BACK TO THE FUTURE. In the news then and now. Pt.3 - Ķemeri Sanatorium.

Things were much different on 14 May, 1939. Everybody was allowed to travel to any place wanted, the WWII was barely seen on the horizon, and the massive State Sanatorium "Ķemeri" was open for business. Even today, surrounded by wonderful heritage of urban history and a large park, the Sanatorium is a great destination to visit when physically distancing during the coronavirus lockdown. Sadly, this time - only from the outside.


Exactly 81 years ago, the "Latest News" periodical published an add, welcoming everybody to the recently opened State Sanatorium "Ķemeri" (1936). Located 40 minutes away from the centre of Riga and called the "White Ship" or "White Castle", this enormous recreation facility became one of the most known resort destinations in the country and one of the last works by the legendary Latvian architect, Eižens Laube.

Things were looking up that spring. The "Ship" was riding the wave (metaphorically) and was well visited. No wonder - the weekend voucher with full catering would only cost around a dozen Lats per person (we believe it's roughly €24), and a four-week treatment course (excluding meals) would cost €80 - 160. Not bad!

The rooms would have both hot and cold water, closets with radio and internal lightning, shoe cleaning supplies, and two communication devices - phone and light signals (to call service without disturbing other guests).
"ĶEMERI - the richest hydrogen sulfide mineralwater in Latvia, as well as mud rich with iodine-sulfur. Open whole year.
Outstanding achievements in treating rheumatism, nerve pain, joint and women illnesses, and infertility as well as curing heart and blood vessel, stomach, intestine, liver, metabolism (adiposity, "sugar illness", gout, etc.) related illnesses, common tiredness and nervousness.
Modern examination and treatment devices and appliances. Cure with diet. Inhalation. Colonic irrigation.
Library. Reading room with books and periodicals in many languages. Music. Various sports exercises. Excellent park. Ideal place for recreation. For state employees, rural residents - cost allowances according to the law..."
Through the years during the soviet occupation it never ceased to be a medical facility for 300 guests and was well known across the whole USSR. The Sanatorium also never changed much of its profile - neurological, gynaecological, and rheumatological illneses.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the facility's status was degraded. In 1998 the whole building was privatized by a literally random company Ominasis Italia. 5 years later a contract was settled with the famous "Kempinski" hotel; both drew a rebirth for Ķemeri. Ten years later just about 10% of the promised were fulfilled, however the contract with Ominasis Italia was not infringed. During the next 10 years, the company would announce its insolvency, Sanatorium would be nationalized again, then put on auction, unsold, but then realized for only 40% its actual price in 2015.


The hotel was scheduled for the opening in 2018, but it was immediately announced the inauguration will take place in 2020 or even as late as in 2022. "Kempinski" is now switched to "Hyatt" (possibly).

Also the improvement of the historical surroundings of the Sanatorium is lagging, despite being coordinated by the wealthy local Jūrmala municipality. The plan foresees the Ķemeri historical water tower to be renovated (and turned into a tourist centre, gallery and watching platform) along with the 20-hectare-large park and its square. Although another massive 100-year-old clinic located nearby is partly in heap of stones, for several years there is a plan to build a brand new education centre for nature tourism. All the given is promised to be finished by 2023.

The Ķemeri water tower before and after the construction possibly finished around the summer of 2020 (Publicity photo).

Despite all this provincial crap, Ķemeri as well as the whole West-Jūrmala is still a must see location; especially if one is willing to travel somewhere urban yet close to the nature while physically distancing. Somewhere with lush forests, vast bogs, quiet sea, romantic park, and gingerbread architecture. If there once could be a real Renaissance of the resort culture in Latvia, we hope Ķemeri will lead the way.

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