Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Krimulda - hiking the historic Sigulda area

Just southwest of Gūtmaņala are a steep set of stairs leading up the wooded cliffs. What better reason is needed to climb dozens of flights of stairs than simply their existence? We probably could have looked at a map beforehand, but our spontaneous ascent led to a scenic day in the area between Turaida and Krimulda, and so it wasn’t the worst decision.

Trails crisscross the ridges and valley between Sigulda and Turaida, some of them newer and well-marked, others older and not as well-suited for hiking with children. Upon reaching the top of the stairs above Gūtmaņala we found ourselves on a trail with clearly marked directions (either to Turaida or Krimulda), but no clear indication of distances or degree of difficulty. Despite this we set off in the direction of Krimulda, and not long after found ourselves on the summit of Rata kalns, or Rack’s Hill. It is believed that during the Middle Ages this was a place of torture as well as home to a castle. We hurried on to the next hill, Taurētājkalns or Trumpeters’ Hill. With a good view of the Gauja valley it is thought that this was an old observation point where soldiers stood on guard, warning of the enemy’s approach by sounding a bugle.

Somewhere we must have deviated from the main path, as we were suddenly encountering fallen trees over the trail and entire sections of steps missing from stairs. However, we made it down to the valley and better marked trails, and decided to continue on in search of a meal.

At this junction we had the option to hike west to the Vikmeste castle mound, not far from Veļu klēpi (also on the shores of the Vikmeste river), named as such because of the historical importance as a burial grounds for the ancient Liv peoples. Instead we opted for the shorter route to Krimulda, up Serpentine Road. The historic route connecting Sigulda to Krimulda was built in 1862 in honor of the visit of Tsar Alexander II, and was restored in 2007. At the top lie the Krimulda Medieval ruins of the castle built in the 13th century for the Archbishopric of Rīga. In 1601 the castle was burned down upon the approach of Polish troops on the order of a Swedish colonel, and afterwards the location abandoned. A little further there are several old wooden structures with fascinating ornate facades, identified on a sign as the Swiss House, built in the first part of the 19th century. The chalet was modeled after the architecture of Swiss mountain houses, and served as a guest house.

We passed the station for the cable car & the greenhouses and entered the gates of the Krimulda manor-house, walking down a lane lined with old trees towards the 19th century castle. Built in 1872 in the style of late classicism, the estate was home to three generations of the Lieven family. The last of the Lievens left Latvia during WWI, whereupon the estate was transferred to the Red Cross to serve as a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Over the years the property has served as a children’s sanatorium and a rehabilitation center, and today is “Rehabilitation Centre Krimulda” in addition to a tourist destination and overnight accomodations.

We lunched at the grocery/café Milly in what used to be the cattle-yard building, refueling after what had been a steep climb. From our outdoor seating we had a good view of the 19th century Steward’s house and Bookkeeper’s office, built of stone and covered in a century’s worth of ivy.

Just as we finished our lunch it started to drizzle, and so instead of continuing on to explore the rest of the estate we retraced our steps, passing between the manor and the sunbathing ‘porch’ built in 1927.

Arriving at the cable car station we learned the next car was due in 10 minutes and elected to wait. Dating back to 1969, the car takes about 5 minutes to transport you 140 feet above the Gauja river to Sigulda, a distance of 3,500 feet. The aerial excursion was not meant to be; upon the car's arrival the operator informed us there was a 2-3 hour wait for a return trip, and so we continued down the Serpentine Road down into the Gauja Valley.

Instead of climbing the steep stairs and returning via the ridge, we followed one of the trails that led us back to Gūtmaņala along the Gauja river. Along the way we found Mazā ala, the little cave that is much smaller than its counterpart a little further on, but that had a powerful artesian aquifer flowing out of the ground. We all ducked inside, amazed at the drop in temperature and mesmerized by the eddying sand of the spring.

And then suddenly we rounded a corner to find ourselves back at Gūtmaņala, and at the foot of the stairs that had started our adventure. A stop at the Visitor Center was a must, and soon after we were in the car headed the short distance north to Turaida…

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