Cesis is a small but picturesque town, 90km northeast of Riga and 40km from Sigulda. The town of around 20.000 inhabitants is the capital of the Cesu District. About one quarter of the district is taken by the Gauja National Park, with Cesis completely surrounded by it, making the town an important gateway to the park. The town can be reached infrequently by train or more frequent by bus from Riga and Sigulda (around 2€ for Riga or half for Sigulda).
As many towns in Latvia, including Riga, a castle was built by German crusaders called the Livonian order to Christianize the pagan locals. It was named Wenden in German after a local tribe called the Vends. The hill fort was located near major Baltic trade routes, so soon a city developed around it. One of the first buildings to be constructed was the nowadays still present Romanesque St. John's church near the castle, in order to help spreading Christianity. In the 13th century the Germans were in full control of Livonia, an area roughly consisting of present-day Latvia and Estonia. The Germans expanded the castle many times, but the Livonian war of the 16th century left it in ruins. As a result of the war Livonia ceased to exist and its territory was divided between the rivaling sides. Cesis came first under control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but several other lengthy conflicts between the Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia followed and the town was nearly destroyed.
Russian rule proved a blessing for the rebuilding of the town and several new buildings were constructed, including a new castle next to the ruins of the old one. Count Sievers, who owned the castle grounds, also built the castle gardens and a brewery, making the well-known Cesu brand of beer. The city was largely left untouched during the first Latvian republic and later Nazi and Soviet occupation, so nowadays the restored town center has retained its medieval character.
The small city can easily be covered on foot as all sights are within walking distance of the town's major attraction, the beautiful ruins of the old Livonian Order castle. The Count's new castle with its beautiful gardens and pond now houses the Cesis Art and History Museum. Nearby Riga Street and the beautiful Rose Square still contain many medieval buildings. The 13th century St. John's church is just around the corner in Skolas Iela. East of the castle is the May Park with another pond and a few interesting sculptures. Two of Cesis' numerous hotels, Hotel Kolonna and Hotel Province (firstname.lastname@example.org) are just next to the park. Both offer excellent accommodation for around 50€ a double room. For people on the cheap, there are two campsites 2km west of the city near the Gauja river. For a full listing see the official Cesis tourism website. Remember that there are two main seasons, in which rooms can be fully booked, namely summer from June till September, and winter in December-January.