airBaltic – the world’s first airline to issue non-fungible tokens (NFTs), releases its next edition (#10) in airBaltic City collection. Each of the limited collector NFTs is a digital art piece showcasing an individual Airbus A220-300 with its registration and one of the most beloved cities of Latvia to promote tourism and Latvia in the world. Previous cities features have been Kuldīga, Cēsis, Alūksne, Liepāja, Bauska, Sigulda, Jelgava, Ogre and Valmiera. All airBaltic NFTs have been issued on the OpenSea marketplace and are placed in Metaverse 3D gallery.
Edition 10 is showcasing an individual Airbus A220-300 and one of the greenest towns in Latvia – Gulbene, located in the northeastern part of Latvia.
The town’s name comes from the Latvian word gulbis (‘swan’). According to legend, this area was once a paradise on earth for swans, and a very large number of the birds lived within the present-day town limits of Gulbene. For that reason, the swan as the symbol of the town is now visible in its parks, sculptures, and on the town’s coat of arms. But Gulbene is also known as a town of parks, with green areas covering more than 200 hectares.
Located in northeastern Latvia, Gulbene municipality is rich with palaces, manors, parks, and picturesque Latvian landscapes filled with charm and aristocratic history. The town has two historical centres and a modern centre. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the resplendent Vecgulbene Manor marked the centre of town. In 1903, however, a second centre began to emerge around the newly built narrow-gauge railway. The modern centre has gradually developed between these two areas.
Nearby Stāmeriena Palace is one of the most remarkable eclecticism-style buildings in Latvia. It was burned down during the 1905 revolution and restored in 1908, undergoing a major reconstruction and thus also acquiring Neoclassicist and Art Nouveau features. The palace gained a pleasing, poetic form that brilliantly demonstrates the neo-Romantic, even decadent style of its time. Notably, well-known Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who was married to Baroness Alexandra von Wolff, lived at Stāmeriena Palace in the 1930s. Today the palace hosts a multimedia exposition on the Wolff family and a large-scale photo exhibition of the palace’s history, as well as excursions and events, and is a popular site with locals.
Where to hear legends
The Vecgulbene Manor complex is a true gem of the Gulbene municipality. Built in the 19th century, the property belonged to the Baron von Wolff family and was one of the most luxurious manors in the Vidzeme region. The complex is located at the top of a hill with picturesque views, and it consists of two castles: the Neorenaissance-style White Castle and the Neogothic-style Red Castle. The love story of Johann Gottlieb Heinrich von Wolff and his wife, Baroness Marissa, is one of Gulbene’s most beautiful legends. Wolff built the Red Castle at Vecgulbene Manor and dug a pond in the form of the letter M for his wife’s birthday. The Wolff family managed their properties well and became prosperous by running a distillery, a pub, a mill, a cheese factory, and a large farm. Their capability and ambition in terms of architectural perfectionism is admirable and is even reflected in the construction of the cheese house.
What to do
One way to discover more history – and take a fun ride as well – is the 33-kilometre-long Gulbene–Alūksne narrow-gauge railway. It dates to the 19th century and is the last functioning narrow-gauge railway in the Baltics. Nowadays, the railway is not only a quaint means of transport between the two towns; it has also become a much-loved tourist attraction in its own right, offering a memorable ride through the beautiful northern Latvian countryside. The railway owners have carefully preserved the rails, infrastructure, and train and offer daily trips with a diesel locomotive and with a 1950s steam locomotive by appointment on Saturdays. In addition, visitors can book guided on-board tours, refreshments, and shows.
Where to find best views
The Gulbene area is surrounded by nature. The flood plains of the Pededze and Sita rivers comprise significant areas of periodically flooded meadows and mixed forests of oaks, elms, and European ash trees. The nature preserve is home to several protected species and three globally threatened bird species: the sea eagle, corncrake, and great snipe. The ‘Sopuļi’ farm offers hikes through the floodplain meadows, where visitors can see more than 60 wild horses and 80 Highland cattle. No matter the season, this is a haven for photography enthusiasts, animal lovers, and those searching for tranquillity.
Where to find adrenaline
Gulbene also has plenty to offer those seeking an adrenaline rush. For example, view Gulbene and Stāmeriena as well as the neighbouring towns of Balvi, Madona, and Alūksne from the sky. Gulbenes Moto offers tandem paragliding flights to see the area from a bird’s perspective.
If you prefer a more grounded experience, kayaks or a SUP board might be what you’re looking for. Spring is the most exciting time to enjoy the swirling rivers. The Pededze River is a relatively fast-flowing river, while the Gauja River (the longest river within Latvia’s borders) is known for its wide circles, twists, and turns. If you decide to give it a try this year, don’t worry about a lack of equipment, as there are several rental companies in the Gulbene area that offer a variety of boats as well as delivery to your selected location.
Photo by Paddle North on Unsplash
Where to experience nature
The ‘Sita Nature Park’ farm specialises in deer, Hereford cattle, and bees. Located in the Sita and Pededze floodplain nature reserve, the red and fallow deer living on the farm merge peacefully with the majestic beauty of nature here. When visiting, walk both the gentle and rough paths through the Latvian landscape and enjoy the views from the specially built observation towers.
If you’d rather stay closer to town, take a relaxing stroll by the Pededze River in the village of Litene. Stroll along the riverbank and take pictures at the romantic Temple of Dreams. This is the perfect place to enjoy a slow picnic with the sound of birds chirping and water babbling in the background.
Where to recharge
Sauna and bathhouse traditions are an inherent part of Latvian culture. When visiting Gulbene, choose between several providers and pamper yourself with an unforgettable experience. You’ll find that the purpose of bathhouses reaches beyond just washing your body; it’s actually a ritual, a form of stress relief, and a sensory experience full of natural aromas and ancestral traditions.
To experience Latvian nature and bathhouse traditions to the fullest, participate in picking various herbs and grasses and then using them to prepare sauna whisks, which are a very essential part of the bathing experience. Pirtslietu Darbnīca (Bathhouse Equipment Workshop) sits in a scenic location in the Latvian countryside, making it the perfect place to immerse yourself in these calming activities.
Where to enjoy culture
For Latvian culture, visit ‘Silmači’. The open-air stage at this farmstead was built for one particular play staged by the Latvian National Theatre during the summer solstice celebration in 1986. That play, Skroderdienas Silmačos (Tailor Days at Silmači) by Latvian author Rūdolfs Blaumanis, was first staged back in 1902 and went on to become an essential part of Latvian summer solstice celebrations. The museum at ‘Silmači’ holds the original manuscript of the play as well as theatre props, inviting you to try your hand at portraying the famous characters. The joyous play is a Latvian cultural phenomenon, and, having survived for more than a century, it’s almost part of the national identity.
Where to go with children
Gulbīšu Parks, or the Park of Little Swans, features the town’s symbol and is perfect for a nice stroll with children. A few bronze swans have ‘landed’ in the park and settled there for life. For a playful way to discover Gulbene’s history and landmarks, try the Atklāj Gulbeni no jauna orienteering game. It takes you to various spots around town, and you’ll be completing challenges throughout the journey. The game is free of charge, and all you need is a device with internet and location services as well as the Actionbound app.
Where to dine
Located close to the train station in Gulbene, Kantes Krogs is a local favourite for rich Latvian home cuisine. The dishes from the wide-ranging menu are sure to fill your stomach with goodness.
Unusually for a small town in Vidzeme, Gulbene takes pride in its locally brewed coffee. The Tīrs Miers roastery, whose name aptly translates to ‘pure peace’, was founded in 2017 and currently roasts beans from all the main coffee-growing regions, offering coffee lovers a variety of flavours.
Another local product enjoyed by Latvians all over the country is Tālava cider. Made from locally grown apples, the cider is matured for several months at low temperatures to give it its characteristic flavour. To learn about the modern production methods of cider and try Tālava’s different flavours, book an excursion and learn from the professionals.
Where to stay
For a unique stay while appreciating history, the Vecgulbene Manor hotel is the perfect choice. Located in the historic Vecgulbene Manor complex, the hotel is situated within the walls of the former horse manège, which was once the largest indoor equestrian facility in the Baltics and back in the 1920s and 30s served as a hub for horse riding and festivities. The hotel has 14 rooms, a separate family cottage, a conference room, a spa area, and a restaurant.
If you wish to stay closer to nature, opt for Dīķsalas. Surrounded by forest, the complex features ponds, beach volleyball courts, football pitches, playgrounds, saunas, bathtubs, and cottages of various size for rent. It has four bungalows built on tiny islands, three of which are accompanied by private saunas. It’s a very family-friendly location with friendly prices as well.