sight in Latvia, whose landscape is mostly flat. It's worth walking up one of these streets to the top of the 34-meter-high Wine Hill (Vīna kalns), which is the municipality's most famous sight.
Grape vines were first planted on the hill in the 14th century and continue to grow there to this very day, making the town the capital of Latvia's wine making industry. Even the town's coat of arms depicts a cluster of grapes. Every year during the last weekend of July, the town hosts a wine festival, during which the produce of the hill's vineyard is up for tasting.
In 1890, on the right side of river Abava, a synagogue was built for the Jewish community of the town. It served its purpose until World War II. In 1941, during the Fascist German the Jewish community of Sabile was destroyed.
From 1950, during the Soviet occupation, the building became a local school and a sport facility. In the middle of 1980's the synagogue became the property of the "Sabile Fruit and Vegetable Combine" and the building transferred into a storehouse.
In 2001 started the reconstruction of the building (architect Modris Liepa). Nowadays it serves as the center of modern art and cultural heritage.