Take a trip out to Shiryaevo village, aka the Zhiguli Pearl – as part of the Samarskaya Luka National Park, it’s tucked away in the beauty of the Zhiguli Mountains, yet easily accessible by boat. Here, you can soak up the village life atmosphere, or check out the Repin Museum that has a small collection of Volga-inspired art. There are also naturally formed limestone caves for exploring. Venture out a little further into the mountains – a scenic and worthwhile jaunt in itself – and you’ll find Camel Mountain, a popular spot for rock-climbers and a cliff with a spectacular view. Even further into the range is the stone chalice, a sweet little monument, shrouded in peace and quiet. It’s about 10 km (6 miles) away from the village, so don’t feel bad about taking a car if you don’t feel like walking.
Most people wouldn’t think a fridge is much of a tourist attraction, but this is one epic icebox. Tucked away in the Sokoli Mountains, near the village of Krasnaya Glinka, this series of interconnecting limestone tunnels was purpose built for storing fish in 1931. The fish were intended for the prisoners, who were labouring on industrial facilities during the war in Kuibyshev – now Samara. Post-war, the tunnels and caves were turned into artillery depots for a period of time, and now you can go down there yourself and have a look at the cavernous underground network. Bring a jumper though, because year-round the tunnels naturally maintain a temperature of 5°C (41°F), and the storage rooms can fluctuate between 5 to -18°C (41 to -0.4°F), as required. The deepest storage chamber is 60 m (197 feet) under the mountain’s surface – an epic refrigerator indeed!
If you’re visiting in summer, make the most of the Volga. The largest river in Europe and a life force in Russia, it has a vast beauty that is best experienced first hand. Several ferries will take you across to various places, such as Shiryaevo or Togliatti. Alternatively, take a boat tour around the Samara Bend, the point where the Volga hairpins through the epic Zhiguli Mountains, and enjoy Russia’s rugged immense beauty while basking in the sun. According to local legend, Volga River pirates used to hide out in the nooks and crannies of the mountains.
Why wouldn’t you want to see the birthplace of the Lada, the cartoon-like car iconic to Soviet times? You can even go to the factory and find out how they’re made. This spot also has the Zhiguli Mountains right across the Volga, and so while it may be an industrial little town, it has a spectacular view and is still worth a mosey around. Togliatti also has a sandy beach – ideal if you still want to sun bake and swim, but want a change of view. Making use of the location, Classics over the Volga is an annual event that celebrates established and emerging classical artists on a stage, using the Volga and mountains as backdrop.