Industrial heritage travel has become more popular in the past years, and there are quite a few objects to see in Latvia that will be interesting for you, if you want to see old manufacturing sites, lighthouses or windmills! Recently, we went on a trip to explore these places in our home country of Latvia! Read more about other industrial heritage sites here.
The best way to move around: you should rent a car for having a flexible schedule. This is a two day route if you move around very fast, and three days, if you take your time. We recommend Europcar for rentals in Latvia.
Some of the hotels where you can stay:
Ligatne Paper Factory and Workers Apartment
We leave the capital city, Riga, early in the morning, it is a spring day, one of the first few sunny ones, early April and there is still no grass to be seen anywhere, and where there is shadow, you can still see some frost. Our first stop in Ligatne paper factory and nature trail. We have the pleasure of walking here with a guide who grew up in this area, and when we come across a couple more people who still live here, they share stories of how it was to be here one big family. The worker’s village was established 200 years ago and it was one of the most modern workers villages in Europe at the time. Now what remains is 22 wooden houses and with the help of EU funding, some have been renovated. We notice a few metallic signs on some houses, the size of a notebook. Turns out, these are insurance policies from those times! If the house would burn down, these would still survive the fire and be proof of insurance.
We see the renovated workers apartment at the entrance – it is amazing how small the living spaces were back then! A whole family with children and grandparents might have lived in such a tiny place! The apartment has been restored well, and has all the accessories from that time. You can also watch a film about the life back then.
Apart from the apartment and the factory site, there is a beautiful nature trail with sandstone cliffs. You will notice than some of the caves are still being used! Turns out, some of the locals have basements in the caves, that’s why they are locked, but you can peek in inside some! The modern meets the old, and industrial heritage meets nature. This place is really not too far from Riga and you could make a day trip from visiting this area, by adding Ligatne Nature Trails park where you cat see boar, moose and if you get lucky – even lynx!
We barely make it on time for the Gulbene-Aluksne railway after spending so much time in Ligatne! It is our lucky day, as the locomotive is the one with steam, and it is the season opening of the railway. Railway enthusiasts will really enjoy visiting this place, and 2-3 times a month the steam locomotive is at work (other days is the regular diesel one). You can check www.banitis.lv for exact dates. Some of the rides also include tasting of wine, cheese, honey and bread, so there will be something for everyone!
The railway is what remains from the historic one built in 1903 from Plavinas to Valka. It used be 210 km long, but now just 33 km remain and it is the only railway in the Baltics of that time that still has regular service. We visited a similar place in Texas, Rusk last year, so it was interesting to learn how railway history is being preserved in Latvia!
When we are back at Gulbene railway station, we really enjoy our time at the rail museum. We print our dream destination tickets (I go for Bora Bora and Antarctica), play with various displays showing the physics of moving heavy weights and also learn about railway safety, such as why one should not cross the tracks while listening to music or how long does it take for a train to stop when the driver sees an obstacle. Train model enthusiasts will also like the small display of the trains here.
Afterwards we head out to the train next to the station. Some go and take a ride on velocipede (it is like a bike but goes on the train tracks!), but we explore the Soviet train that used to be used for party officials. Seeing the inside of the train reminded me of that one family trip to Ukraine we took by train, of course, it was not as fancy, but to me as a child it seemed like an endless journey in the train.
Vijciems Cone Drying Facility
Drying cones? Is that a thing?! Turns out, it is, and massively so! The Vijciems Cone Drying facility was built in 1895 after a major fire in Northern Vidzeme when seeds for replanting the forest were needed. Right after Soviet times, during the time of regaining independence, it was nearly destroyed – someone had given the order to scrap the facility for metal, but thanks to loyalty and dedication of some of the staff, the facility was preserved and is still operational today.
Our guide tells us and shows us how the equipment works – we see how cones are being lifted up to the warming chamber, where then they can be moved in a circular fashion (a bit similar to washing machine principle!) and the seeds fall down where they can be collected. Dried cones then are used for heating the place up for more cones to dry. There is a large demand for pine tree seeds and plants, as the pines from Latvia can grow well in Northern Europe as well, and at the moment demand significantly exceeds supply!
As it is getting later, we head to the next place, Vijciems hunting castle – Bergervilla. It used to be a popular place for famous politicians to go hunting, now it is a boutique hotel in the middle of the forest. You can enjoy real peace and quiet as nowhere else, or come for special music nights or even join a local hunter who knows all the best animal watching places! The hotel is quite small, so all of us can’t stay the night here, so we head to Valmiera, hotel Wolmar that has a nice little parrot Charlie that says hello and goodbye!
The first stop of the morning on the next day is the Koni watermill that is also a hotel. You can learn here about how flour was made and how sheep wool is being transformed into proper wool as we know it for knitting. The oldest equipment used here is from the 19th century! The owner and her sister show us around, and also work the machines for us to see how it used! You can buy some wool blankets here as well, straight from the source!
Rujiena Ice-Cream Factory and Degustation
Our next stop is especially tasty! We are at Rujiena Dairy, built in 1912! Due to hygienic reasons the modern facility is off limits for visitors, but we get escorted to the tasting hall. It costs just 3 euros per person (in groups larger than 5 people) and you can try soooo many types of ice cream! I am certain each of us ate more than 3 euros worth of treats!
We also sampled the new Mini Melts ice cream that is produced here. I shared it on my Instagram and immediately heard back from my colleague in Kuwait who said he will go and try it, as it is available there as well!
Limbazu Tine Wool Production Site
We visit one more place related to the manufacturing process of wool. Here, similarly as in the mill before, there is a lot of equipment (and some of it almost as old as the Koni one), used for cleaning, tying and spinning the wool. The wool is also colored here and the final production of blankets, fabrics and many more items takes here! We are surprised to learn that this is a popular object for Japanese tourists who are very interested in the knitting culture of Latvia! Also, this is the site where majority of fabrics for Latvian Song and Dance festival traditional dress are produced!
Birini Castle and Water Tower
Our final stop is the Birini castle. First, we have to eat! It is really, really tasty! Second, we take a walk in the beautiful, renovated castle – it is a popular place for weddings and romantic getaways! Then, we head out to see the recently renovated water tower. It has an exhibit showing how the tower used to work and water would be pumped from the well. Now one can climb through what used to be the water tank and go to the top of the tower for some panoramic views. Beautiful!
Two days exploring our own country have been good! We are pleasantly surprised by the tasty (and cheap!) ice cream tour, learn a lot about pine cones and seeds, as well as realize what a treasure is Gulbene-Aluksne railway and steam locomotives used there! It is also good to see how locals have preserved the industrial heritage and now with all the renovations the places are accessible to tourists as well!
We thank Vidzeme planning region and project “Industrial heritage” within “Interreg” Estonia-Latvia programme “Revival of Industrial heritage for tourism development”.