If you venture out into Russia’s Far East, make sure you don’t miss Ussuri Bay. A short drive from Vladivostok, Russia’s easterly outpost, the bay is a rare environmental anomaly. Decades of erosion have turned all the bottles and broken bits of glass that were previously discarded there into shiny, colourful pebbles. Now, the shore looks like it’s littered with gems and the coastline is one of the most colourful stretches of beach there is.
In the depths of Siberia lies one of Russia’s most majestic lakes. Lake Baikal is the deepest reserve of fresh water on Earth, and around the lake’s periphery are plenty of hikes through forest and cliffs. However, if you want to feel even more off the map, plan a trip to Olkhon Island. The lake’s biggest island is inhabited all year round – even when the lake freezes over. It is also a spiritual place for the Buryat people, who are indigenous to the area.
Also found in Russia’s Far East is the remote Sakhalin Island, which sits off the coastline in the Pacific Ocean. It’s actually just north of Japan’s Hokkaido, and about the size of Austria. A rugged beauty that once was a convict outpost, the island has several nature reserves and marine sanctuaries on it, preserving its splendour. Here, there are forests to walk through, slopes to ski on, coastline to savour, seals, fish and bears. Kuirl Island is (relatively) close by, which is equally remote and just as beautiful.
One of Russia’s least-travelled regions is definitely worth a visit for the intrepid traveller. The Republic of Kalmykia is the only predominantly Buddhist region in the nation and indicative of the cultural diversity within the Federation. Nowhere else in Russia can you see an abundance of Buddhist temples and robed monks and Buddhist iconography. The region’s capital, Elista, is an ideal base to explore the surrounding steppes from, and you can make your way to the Caspian Sea from there too.
If you want some creature comforts but still get off the beaten track, the town of Yessentuki is not just a lovely destination in itself, but a perfect place to land in if you want to venture off into the Caucasus Mountains. The picturesque town is a former Sanatorium resort due to the many mineral springs there, which were considered some of the best baths in the nation. Located at the base of one of Russia’s mighty mountain ranges in the Stavropol Krai region, Mt Elbrus is a few hours drive away, or you can choose your own Caucasus adventure depending on how long you want to trek for.
The sparsely populated Altai region touches Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Mongolia and is home to perpetually snow-capped mountains, steppes and breathtaking scenery at every turn. The nooks and crannies are littered with hillside villages and offer adventure for travellers who want to get lost in craggy wilderness, that feels as if it has been untouched by time. Also referred to as the pearl of Siberia, Lake Teletskoye is one of the region’s crowning glories, and legend has it its water has healing properties.
The other not-to-be-missed destination in the Altai area is Mount Belukha, the highest peak in Siberia and the most popular tourist destination in the region. Certainly not for the novice mountain climber, the mountain has two eternally snow-capped peaks, both over 4,000 metres high. There are also plenty of religious myths attached to the breathtaking mountain, that claim it has an ancient spirit and a magical, mystical quality. According to legend, Buddha pilgrimed to the mountain and the Turkic goddess Umai calls Mount Belukha home.
The far-flung Kamchatka Peninsula is a destination for the adventurous. Even if you just make it to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the region’s capital, you will be rewarded with a view of a volcano or two, and perpetually snow-capped mountains. However, if you venture into the nearby wilds, the rewards are even greater. The peninsula is home to the Valley of the Geysers; a collection of 40-odd hot springs that can only be accessed by helicopter. The area also has a belt of 160 or so volcanoes, 29 of which are still active.