In 1764, a Prussian duke by the name of Peter August built a hunting lodge on the grounds of a 17th century manor house outside the town of Valmiera, Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire. Duke Peter August, who was Field Marshall of the Russian Imperial Army, was given the land by Emperor Peter the Great. The Duke stocked the estate with deer and brewed beer for his esteemed guests, including the Kings of Poland and Sweden, the Queen of Prussia, and Empress Catherine the Great.
Since Valmiera Manor was well situated on the road that ran from St. Petersburg to Paris via Riga, word soon got out about the Duke’s beer and hospitality. Eventually, a road-side inn was established so the common traveler could enjoy some refreshments and rest his horses. Thus Valmiermuiza Alus, or Valmiera Manor Beer, was born!
While all that remains of the Duke’s hunting lodge are the gates and one crumbling tower, his beer-making tradition lives on at the Valmiermuiza Brewery. Open since 2009, Valmiermuiza combines the Duke’s ancient recipe with modern brewing equipment to produce some of the best beer in Latvia.
Tours of the brewery last about an hour and a half and end with a tasting of four or five beers. (Our tour – €24 for two people – was in Latvian so please forgive me if I got any of the historical details wrong.) My favorite was the filtered dark beer paired with salty caramel biscuits. You can learn about the different varieties here. Because of the fresh, unpasteurized nature of Valmiermuiza beer, it is not widely exported so you’ll have to come to Latvia to enjoy it!
Long before a Prussian duke dabbled in beer production, the knights of the Livonian Order were crusading across the Baltic lands. In the 13th century, they built a castle in Valmiera (then known by its German name Wolmar) on the strategic Gauja River upstream from Cesis. Valmiera Castle did not fare as well as its neighbor during the Great Northern War, however, and was all but demolished.
Gradually, a town sprung up from the rubble and was incorporated into the Hanseatic League. Tiny Valmiera prospered until the region was upended by a succession of wars. It’s a miracle any of the buildings are still standing! The town’s oldest wooden building is a pharmacy that was opened in 1755 and remained in operation until 1965! Today it houses the Valmiera Museum of History and Art.
Just outside the Old Town gates sits St. Simon’s Church which dates to the 13th century. A service was going on at the time of my visit so I couldn’t wander around inside, but it looks lovely from the peek I stole from the alcove! An observation deck in the tower (closed during services) offers sweeping views of Valmiera and the Gauja River. I contented myself with a walk along its snowy banks.
For dinner, head to Rates Varti, one of the most highly rated restaurants in the region. It’s so popular, in fact, that we managed to reserve the last open table of the night! While the plates could do with fewer garnishes, the food and service was very good, especially for the price. I particularly enjoyed the creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with potato crisps, while my date devoured the honey-fried rye bread dessert.
Wolmar Hotel makes a great base for the night as it’s located about halfway between Old Valmiera and Valmiermuiza Brewery. Given Latvia’s strict drunk driving laws, we played it safe and taxied to and from Valmiermuiza (two euros each way), though could easily walk into Old Town. The hotel looked as though it had been recently renovated and our room boasted one of the best showers I’ve experienced in quite sometime. This part of the world isn’t known for its water pressure, that’s for sure!
Is Valmiera, Latvia a place you’d like to visit?