Dome Hotel Riga review: eccentricity and exclusivity
This offbeat boutique hotel in the Latvian capital offers a cosy, welcoming atmosphere with a fascinating historical twist
The winter winds in Riga can take on a ferocity unmatched by other European capitals. Once the sun sets on this staggeringly blustery February night, the temperatures slip well below zero and a shimmering coat of ice slithers across every available surface, sending the elderly amber vendors in the town square dashing for cover across the now-treacherous cobblestones. In winter, once dinner ends, Riga beds down and appears to collectively fall asleep, leaving the brutal chaos of the Latvian night to frenzied British stag-do revellers slowly realising that perhaps Gary was right when he suggested July.
For such an agreeable little city, one with which I am fairly familiar, it’s never failed to amaze me how effectively a bit of inclement weather can make it all seem rather apocalyptic. And when the meteorological end of the world hangs over a holiday like the sword of Damocles, few things bring sweet relief as all-encompassingly as a night holed up in a first-rate hotel.
The Dome Hotel, nestled deep in the towering, shadowy alleys of the city’s Unesco-listed Old Town, is just that and more. Turning onto Miesnieku Street one could easily be forgiven for missing the Dome entirely - from the outside represented by little more than an unmarked wooden door which, upon approach, creaks open automatically like the entrance to a private members club.
Here, it becomes clear that the Dome Hotel has taken its current form by way of a dizzying feat of engineering, one that has seen a range of historical architectural styles slammed together with little in the way of compromise for any of them.
I enquired as to the origins of the rather imposing yet pristine jet-black wooden staircase that dominates the ground floor space. From behind his state-of-the-art glass desk, the manager proudly stated: “Ah yes, that’s an original from the 18th century.”
Seeing my incredulity, he went on: “Well, that’s not all - much of the stone foundations of the hotel are from the 15th century. Some of it is from the 13th century.”
The majority of the communal areas in the Dome Hotel have whittled out a similar stylistic vision. Shimmering chrome coffee pod machines rest atop antique wooden cabinets while contemporary local ceiling art hangs commandingly over 500-year-old rugged red brick floors, in spaces punctuated by ultra-modern flourishes of white glass and grey slate.
The only member of the Relais & Chateaux group in Latvia, the Dome Hotel is the result of an evidently painstaking renovation project that took place between 2002 and 2009. During this lengthy rebirth, this rather splended disused building was gutted and reassembled by a veritable army of local Latvian architects and designers, making use of the region’s healthy arsenal of natural building materials.
We ascended to the maze-like upper floors of the hotel, whose atmosphere stood in contrast to the hectic kaleidoscope of history characteristic of the ground floor and basement. Up here, in the lofty heights of this thin sliver of a building, things start feeling considerably more cosy as the last remaning remnants of street noise fade out of earshot.
Our room on the third floor is a spacious Dome suite, one of the four room types available alongside the Dome room, deluxe room and deluxe suite, totally 15 rooms in all.
Every room at the Dome is kitted out with luxury amenities including a Nespresso machine, Bluetooth speaker and a smart TV, and the Egyptian-cotton-fitted beds are so comfortable as to almost be gratuitous - I will admit I happily slept in until 11am on both mornings of my stay. Above us, gorgeous original wooden beams traverse the low, tavern-like sloped ceiling, interrupted only by slim window cavities that allow guests to peer up at the domineering spire of Riga Cathedral just one block away.
The age and location of the building in the depths of the historic Old Town means the mammoth overhaul that birthed the Dome hotel was fraught with red tape and limitations as to how much the layout could be altered. As a result every room is different, and ours came with a surreal but fascinating treat; the bathroom. Not so much en-suite as in-suite, our tiny glass-walled bathroom was perched in the middle of our suite, protruding from the wall and complete with two entrances, one on either side. Although somewhat confusing when it comes to locking doors (make sure you’re staying with someone who won’t be scarred for life if they walk in on you), this intriguing blueprint made it feel like we had our own miniature house of mirrors, not least due to the presence of another enormous mirror taking up the entirety of one of the walls.
In the morning, we stopped by the Dome Hotel’s in-house eaterie, the Fish Restaurant, a notably austere deviation from the charmingly incongruous aesthetics of the rest of the building, with washed out grayscale imagery evoking the historical seafaring pedigree of the Baltic peoples.
The excellent breakfast on offer comprised a first rate buffet - complete with local cheeses and meats - and an a la carte menu featuring beloved classics such as eggs benedict and a full English breakfast.
At night, resident chef Kristaps Silis, an alumnus of Copenhagen’s prestigious NOMA restaurant, serves up an imaginative mix of locally-sourced fish, all of which is hand-delivered from the nearby fishing port of Pāvilosta once a week. As a result, no two menus at the Fish Restaurant are the same, so be sure to enquire as to the catch of the day, most commonly served with delicate Jerusalem artichoke foam, salsify and punchy truffle. But the star here is the monkfish - a sumptuously buttery, fleshy offering served with broccoli puree, romanesco, lemon gel, salicornia and veloute sauce.
Meanwhile those less aquatically inclined can rest easy in the knowledge that despite its maritime name, the gastronomic fun at Fish Restaurant doesn’t stop at seafood; Silis can also whip up a mean venison saddle or beef short rib, the former of which is served with a complex, tangy mixture lingonberry and mushroom while the latter is complemented by a rich apple puree that wouldn’t be out of place at a gut-busting summer cookout.
On our last morning, with a few hours to kill before our flight home, we found ourselves having exhausted most of the major tourist sights of the capital, and had long since ruled out the possibility of another dive into the ruthless brand of inibriation offered by the local Riga Black Balsam liquor - a thunderously foul sludge of bitter wormwood and black pepper topped off with a battery-acid-like flourish of mysterious “assorted botanicals”.
But during a tour of the building a few hours before our departure we were shown into locked room on the top floor, containing perhaps the most startling surprise of this endlessly unconventional hotel - an extravagantly luxurious private sauna complex adorned with sumptuous oak panelling, art nouveau furniture and tastefully smooth easy listening music wafting from a speaker. We immediately booked it for the entire afternoon, during which we alternated between excessive perspiration in the sauna - the first I have ever come across with a window to the outside world - and bordering on a heart attack upon using the spa’s ice-bucket-based cooldown system.
Riga is a magical town with plenty to offer, no doubt, but staring out across the snow-capped rooftops from the comforting warmth of a private spa is perhaps the finest memory this city has left me with. The Dome is on to a real winner with this unique, indulgent addition to the hotel.
Riga is by nature a city best seen in the summer, when strolls along the imperious Daugava River can bookend endless sunny days spent touring parks and dining outdoors in the fabulous Old Town. But the Dome Hotel flips all that on its head - it’s a welcoming and endearingly eccentric little hideaway that warrants a visit simply so you have an excuse to stay indoors. It’s cosy without being twee; aesthetically offbeat without being pretentious. The Dome Hotel is a sophisticated, cultured little world unto itself, and a reasons to stop by the Latvian capital even in the dead of winter.