Madona is a small residential town in the center of eastern Latvia (in eastern part of Vidzeme region), home for approximately 9000 residents, is centre of culture, education, trade, sports, medicine in the Madonas novads region.
The name “Madona” , often confused with “Madonna” comes possibly from lake Madona or the way medieval Germans called the palace of Birži - Madohn. Birži was the official name of the inhabited area before. The name of the town has absolutely nothing to do with the famous singer.
There are no airports with regular air traffic in vicinity.
Nearest international airport is located in Riga, 165km away, and serves almost 100 destinations.
Another airport is in Daugavpils, city in south-east Latvia, which does not offer regular air traffic but may do so in nearby future (from 2012), most probably by opening some destinations to Russia or CIS states.
The nearest airfield is in Prauliena (7km on the road from town centre), which is a small non-supervised 400x20m strip but in very good conditions, sufficient for small general aviation and ultra light airplanes.
There are two main roads going to Madona from capital Riga - one through Sigulda and Bērzakrogs, other through Pļaviņas.
Road through Pļaviņas is slower due to traffic and inhabited areas with speed limitations but the road conditions are slightly better.
It is pretty popular to hitch-hike in Latvia and if you can get to Madona as well. If you come via Pļaviņas, make sure you get off on the bypass road at roundabout before crossing the railway bridge in direction of Jēkabpils. From there the branch road P37 to Madona starts.
Madona is well connected by bus service with Riga and other smaller cities in eastern Latvia. Ticket price from Riga to Madona is about 5LVL and it takes usually 3 - 3,5 hours to get there.
From Madona you may also catch direct buses to Cēsis, Daugavpils, Gulbene, Alūksne, Sigulda, Rēzekne, Aizkraukle, Jēkapils and numerous small villages within Madonas novads.
For bus timetables and prices please check www.1188.lv
Going by train is a relatively cheap and quick option (3 LVL, <3hrs)
Unfortunately train runs only once per day (evenings departs from Riga and early mornings returns) and are often crowded with students on Fridays. No advance booking of seats is available.
As of summer 2011, there is also a morning train from Riga on Saturdays, leaving at 08:29.
Town is small and getting around by car is an easy task, without traffic jams and takes minutes. Beware that due to ongoing pipeline replacement works the surface quality on some of the streets may be really bad. Free public parking places are available in many places in the centre.
By public bus
There are 3 public bus lines in the town.
Ticket (0,50LVL) can be purchased on board.
In late spring/summer/early autumn probably the best way to get around is bicycle. Do not leave your bike unlocked on the street as bicycle thefts are not uncommon.
Getting around the center by walking is good option in any season.
Cross country skiing and biathlon at Smecere's Sport Complex, just outside the town
Houses at Smecere Sport Complex
Skiing and snowboarding
Indoor sport activities - volleyball, basketball, floor-ball, climbing on artificial wall, gym etc at nely built Madona Sporta Centrs
Beach volleyball - on the beach of Madona lake, two equipped fields are available, often competitions take place there
Rollerskating - on asphalted tracks over small hills and through forests, starts at Smecere's Sport Complex
BMX track - at Smecere's Sport Complex, one of the most challenging BMX tracks in Latvia
Nature trails and hillwalking
Madona is a home for 2 high schools and a branch of public university RPIVA. Check the international exchange programs for possibility of studying. Basics of Latvian language are essential to study and live.
Current economic situation and high unemployment rates in general do not offer many possibilities to find a job, however finding a seasonal job in tourism may still be possible. For EU/EEA citizens no permits and no lengthy paperwork is required.
4 supermarkets are available in the town – 1 in the centre next to train station, other 3 on northern side of the town; open every day from 8:00 until 22:00 (including Sundays and public holidays). Smaller shops all around the town but opening times may vary.
Credit and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
Petrol stations are open 24/7, most of them located around the roundabout in northern par of the town.
pizzeria "Neapole", Saieta laukums 2 - a real and the only true Italian pizza in Madona, restaurant run by an Italian, so you can refresh your Italian language skills. Take away and eat on spot pizzas of different sorts available. Closed on Sundays.
restaurant and bar "Effeja", Saules iela 30
cafeteria "Kore", Saieta laukums 10
cafeteria "Parka kefejnīca", Gaujas iela 33
self-service restaurant "Rudzons", Saules iela 15 - offers authentic Latvian food
Madona is very safe and calm with respect to the western European standards, is extremely unlikely to get into any kind of trouble. Generally avoid confrontation with drunk people regardless of the place or their social status, many people tend to become aggressive when being drunk. Pickpocketing or car break-ins are uncommon. However don't leave the bicycle unlocked in the town. Locked bicycles are rarely stolen.
Beware of extreme temperature surprises in winter. Temperatures may drop as low as -35 C occasionally, but are often around -20 in winter. Inappropriate shoes or clothing together with longer outdoor stay can easily end up with frostbites.
Driving conditions in winter sometimes may get very bad. Even though the streets are regularly cleaned, they may be covered by ice after a snowfall or when temperatures rapidly get over 0C. Drive and walk with great care. Keep in mind that car's braking distance may increase by factor of 4.
Cesvaine – small town just 16km north of Madona, easily reachable by road, with very nice 19th century castle.
Gaiziņkalns – is the highest point of Latvia (311m), but is more famous for winter and summer recreation possibilities offered by numerous ski slopes, lake Kaķītis (rafting, fishing), Lido recreation complex etc.
Lubānas lake - is the largest lake in Latvia by area, but also one of the shallowest ones with average depth just 3m. A great place for windsurfing and under-ice fishing in winter.
Teiču swamp nature reservoir - take some of the wood-board walking paths to observe wild animals and birds. It is necessary to contact the reservoir's guide for entry permission.
Krustkalnu nature reserve - rich in wild life and forest covered steep hills, located between Mārciena, Lazdona and Ļaudona.
Observation tower at Krustkalni nature reserve
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!