The Crimean peninsula is a tourist hotspot - and with good reason. The beach resort is home to an array of natural wonders, many of which are widely unknown to the general public such as unspoiled beaches, picturesque mountains and coves – Crimea has it all.
Belaya Skala - literally ‘White Rock’ - was widely used as a film location during the Soviet era due to its distinct “Wild West” feel – some of the well-known Soviet classics, such as the Headless Horseman, 1972, Fifteen-year-old Captain, 1946.
Forming part of the Crimean Mountains, the white cliff of Belaya Skala is 150 metres tall and towers over the valley of the Biyuk-Karasu River. The caverns in the area were used for religious rites in the middle ages and the cliff was used for executions where the condemned were hurled from the top to their certain death. It’s possible to drive a car to the very top of the rock, which offers a magnificent view of the surroundings, including Belogorsk, one of Crimea’s oldest cities, but the best view is from the bottom with the rock rising to the sky like a huge white wall. The rock protrudes more than 100 metres above the valley, but the view from the top is worth the journey.
I’m happy I have a quadcopter. Otherwise I’d have to hire a helicopter to get the shot, but now it’s enough to fly around with the drone for five minutes.
It all was once at the bottom of the sea. It’s not quite believable, but it’s the truth. If you walk around here, you’ll regularly notice rock formations with petrified seashells and mollusks. They’ve become parts of the rocks here. Some mollusks have been transformed into stones themselves.
Koyashskoye Lake, located at the Opuksky Natural Reserve in the southern part of the Kerch Peninsula, has the highest salt content in Crimea with a whopping 350 grams per liter. In summer it looks as though it’s filled with strawberry jam as the kelp colors it bright pink; the higher the temperature, the brighter the color, making it a popular destination with photographers. The lake is not only pretty, but healthy too, making it the perfect spot for swimming and taking mud baths.
It’s one of the most breathtaking sights in Crimea. The lake has banks of viola-scented salt crystals and water ranging from soft pink in springtime to rich red during the peak summer heat. Its calm surface is interrupted only by stone and salt icebergs. The location is surprising as well – the lake is in the middle of a desolate Cimmerian steppe, a sunburnt windy wasteland.
Demirji is a picturesque mountain range in the outskirts of Alushta. Scientists believe that it was formed around 150 million years ago when the whole region was a seabed. As the rocks rose from the water, they were exposed to the elements and in time sunlight and wind shaped the rocks into a formation that resembles a group of runners. Legend has it that these were once raiding warriors who were repelled and turned into stone as they fled. In these formations some see the faces of emperors, presidents, artists, and other notable people who have passed on to the afterlife, hence its local nickname: ‘Ghost Valley’.
The figures are oddly shaped, some are even vaguely obscene. As we climb higher we witness the Stankevich Pine – the most resilient tree of Crimea, which managed to survive in the harshest environment.
It’s one of the most exciting mountain trails in the Yalta region, going through the southern slope of the Ai-Petri Mountain. You can make a day trip out of taking a cable car to the top of the mountain followed by a hike down the trail. Taraktash trail is 3.5 kilometers long and offers majestic views of the Crimean Mountains. Some rocks look like giant layered cake, others look like monsters. On the way down or up you can take a break at the observation deck adjacent to a waterfall where you can rest a while at the conveniently placed bench. The walk generally takes about three hours.
The Taraktash Ridge is located at the southern slope of the Ai-Petri Mountain; one of the four most picturesque trails of the region goes through the ridge. The name is translated from Turkic as “Stone Peak” – you’ll understand why when you see it in person.
Generals’ beaches is the nickname for the Karalarskiy regional landscape park, to the east of the Cape Kazantyp. Rocky coves are littered across the dozens of kilometers between the Kurortnoye and Zolotoe villages and each is unique in its own way. Some have small grottos, curved arches and bizarre rock formations. Apart from swimming, these locations are great for fishing, snorkeling or diving. It’s also a good idea to visit the adjacent Lake Chokrak, a popular health resort known for its mud baths.
Beaches where you’re all alone. It may sound surprising, but there are beaches like that in Crimea. We’re not talking about governmental closed-off beaches or private properties. We’re talking about areas accessible to everyone. Not only are these places are devoid of throngs of tourists, they are breathtakingly beautiful as well.
The 500 meter tall mountain, named after Saint George, is located two kilometers to the east of Sudak. The peak is named after the Christian monastery, which was located at its foothills in the middle ages. The trip to the top takes about three hours of walking through pinewoods and juniper bushes. The view from the peak is worth the hike as you can see Sudak, the nearby fortress, the sea, Perchem Mountain and Meganom and Alchak Capes.
This is the place where the thought of comparing surrounding ridges with the skin of a giant beast came to me. Protruding rocks are akin to dragon teeth or scales. Farther down is the Sudak resort town and satellite villages. Genoese fortress, Mount Sokol, Cape Kapchik, Koba-Kaya Mount and Golitsyn Pathway are all visible from this vantage point.
This mysterious and undeveloped peninsula, cutting deep into the Black Sea is Crimea’s westernmost point. With the wide steppe, dry air smelling of bitter wormwood, soaring falcons in the sky and white rocks on the backdrop – words simply don’t do it justice. The sea here is crystal clear – there are no coastal rivers and the area is free of industry. But of course, it’s the landscape that’s the crown jewel of the peninsula. Twisted rocks, pass-through grottos, 40 meter high stone arches and caves that can be used to film a sci-fi thriller – this place has it all. The landscape is as breathtaking underwater, making Tarkhankut is a great place for snorkeling and diving.
The coast is steadily creeping down to the water, where it’s easy prey for the sea and the wind. Unlike the mainland with its bluffs and cliffs, here the shore is littered with jagged rocks. They come and go, created and destroyed by the elements. The once-famous rock “Wine Glass” has been replaced by the “Napoleon”. I wonder just how short his stay will be here. Sooner or later his general’s hat will be blown away by the wind – along with his head.
Mount Echki Dag
This ridge, located at the coast of the Black Sea, has three peaks: Kokush Qaya, which is considered to be the most scenic, Qara Oba and Echki Dag. If you’re a fan of ecotourism, you definitely should take a hike here. It’s relatively solitary, and what the area lacks in people it makes up in stone formations, fruit trees and springs, not to mention deer. Echki Dag itself was formed 150 million years ago – it is composed of reef limestone and resembles a layer cake. The peak offers a magnificent view of the Karadag Volcano and the Fox Cove and the latter is often frequented by naturists.
Kokush Qaya is the third peak of Echki Dag. Although it’s the lowest one, it offers the best view: you can see the sea, Meganom and Karadag from here. These rocks were used to film many scenes for The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin, which was my favorite movie when I was young. Kokush Qaya is also the home of one of Echki Dag’s prime attractions: the Airplane Pine – a true natural wonder. Everyone marvels at its horizontal trunk and its crown extending towards the sea.