The Hermann Castle, on the left, facing the Ivangorod Fortress across the Narva River, which is now the border between Estonia and Russia.
Main industries: Power engineering, oil shale, textiles, metalwork, furniture
Mayor: Tarmo Tammiste
Founded: Narva was first mentioned in the "Novgorod Chronicles" in 1172.
Interesting fact №1: Narva is the only Estonian city that offers an unobstructed view of Russia.
Interesting fact №2: Narva is home to the Eesti and Balti power plants, the world's two largest shale oil-fired power plants.
Sister cities: Tinglev, Denmark; Lahti, Finland; Ivangorod, Russia; Karlskoga, Sweden; Donetsk, Ukraine
Helpful contacts: Natalya Shibalova, Narva deputy mayor for city development (+372-359-9140; narva.ee/en); Valery Trubin, procurement services manager, Narva Power Plants (+372-716-6105; energia.ee/en/organisatsioon/narvajaamad); Narva Business Advisory Services (+372-357-9395; nbas.ee/mm/eng)
NARVA, Estonia — Sarah Palin was right.
You can see Russia from your front porch. But not in Wasilla, Alaska. Narva, Estonia's third-largest and easternmost city, offers a much better view.
Tucked between Tallinn and St. Petersburg, Narva is just a few dozen meters from the Russian city of Ivangorod. The Narva River, divided by a string of fire-truck red buoys, flows between the cities. Narva's riverine border marks the edge of Estonian territory, the European Union and the perks of Schengen zone mobility. This is where the West meets the East.
For the average traveler, the right bank of the Narva River exudes an aura of mystery. From Narva, you can see the ripples in the Russian flag that sails above the Ivangorod Fortress. You can detect the subtle fragrance of the lilies of the valley that grow across its rocky cliffs. You can hear the rumble of exhausted Zhiguli cars. But without a Russian visa, you can only watch from a distance.
The dialectic of physical proximity and perceived distance to Russia has defined Narva's character over time. Narva's Hermann Castle, built in 1256 by Danish conquerors, sits directly across from the picturesque Ivangorod Fortress. Narva and its rival across the river have engaged in centuries of stare downs.
The Eesti Energia Narva Power Plants (59 Elektrijaama tee; +372-716-6100; powerplant.ee) generate 95 percent of Estonia's power.
Enefit (Eesti Energia Technology Industries) (6 Tiigi; +372-716-6702; enefit.com/about-technology-industries) manufactures and supplies metal structures and other industrial material to companies working in the fields of mining, power generation, wind energy, and oil and gas. Enefit's customers include companies such as Foster Wheeler, Vestas Wind Systems and ABB.
VKG Elektrivorgud (11 Kerese tn. 11; +372-716-12-19; vkgev.ee) is Estonia's second-largest power distribution company after Eesti Energia's Distribution Network branch. The company provides operational management, construction, repair and maintenance services to power companies.
A coveted trading post at the crossroads of two worlds, Narva has ping-ponged among regional powers throughout its history. Since its first mention in the Novgorod Chronicles in 1172, Narva has been under the flag of the Danes, the Livonians, the Russians, the Swedes and finally, the Estonians. Vestiges of former ruling powers — the Hermann Castle, the Swedish Lion monument, the old Kreenholm textile factory and the baroque City Hall — dot the landscape in this city of 65,000.
Yet the city remains essentially Russian. In 1944, the Soviet Union captured Narva from Nazi Germany, suffering 480,000 casualties. While Estonia regained control of the city in 1991, Russia's dominance has yet to end, if you ask one of the few ethnic Estonians who call Narva home.
The stark natural divide between Narva and Ivangorod is hardly hermetic; Russian influence has crossed the river. Narva is so intrinsically Russian that Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, conducted a service at the city's Church of the Ascension in June as part of a three-day visit to Estonia. Thousands of pilgrims made the journey to Narva for the occasion, crossing the Bridge of Friendship that links Russian soil to the city.
More than 1.8 million people and 200,000 cars make this same trip from Ivangorod every year. In a city where ethnic Estonians account for a mere 3.9 percent of the population, the Bridge of Friendship is more like a Bridge of Compatriots. The Estonian language is infrequently heard in the streets of Narva; nearly 95 percent of the city is Russian-speaking.
Q: Which city sectors have the most potential for foreign investment?
A: Narva is open to all initiatives that contribute to the city's development. Logistics and metalwork are some of the most important sectors of our city. Companies in our three industrial parks work in many fields, including electricity and energy, railroad transportation and machinery. Our city's good infrastructure and proximity to the Russian market provide it with great prospects.
Q: How does Narva attract investors?
A: The city is working hard to attract investors. The acceleration of administrative procedures has created a favorable business environment. Narva also provides companies with different subsidies, ranging from financing startup companies to supporting enterprises that create jobs. Narva has also produced an "Investment Passport," a document that describes the various business opportunities in the city. It is available on our city's website, narva.ee.
Q: Why visit Narva?
A: Narva is a comfortable, beautiful and hospitable city with many historical attractions. I very much enjoy the castle, the Dark Garden park and the fortifications on the riverside.
Narva is also a city that never stops developing. It is in a great location on the border with Russia and on the banks of a river. The nearby resort town of Narva-Joesuu is perfect for relaxing on the banks of the Gulf of Finland.
Our city is truly full of positive energy. That is one of the reasons we call Narva "the city of good energy."
— Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
Despite periodic drop-ins by the Estonian Language Inspectorate to ensure workers are using the country's official language, Narva's 3,466 registered enterprises continue to develop and expand. Narva's strategic location has given it a competitive edge. In addition to its prime position for transporting goods between Russia and the Baltics, Narva and its surroundings sit atop Estonia's largest oil shale deposits.
At the Narva Oil Plant, the organic compounds found in these sedimentary rock deposits are turned into synthetic oil. Oil shale and its derivatives can fuel power plants and be converted into construction materials, pharmaceutical products and a wide range of chemicals. The humble facade of Narva, often dubbed the "city of good energy," hardly suggests that it sits on a gold mine.
Oil shale is mined in more than 450 square kilometers of northern Estonia. The region enjoys the world's eighth-largest oil shale resources, estimated at 16.8 billion barrels. This is an impressive figure for the world's 133rd largest country and the smallest of the three Baltic states. Estonia produces about 19 million tons of oil shale per year and exports three quarters of its production, mostly to the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Home to the world's two largest shale oil-fired power plants, the Eesti and the Balti, Narva has become a powerhouse of electricity production. Commissioned in 1973, the Narva Power Plant complex supplies power domestically, to the other Baltic states and to the Nordic energy market through the Estlink submarine cables in the Gulf of Finland. In 2011, Estonia's electricity production — almost exclusively generated by oil shale — exceeded its domestic consumption by 60 percent. Narva's power-engineering capacities have bolstered Estonia's energy security while providing the country with an abundance of export opportunities.
Mindful of the environmental challenges of mining oil shale, the Narva business community and the Estonian government have taken active steps to promote non-polluting, renewable energy resources. In 2011, the Narva Power Plant complex's ash field, a cemetery of burnt oil shale, was revived into the 60 million euro Narva Wind Farm, home to 17 wind turbines. The new wind farm fulfills the electricity needs of 35,000 Estonian households. The Renewable Business Unit of Eesti Energia, Estonia's state-owned energy company, repeatedly has stressed the importance of creating renewable energy over the footprint of the oil shale sector.
Narva has done much to promote foreign investment. The Narva city government is open to co-financing startups and has pledged to support companies that create jobs. The new Narva Logistics and Industrial Park constitutes an additional step toward making the city a key business hub in the Baltic states.
What to see if you have two hours
A visit to the Hermann Castle complex (2 Peterburi Maantee; +372-359-9230; narvamuuseum.ee/?lang=eng) is a must. Visitors can ascend the Castle's 51-meter Tall Hermann Tower for a panoramic view of the city, the Narva River and the Ivangorod Fortress. The castle also boasts an art gallery that covers the city's history since the 16th century. In the courtyard, visitors are greeted by craftsmen dressed in medieval peasant clothes. Visitors are invited to try their hands at a series of crafts, from weaving to pottery making.
If you still have a few minutes after visiting the castle, stroll through the Dark Garden riverside park located by the city's fortifications. This beautiful park is home to century-old trees and is a great place for introspection or relaxation. In the summer, the banks of the Narva River become a gathering place for families, fisherman and those eager to bask in the sun.
Q: What kind of services does your center offer investors?
A: We meet with investors and help them understand what kind of business possibilities Narva has to offer. We also assist them in starting businesses and finding other organizations that can be useful to them. About 80 percent of our clients are from Russia. We also have worked with investors from Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia, Belarus, the Czech Republic and Poland, countries where there are many Russian speakers.
Q: What business projects are currently under way in Narva?
A: Narva has a few industrial parks. The large majority of spaces have been sold to Russian investors. They often find that managing a business in Estonia is quicker and less expensive than it would be in the Leningrad region. Investors are always surprised at how simple, fast and inexpensive it is to bring their business to our city.
Q: What challenges do investors face in Narva?
A: Our country's legislation is only available in Estonian and English. This can be a challenge to investors who are not comfortable in these languages. Some investors occasionally have difficulty obtaining credit from Estonian banks, as only three of them offer credit to nonresidents of the country.
Q: What does the future hold for your city?
A: Ida-Viru, the county Narva belongs to, is the fastest-growing region of Estonia. I predict that the highly qualified people who have left the region will return when our business capacities increase.
— Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
What to see if you have two days
Narva's city center is compact and can easily be explored in a day. The City Hall, the Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and the Lutheran Alexander's Cathedral are within walking distance of the Hermann Castle. A walk through the city will give you a chance to mix with the locals.
The more adventurous traveler may want go on a kayaking excursion down the Narva River and straddle Estonia's riverine border with Russia. Travelers with the proper travel documents can also cross the Bridge of Friendship into Ivangorod. Visiting both the Hermann Castle and the Ivangorod Fortress gives you the two sides to the same story. The Ivangorod Fortress (1/6 Kingiseppskoye Shosse; +7 813-755-1792; oblmuseums.spb.ru) offers an exceptional view on the Hermann Castle and Narva's side of the river. The 1964 Russian film adaptation of "Hamlet," directed by Grigory Kozintsev, was shot in the fortress.
The resort town of Narva-Joesuu, 14 kilometers northwest of Narva, is also worth visiting. Located at the intersection of the Narva River and the Gulf of Finland, Narva-Joesuu, which means "mouth of the Narva River," boasts 7 kilometers of sandy beaches and dunes, and a lush pine forest. There are also many spas and sanatoriums in the town. Painters Ilya Repin and Ivan Shishkin were among the Russian artists and intellectuals who frequently visited the area. Shishkin even immortalized Narva-Joesuu's pine forest in a number of his paintings.
Narva-Joesuu is also home to Estonia's only official nude beach. In the summer, the Gulf of Finland's water temperature hovers around 16 degrees Celsius, which can be quite chilly for unaccustomed swimmers.
The Geneva Nightclub (2 Voidu Prospekt; +372-365-1135; geneva.ee) is Narva's most popular venue for parties. Every first Friday of the month, the club holds a "Nostalgia Party," where DJs blast '80s and '90s Russian and international music. Geneva often hosts dance competitions and live performances, including some by foreign musicians. Bad Boys Blue and Haddaway, popular pop artists in the former Soviet republics, have recently performed at the club. Geneva also offers a quieter musical cafe, a concert hall and billiard tables. The cover charge is 5 euros ($6.70).
Narva's Ilmarine Theater (2 Linda; +372-551-7555; ilmarine-teater.ee) is also a prime cultural attraction. Opened in 1874, the theater is famous for its puppet shows and its broad selection of folk plays. The Ilmarine's focus on local folklore makes it a mandatory stop for those eager to learn more about Estonian and Russian fairy tales. The theater's repertoire caters both to a younger audience and those young at heart.
Where to eat
Gulliver (7 Lavretsovi tn.; +372-356-0777; gulliver.ee) is a friendly pub and restaurant located in downtown Narva. The menu offers a large selection of zakuski (hors d'oeuvres) and traditional Russian food. Make sure to try the Narva-style ukha, a Russian fish soup. The restaurant's home-style cooking offers large portions and reasonable prices, main courses ranging from 5.20 to 9.90 euros.
Located in the northwestern tower of the Hermann Castle, Castell Restaurant (2 Peterburi mnt; +372-359-9257; castell.ee) is where you can dine like a king. The restaurant offers a wide range of creative dishes, including the "delight for honorable people" salad and the "torch of the knight" duck dish. Perusing through Castell's menu is a pleasure in itself. Main courses can cost up to 24 euros.
Where to stay
Hotel Inger is ideal for business or leisure travel (28 Pushkini tn.; +372-688-1100; inger.ee). Located within walking distance of the Hermann Castle, Hotel Inger is a comfortable, modern hotel with rooms starting at 50 euros per night. The hotel has a restaurant, a conference room, a beauty parlor and a sauna complex.
The King Boutique Hotel (9 Lavretsovi tn.; +372-357-2404; hotelking.ee) is also great option, with rooms from 48 euros per night. Located in a 17th-century building, the hotel gives its guests a glimpse of Narva's past. Recently renovated, the hotel marvelously fuses its past with its present. The wooded interior of the hotel's restaurant gives it a charming rustic atmosphere.
Every July, the city hosts the International Narva Bike Fest, which attracts bikers and rockers from across Russia and the Baltic states. The festival — and the exhaust pipe ruckus — leave no one indifferent.
How to get there
Narva is serviced by buses from Tallinn and St. Petersburg. The ride from either city takes 3 hours and 30 minutes and costs between 11 and 20 euros. There are several departures a day. There is also a daily afternoon train that travels from Tallinn to Narva. Tickets cost 9 euros.