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European Destinations of Excellence
The initiative “European Destinations of Excellence”, internationally known under the acronym EDEN, gains an increasing prominence.
The EDEN initiative is based on the idea of little-known but interesting, high-quality tourist destinations, which lead away from traditional footpaths, look for fresh ideas and, above all, implement a sustainable development. Namely, it provides a harmonious growth of tourist destinations. Such destinations respect the environment and historical and cultural heritage, the traditions of the people, and tourists are not a burden for the local population at all; instead, it is a benefit that promotes job creation and improves infrastructure.
The EDEN initiative was launched in 2006 by the European Commission. The initiative includes a competition of Europe's most outstanding tourist destinations. The competition is held every two years, and each time it has a different theme.
The National Competition Evaluation Commission determines the winner of its national competition and four of its closest followers. Latvia participates the EDEN initiative since 2007.
EDEN competition winners in Latvia
Meet Latvia's destinations of excellence and make your way! A lot of vivid impressions and miraculous encounters are waiting for you!
2019 Competition Theme: Health and Wellness Tourism
The competition winners were chosen from tourism destinations that promote the development of health and wellness tourism and that skilfully use the products and services offered by the destination to highlight physical and mental well-being.
The "Veclaicene Protected Landscape Area" has been recognised as the "Best New Rural Tourism Destination".
Veclaicene Protected Landscape Area
In the hilliest part of Alūksne Highland lies the Veclaicene Protected Landscape Area, with its tranquil lakes, lush meadows, green hillocks, and ancient woods. The territory's natural reserves provide peace for people and shelter for hundreds of rare and protected species of birds, invertebrates, and insects.
Several hiking and cycling trails of varying lengths have been created in Veclaicene; as for accommodation, there are many campsites, nature cabins, and guest houses to choose from.
Several agricultural farms also offer organic food and traditional Latvian countryside sauna experiences (booking is necessary).
Latvian beekeeping traditions can be explored at the Mišu Honey Museum, where historical beekeeping equipment is being collected and restored.
The biggest city of this region is the romantic and green Alūksne. Don’t miss out on a visit to the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum "Alūksne Bānītis Station", where an interactive exhibit will take you on a virtual train journey.
2017: Cultural Tourism
The competition focused on the tangible cultural heritage and its connection with the events of the modern cultural life. The contention for the title of winner was particularly fierce, as the number of participants was higher than ever before (more than 20 tourist destinations). However, the interest in the competition was not surprising because Latvia boasts a miraculously rich cultural heritage and its offer of cultural tourism is able to satisfy the most diverse demands of cultural tourists.
The winner in the Cultural Tourism category is Cēsis.
Cēsis: where ancient times meet the future
The cobbled streets have preserved their layout from the Middle Ages. Nature, history, culture, the contemporary and the stylish complement each other thus creating an inimitable charm.
Cēsis is a town in the territory of Gauja National Park. The most powerful fortress in the whole Livonia in the Middle Ages presents only ruins today. We can take a look into the fortress basement, enjoy the ancient herb garden in the courtyard, try out various knight skills and even... taste a real medieval meal. Cultural and historical heritage is revealed in a comprehensive and interesting way.
One of the important cornerstones of Cēsis cultural life is the Vidzeme Concert Hall. Cēsis Art Festival has become a bright symbol of the city, which every summer courageously gathers together different types and genres of art.
2015: Tourism and local gastronomy
The aim of the competition was to popularize the local gastronomy, the importance of which is increasingly increasing in tourism. The evaluation commission was interested in issues such as whether local products and dishes can be tasted at the tourist destination, whether tourists can get themselves acquainted with the process of cooking of local dishes and beverages, whether festivals dedicated to local gastronomy are held, etc.
The winner in the Tourism and Local Gastronomy category is the foundation of Latgale Culinary Heritage.
Eastern Latvian delicacies
People say that nobody leaves a real Latgalian home with an empty stomach. The food is delicious and hearty, and you will not find such dishes in any other place in Latvia. Gulbišniķi, kļockas, griušli and many other Latgalian dishes are abundantly brought to the table both for Latgalian people in everyday life and for the guests.
Castle complex of counts Plateri in Kraslava houses the Latgale Cultural Heritage Centre of the East Latvia Region. The foundation unites several dozen of Latgale catering establishments, guest houses, recreation bases and home producers, which continue the hospitable traditions of Latgale cuisine and introduce tourists to them.
Will we go to the popular Aglona Bread Museum or, for example, taste shmakovka? Not only one but several museums are dedicated to the Latgalian traditional homemade vodka.
2013: Accessible Tourism
The phrase “accessible tourism” sounds strange but reveals an important aspect of tourism. Is the tourist destination waiting also for moms with a baby in the stroller, old people and people with special needs?
The competition for tourist destinations both raised interest in participation and induced people to ask themselves important questions. Have we taken care of all the people who would like to come to us? What could we do to make everyone feel really welcome with us?
The winner in the Accessible Tourism category is Liepaja.
Liepaja for everyone
On the very shore of the amber sea, windblown, sunny, unrepeatably attractive – we can speak a lot about the West Latvian beauty Liepaja with pleasure and pride. It is also very important that Liepaja is a city for everyone. Pedestrian streets have built-in guidelines; and, if someone in a wheelchair, for example, wants to get to know the Musical Liepaja on the route “Through the notes”, he or she does not have to worry about comfortable and safe moving around.
The city features tactile viewing patterns and tactile maps to help to understand the city centre layout and explore the charming seaside area.
Beach accessibility complex operates during the bathing season and offers wheelchairs suitable for enjoying water to people with functional disabilities. Special buoys take care for safe bathing of visually impaired people.
2011: Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites
The competition was attended by tourist destinations, which inherited former production enterprises and military structures. Often these structures are significant values which, as times change, have been abandoned to the power of fate. The interest of tourists in these places help them get a second wind.
The winner in the Tourism and Regeneration of Physical Sites category is the Ligatne paper mill village.
Ligatne with paper production traditions
Even without the valuable industrial heritage Ligatne would be a wonderful tourist destination. Ligatne is situated in the territory of Gauja National Park with sandstone outcrops and countless caves used by the hard-working Vidzeme region inhabitants for daily needs.
However, Ligatne is also proud of the historical Ligatne paper mill, which was built in 1815 by two enterprising men. In the middle of the XIX century it was the main manufacturer of quality writing paper throughout the Russian Empire. At present, the ancient paper mill entrusts its memory stories only to tourists but, in successful circumstances, paper could be produced in Ligatne also today.
In Ligatne, it is interesting to visit the paper mill village with the authentically restored paper mill workers’ apartment of the end of the XIX century. The social security of Ligatne inhabitants was one of the highest in Europe.
2010: Aquatic Tourism
The purpose of the competition was to identify and promote tourist destinations that use their water resources wisely. Is the attitude towards them lenient? Or, for example, do the applicants attempt to distribute the flow of tourists more evenly among the most popular and less favourite tourist destinations?
The winner in the Aquatic Tourism category is Jurmala.
Jurmala for lovers of sun and water
The popular resort city Jurmala is rich in waters. The southern edge of the city borders with the shores of the river Lielupe for 30 km, and the northern edge of the city – with the Gulf of Riga for 26 km. The healing resources of Jurmala are concentrated in the western end of the Jurmala territory with plenty of lakes, swamps and wetland forests.
Up to 1830s, when bathing places of Riga’s Jurmala developed rapidly, the main occupation of Jurmala inhabitants was fishery. The situation changed dramatically after the construction of the railway line Riga–Tukums in 1877. The door for holidaymakers is open now, because the attractiveness of the resort is irresistible.
The seashore is formed by fine, white quartz sand. The pine forest, rich in phytoncides, and the ionized sea air have a beneficial effect on both body and spirit. Jurmala hospitably welcomes visitors all year round, as it is a great place where health institutions and various spas offer valuable water treatments.
2009: Tourism and Protected Areas
The competition was dedicated to protected natural areas, considering the skills of tourist destinations in managing to live with them. On the one hand, protected natural areas in and near tourist destinations have great benefits that can contribute to the development of tourism. On the other hand, tourist destinations must bear in mind that the protected natural areas have to be protected indeed.
The winner in the Tourism and Protected Areas category is the Tervete Nature Park.
Tervete Nature Park
State Joint Stock Company "Latvijas meži" has created one of the most popular and family-friendly tourist destinations in Latvia – the Tervete Nature Park. In the spacious park, the small visitors are most attracted by the Fairy Tale World. You will meet in the park both wooden sculptures and “living” fairy tale characters. In the park you can drive a fairy tale train, climb the watchtower and examine your skills in air trails.
The county of Tervete, along which the rivers Tervete, Svete, Auce and other serene Zemgale streams flow, is especially magnificent. This is the place where the oldest and tallest pine trees in Latvia grow.
Tervete mound is among the greatest ones in the ancient Balts' lands. In ancient times, there was a mighty centre of Semigallians, who fought for their independence in the territory of Latvia even up to the XIII century.
2008: Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage
Tourist destinations competed not with tangible values (monuments or some buildings) but with the intangible wealth. It allows you to get to know the people living in your destination more closely and build relationships with them. Culinary traditions, craftsmanship, local art, and rural life – all this has a huge value for modern tourists.
The winners in the Tourism and Local Intangible Heritage category are Latgalian potters.
Latgalian Potters, Masters of Clay
Pottery works are a bright symbol of Latgale. Practical items (pots for cooking and storage, bowls and cups) are being created in Latgale for more than a thousand years. Decorative ceramics (candlesticks, clay whistles in the form of an animal or a bird, or mythical creature, etc.) was created in 1930s.
The pottery craft is inherited from generation to generation, so till today one can talk about the potters' families almost all over Latgale – in Ludza, Rezekne, Krāslava, Preiļi, Daugavpils, and Balvi.
The path from a clay lump to a burnt pot is fascinating. Visit the pottery workshops and kiln opening and make yourself sure about it. Every April, Potters' Days are organized: in the beautiful land of blue lakes in Latgale they turn into a festival for both the masters and visitors.
2007: Best Emerging European Rural Destination of Excellence
This was the first EDEN competition. The winners were chosen among the tourism destinations that contribute to the development of rural tourism, skilfully use the destination heritage, offer new tourism products and try to attract visitors at different times of the year.
The winner in the Best Emerging European Rural Destination of Excellence category is Kuldiga city in the Valley of the River Venta.
Kuldiga city in the Valley of the River Venta
Kuldiga, the pearl of Kurzeme region, is one of the cities most beloved by tourists in Latvia. First of all, enjoy the spectacular Ventas Rumba – the widest waterfall in Europe, which is wrapped in many legends. Then cross the vaulted brick bridge built in the XIX century, one of the longest brick bridges in Europe.
Kuldiga acquired the name of the city in 1242. The oldest buildings of the Old Town date back to XVI and XVII centuries. The legendary Duke of Courland and Semigallia Jacob Kettler was born in Kuldiga. The rich heritage of culture is an integral part of the city.
The romantic River Alekšupīte, flowing between the houses of the city, creates associations with Venice. Movies are often shot in Kuldiga. Kuldiga is a city open for tourists, where in a small area we will find more cafes and restaurants than in any other small town in Latvia.