Madona is a town in the center of eastern Latvia, in the eastern part of the Vidzeme region. It is home to 9,000 residents, and is a centre of culture, education, trade, sports, and medicine in the Madonas novads region.
The name “Madona”, often confused with “Madonna”, comes possibly from lake Madona or the medieval German name for 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 nor the Christian religious figure.
There are two main roads from the capital, Riga – one through Sigulda and Bērzakrogs, the other through Plavinas. The road through Plavinas is slower due to traffic and inhabited areas with speed limitations but the road conditions are slightly better.
Madona is well connected by bus service with Riga and smaller cities in eastern Latvia. Ticket price from Riga to Madona is about €8 and it takes usually 3 - 3.5 hours to get there. From Madona you can catch direct buses to Cesis, Daugavpils, Gulbene, Alūksne, Sigulda, Rēzekne, Aizkraukle, Jēkapils and numerous small villages within Madonas novads.
Going by train is a relatively cheap and quick option (€5, <3hrs). Unfortunately the 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.
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.
The is no airport with scheduled flights. 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.
The 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. Tickets (€0.70) 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.
Bicycle rental is available at Smecere's Sport Complex.
Getting around the center by walking is a good option in any season.
- Historic buildings on Poruka and Blaumana street.
- Town's fountain and the surrounding park. one of the greenest and most beautiful places in town, and right in the heart of it.
- Madona's Regional Museum (Novadpetniecibas muzejs). With a variety of events and ever-changing exhibitions.
- Saieta laukums. The central square of the town, with a small fountain and lots of flowers in the summer season.
In the winter
- Cross country skiing and biathlon at Smecere's Sport Complex, just outside the town
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Ice hockey
- Indoor sport activities - volleyball, basketball, floor-ball, climbing on artificial wall, gym etc at newly built Madona Sporta Centrs
In the summer
- 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
- Off-road driving
- Horse riding
- Bird watching
- Nature trails and hillwalking
Madona is a home to two high schools and a branch of public university RPIVA. Check the international exchange programs for possibility of studying. Basics of Latvian language are essential for studying and living there.
The 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.
- Four supermarkets are available in the town – one in the centre next to train station, three more 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 part of the town.
- Pizzeria "Neapole", Saieta laukums 2. Closed on Sundays. 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.
- 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.
- Smeceres krogs.
- Madona is very safe and calm by western European standards, and it is extremely unlikely for a visitor to get into any kind of trouble. Generally avoid confrontation with drunk people regardless of the place or their social status, as many people tend to become aggressive when drunk. Pickpocketing or car break-ins are uncommon. However don't leave your bicycle unlocked in the town. Locked bicycles are rarely stolen.
- Beware of extreme temperature surprises in the winter. Temperatures may drop as low as -35°C occasionally, but are often around -20°C in winter. Inappropriate shoes or clothing together with longer periods of time spent outdoors can easily result in frostbite.
- Driving conditions may sometimes get very bad in the winter. Even though the streets are regularly cleaned, they may be covered by ice after a snowfall or when temperatures climb rapidly over 0°C. Drive and walk with great care. Keep in mind that the braking distance of cars may increase by a factor of four.
GSM/3G coverage is virtually everywhere.
- Post office, Saules iela 21.
Two public Internet access points:
- E-madona, Raiņa iela 6. Mo-Fri 9:00-21:00, Sat 10:00-18:00, Su closed..
- Madona public library, Skolas iela 12. Mo-Fri 10:00-18:00, Sat 9:00-15:00, Su closed.
- Cesvaine – a small town just 16km north of Madona, easily reachable by road, with a very nice 19th century castle.
- Gaiziņkalns – 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), the Lido recreation complex, etc.
- Lubānas lake – 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 reserve – 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 wildlife and forest-covered steep hills, located between Mārciena, Lazdona and Ļaudona.