“I wanted real adventures to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.” 

James Joyce

Urban Writing Retreat
Riga, Latvia
June 9-15, 2024


“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”

James Michener

Introduction | Top

The editors of Chestnut Review invite you to a special retreat in Riga, Latvia! Start the summer in a stunning fashion in the winding streets of the Old Town (Vecriga)! 

We believe there is a time and place for retreats off the beaten path, for solitude and reflection. But we also believe that there are times when you want to experience life and make memories and impressions that enrich your writing. This retreat is a hybrid experience with cultural immersion as well as time set aside for reflection and writing.

Riga is the capital of Latvia, an EU and NATO country, and our base for this retreat. Its medieval streets and beautiful architecture will rejuvenate your creative juices. The city has numerous cultural attractions, and as a land which has passed through many hands, also has a vibrant food culture which embraces a multitude of European influences as well as Asiatic ones: you can sample Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Georgian, and Uzbek food, among the usual varieties found in any major city! You can grab your notebook and spend an afternoon at an outside cafe people-watching, explore the treasures of the many museums, stroll through through historical churches and synagogues, or catch a performance at the National Opera House. The entire historical center is open to your writer’s eye!

This retreat is limited to 14 participants. We will subdivide into two working groups but there will be combined activities and for many events we will be all together. This small size will allow for intensive discussions and plenty of time for everyone’s voice (and writing!) to be heard.

All of our retreats are open to participants from any country; however, we cannot advise or assist with visas or any other legal requirements that may be necessary for you to attend. US citizens and permanent residents do not require visas to visit Latvia.

To get a sense of our retreat philosophy and read comments from past participants, see this page.

Retreat Leaders | Top

Julie Hartley (she/her)
Born in England and now living in Canada, Julie is a novelist, poet, creative writing teacher, editor, retreat leader, storyteller, and parrot owner. She is the author of several books: a middle grade novel called The Finding Place, a collection of poetry bizarrely entitled Deboning a Dragon, and a guide for teachers who want to instill in their students a lifelong love of Shakespeare. She facilitated Chestnut Review’s June, 2023 retreat in Wales. juliehartley.ca

James Rawlings

James Rawlings, Editor-in-Chief (he/him)
Founder of Chestnut Review, his poetry and essays have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, Penn Review, Into the Void, and many others. He earned his B.A in English with a Creative Writing Concentration in Poetry from University of Maryland, College Park. He is a veteran international traveler, having guided over 200 people on trips abroad since 2003, and directed Chestnut Review’s 2023 retreats in Mexico and Wales.

Hotel | Top

Our home in Riga will be the Wellton Riverside Spa Hotel, located on the Daugava River at the edge of the Old Town. You can easily access all the nearby sites on foot, or catch public transport or a taxi/Uber to anywhere else. The hotel provides a substantial daily breakfast buffet and a complete spa with its modern accommodations.

What’s Included? | Top

  • Pre-trip orientation: once the group is formed, we will arrange a Zoom meeting to explain the schedule and answer any questions you may have.
  • 6 nights of accommodation (Sunday-Friday, checkout Saturday) in private ensuite rooms in the Wellton Riverside Hotel. 
  • 6 daily breakfasts Monday-Saturday (provided at the hotel).
  • 3 dinners: opening (Monday) and closing (Friday) as well as a midweek dinner on Wednesday.
  • Excursions to the Latvian National Library (“Castle of Light”) and the Occupation Museum.
  • 5 sessions of craft discussion and workshop (15 hours total, Monday-Friday). Generally held in the mornings, this will be a combination of writing exercises, craft discussion, and workshopping your writing.
  • 1 private 30 minute consultation with one of the retreat leaders about your work.

Excluded: meals/snacks outside those listed above, flights to/from Riga, individual excursions, souvenirs.

Cost | Top

All prices are in US dollars. The first four registrants to any of our retreats receive a free 30-minute editorial Zoom call with Managing Editor Maria Picone or Editor-in-Chief James Rawlings as well as a literature bundle of CR publications (delivered at the retreat). 

$2399  early-bird rate, single room, per person 

$2599   regular rate, single room, per person 

$999     shared room w/two writers, per person

$699    shared room, non-writer friend/partner rate for second person

  • Initial deposit is $520. Deposits before February 28th, 2024 earn the early -bird rate for the balance payable.
  • Shared rooms are subject to availability of extra beds. 
  • Non-writer partners are included in all non-writing activities listed above (meals, excursion).
  • We don’t believe in big hefty bills, so once you pay your deposit the remainder of the cost will be spread over multiple months. (Participants who register later may have to adhere to a more compressed payment schedule.)
  • For cancellation policy, see below in the FAQ.

FAQ | Top

Do I need to know Latvian?

No 😊. While we strongly support learning languages, Riga is very accessible to those who don’t know Latvian. Everyone in the tourist industry you will meet is bilingual, all guides for our excursions will speak English, and many salespeople have functional English. Russian is your next best choice as a backup language, and with those two you will be able to communicate with anyone. But by all means you can get along quite well as a monolingual tourist in English.

What about Covid?

Covid is not over, despite what the media may say. We require all participants to be fully vaccinated and boosted, to bring masks, and to bring a test so that in the event you feel sick we do not have the additional trouble of finding and buying tests. Obviously our policies will also depend on any local guidelines. In all cases we will attempt to provide all aspects of the retreat experience to everyone, but must balance this with the health of the group. 

Can rooms be shared?

Yes! Simply email us to indicate the writer you will be sharing with. We do need each person to state that they will share with another, and we will confirm by email before booking two writers together.

I have dietary restrictions. Can I participate?

Most definitely. We will take into account any restrictions you have, but of course have no control over whether private restaurants can or cannot accommodate them. Extra expenses are your responsibility, but we will do everything we can to make your experience successful.

How do I get there?

Riga has a major airport (code RIX) that is the only realistic entry. It is less than 20 minutes from the airport to the hotel. There are no direct flights from the US; most will route through the Nordic countries, so you’ll do a long overnight flight to Europe and then a 1-2 hour hop into Riga.

What is the refund policy?

Per New York law, deposits are fully refundable for three days after deposit payment. After that point, no refunds can be issued. You may wish to purchase trip insurance. If something catastrophic occurs which makes it impossible to travel to Latvia, all writing activities will be delivered in the hours listed via online format. 

Can I plan my own activities?

Absolutely! You’ll receive the weekly schedule at orientation and can make arrangements of your own for unscheduled times. The Wellton Riverside staff are excellent at providing advice and can assist in setting up private excursions, which are usually quite reasonable, and even more so if you share a taxi with two or three other guests.

Can I stay at the hotel before/after the retreat?

Of course! Participants may stay longer if they wish, but these arrangements are your own responsibility. You can book online, but be aware June is high season and availability may be limited.

What if I have mobility issues?

The Wellton Riverside has multiple elevators and a ground floor level entrance. For excursions, please contact us as soon as possible with your details so we can plan for any alternative arrangements. Do note, however, those that incur costs must be covered by the participant (e.g. extra taxi time).

Can I bring a partner/family?

Absolutely! This is a family-friendly experience. We ask as a general rule that you do not bring children under 18, who may demand more attention than you can provide while participating in the retreat. Our writing sessions strive to create a quiet, contemplative space that wouldn’t work with the natural bustle of young children. If you have any doubts, just ask. 

What will the weather be like?

Summery! Expect a lot of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s-80’s. There are usually breezes (Riga is not far from the ocean) so many find it doesn’t feel as hot as the thermometer might indicate. Nights can cool off significantly, but you wouldn’t need more than a light jacket at their coldest. Rain can occur at any time, but in the city there are plenty of places to wait it out :). Because you’ll be in Northern Europe, the sun will rise at about 3:30 am and not set until after 9pm, giving you a lot of daylight to explore and enjoy the city.

Register | Top

You can pay your deposit here. Once that is complete, you will receive an email with instructions on initial forms to gather further info, as well as a schedule for orientation and preparation leading up to the retreat. Please note that we cannot reserve places without deposits.

If you have questions or concerns before you submit your deposit, please use the “Contact the Editor-in-Chief” form here.