Russia and the former Soviet Union has incredible mountains, beaches, deserts, ethnic villages, spectacular volcanoes and glaciers, making it one of the most beautiful countries in the world. However, due to inconsistent advertising and lack of invested budget in the development of these places, Russia’s natural beauty is frequently overlooked even by Russians. This guide presents ten stunning travel destinations for travel addicts and lovers of active holidays to take a look at while in Russia.
Dargavs, the City of the Dead
Dargavs is located at the Dargavskaya Hollow in North Ossetia-Alania. Dargavskaya Hollow is protected from clouds and winds by mountains which create a special dry microclimate. The basin of the hollow is mostly flat, which is a rarity among mountain gorges. Dargavs village was inhabited since the Bronze Age, and was one of the main centers of the formation of the Tagaurian society, who belong to the upper class of East Ossetia. The relocation of the residents began after the founding of the neighboring city of Mozdok. In 1830, during the uprising in Ossetia, many of Dargavs’ residents were killed and many towers destroyed. Currently, there is no permanent population, which has led the village to be known as the ‘City of the Dead’. The city’s tombs are divided into three types: the ones that are located above the ground where the roof is a pyramid made from rectangular slate slabs; another type includes topped gable ceilings; the third, the most unassuming burials, are half-underground and are built in a rectangular shape from roughly processed stone slabs.
The most beautiful city in Russia is full of romantic ambiance, bridges, museum-like streets and imperial spirit. Russian’s northern capital has an unparalleled cultural history that will be of interest to genuine lovers of all things classical: theatre, ballet and opera. Even a week spent at an offbeat rapid pace will not be enough to cover the tip of city’s cultural heritage iceberg. Buildings and monuments of great historical importance wait to be explored and discovered, including St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Paul and Peter Fortress and Nevsky Prospekt; national museums present the greatest works of Russian and European painters, concentrated in the State Hermitage Museum and the Erarta Gallery; whereas incredibly detailed and passionate theatre and opera performances must be experienced at the Mariinsky Theater. St Petersburg will please fans of traditional sightseeing and historic cultural heritage, and will surprise those looking for an alternative side to the city, where secret hangout spots of Petersburg’s youth and local citizens will open at a glance. To explore just the most famous attractions, it may take you several weeks.
The Altai Mountains is a complex system of the highest mountains in the Siberian ridges, separated by deep river valleys and extensive hollows. The Altai National Reserve and the Katunskiy National Reserve together form the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Golden Mountains of Altai. Altai attracts thousands of tourists every year due to its endless possibilities for active holidays and plenty of photography opportunities. Altai is attracting almost all types of tourism, from road trips to rafting, and anything from mountain hiking to walks can be done here with ease. Mother Nature has generously endowed Altai with semi-desert steppes, taiga, alpine meadows, lakes and countless waterfalls. The largest lake in Altai is Lake Teletskoye, surrounded by taiga, which is also one of the deepest lakes in the world. There are more than 400 caves made from limestone, marble and dolomite, with incredible sinter formations, including the Taldinskie, Charyshskie and Hanharskie caves. All travellers will be happy to find out that Altai has an abundance of ancient sites, caves with traces of ancient people, untouched national parks, and tranquillity.
Lake Baikal is the biggest, deepest and most diverse lake on Earth. The region offers a similarly diverse range of opportunities for holiday makers, including living in small wooden houses with little convenience and amenities, sitting on the shore of the Lake Baikal in a deck chair and fishing, sampling delicious Baikal omul fish and posy, going dog sledding and visiting thermal saunas in winter, and watching nerpas swimming in their natural habitat. Few natural sights can surpass the beauty and grandeur of Lake Baikal. The pure clear water of the Lake Baikal calls people to plunge into its waters. Some popular spots for tourists include the beaches of Olkhon Island, Sandy Bay and the Small Sea, where people can explore and dive. Sarayskiy beach, located north of the famous Burkhan cape, is the most beautiful beach on the lake, and its golden sand dunes are framed by pine forest. The stunning Sarminskoe valley, begins at the foot of the Primorsky mountain range, where the Sarma flows into the sea near the small village of the same name. The river broke through the gorge in the rocks, which today serves as a giant wind tunnel. This wind speed reaches 60 kilometers per hour and gives all visitors an unmistakable sense of freedom.
Zapovednik ‘Stolby’ Nature Reserve
Stolby Nature Reserve is located in the north-western spurs of the Eastern Sayan Mountains, bordering the Central Siberian Plateau. The reserve borders the city of Krasnoyarsk in the north east, and can be easily reached by bus from the center of the city. The reserve was founded in 1925 on the initiative of residents who wanted to preserve the nature around the picturesque syenite residual outcrops, also known as pillars. Stolby Nature Reserve is a very popular destination for rock climbing enthusiasts, due to its proximity to civilization, ease of access and great rocks. Day or night hiking trips along the signed and well-maintained trails will reward you with some spectacular views that are awaiting you on top of the volcanic pillars. Stolby Nature Reserve is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Lake Onega and Kizhi Island
Located in the north west, Lake Onega is the second largest fresh water lake in Europe. The lake has a huge diversity of fish, including sturgeon, salmon, trout, whitefish, bream, catfish, eel and others, and a significant number of relics of the Ice Age. Despite the deteriorating environment, fishing on Onega Lake is an excellent experience, due to a large number of fish in its waters. The principal attraction of Lake Onega is Kizhi Island, where the 89 monuments of carefully preserved wooden architectural buildings established between the 15th and 20th centuries are situated. At the center of the island you will see the Church of the Transfiguration, the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin and the belfry. Kizhi is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, while Lake Onega is increasingly becoming popular with boaters and tourists. Every year it hosts a Russian sailing regatta, Onego, and Wooden Boat Festival, Blue Onego.
Lena Pillars is a natural park in Russia, located on the banks of the Lena river in Yakutia’s Khangalassky region, near the town of Pokrovsk. The complex of vertically elongated rocks stretches for many kilometers, intricately piled along the bank of the river and cutting the deep valley of the Prilenskoye Plateau. The rocky poles reach their highest density between the villages of Peter and Tit-Ary, and their height reaches 100 meters. Scientists believe that the formation of the rocks began about 540-560 million years ago. This natural wonder never ceases to amaze photographers and travellers.
The Valley of Geysers
Located inside the Kronotsky State Biosphere Reserve on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Valley of Geysers is one of the largest geyser fields in the world, and the only one in Eurasia. It has been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as part of the natural complex of volcanoes in Kamchatka. The valley is a deep canyon of the Geyser river, which has a number of the geyser outputs, hot springs, mud pots and waterfalls. An abnormally high biodiversity and high climate contrast had been observed in this territory. Since 1992, under an exclusive contract with the Kronotsky Reserve, helicopter tours have been organised, following a strict system of rules of excursions in order to maintain the equilibrium of the ecosystem. The Valley of Geysers was voted one of the Seven Wonders of Russia in 2008 by the public.
Krasnodarskiy Krai traditionally attracts lovers of spas, beaches and gastronomic tourism. The three most popular destinations include coastal Sochi, Gelendzhik and Anapa. The Krasnodar region is bordered by the warm Azov Sea in the north and the Black Sea to the south. The beaches of the Azov Sea are sandy whereas the Black Sea beaches are mostly pebble. Here you can enjoy water sports and scuba diving, or simply sunbathe. The Krasnodar region is well-known domestically and internationally as the best provider of spa and treatment resorts in Russia, including the famous mineral waters in Matsesta and silt mud near Sochi. The region is also a good holiday destination for active individuals, since the Krasnodar region is rich with various natural attractions including Mount Akhun in Sochi, the Agura waterfalls, the Vorontsov caves, and one of the most beautiful roads in the Caucasus, Krasnaya Polyana.
The Solovki Islands
The Solovetsky Archipelago, also know as Solovki, is located in the western part of the White Sea, between the Karelian coast of Pomerania and the Summer of the Onega Peninsula, near the Arctic Circle, and consists of six large, and more than a hundred small, islands. Solovki features genuine and picturesque coasts, boulder deposits along the sea, and a wide array of mixed forests scattered among the lakes. Over the centuries, the few people that inhabit the islands tied separate parts of the road, connected them with channels of the lakes, cleared hay fields and constructed dams. Big Solovetsky Island is best known among all the members of the Solovetsky Archipelago. The island became the first and only assimilated island, and is where the village and famous Museum-Monastery of the archipelago could be found.
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