Five Unusual Travel Destinations in Russia

PHOTO by Igor Zarembo / RIA Novosti
A land of rare beauty, Russia has hundreds of breathtaking landscapes with magnificent lakes, impregnable fortresses, gentle plains and majestic peaks

Oreshek Fortress (Shlisselburg)

Founded in 1323 in the upper reaches of the Neva River by Grand Prince Yury of Moscow, the Oreshek Fortress used to protect access to the Baltic Sea and the approaches to Veliky Novgorod from the Swedes.

Oreshek was originally constructed from wood and rebuilt in stone in 1350, becoming the first multi-tower fortress in northern Russia. Captured by Sweden in 1612, the fort was taken back 90 years later by Peter the Great. To emphasize the citadel’s strategic importance, the Russian Tsar renamed it Shlisselburg – a corrupted German word meaning “Key Fortress.”

However, from the early 18th century onwards, the fortress was better known as a political prison, where Peter the Great jailed Eudoxia Lopukhina, his first wife who was accused of being involved in a conspiracy against him. In 1917 the prison was closed down and ten years later it was converted into a museum.

Pseudo-Gothic Trinity Cathedral, Gus-Zhelezny

With its pointed vaults and five-tier bell tower, the Trinity Cathedral in the town of Gus-Zhelezny in the Ryazan province looks more like an English abbey than a typical Russian Orthodox church.

The cathedral, representing an intricate blend of Pseudo-Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical styles, is built from red brick and faced with white stone. The wealthy industrialist Andrey Batashov, who owned an ironworks near Ryazan, commissioned the cathedral’s construction.

Unfortunately, Batashov did not live long enough to see the cathedral completed as the building took nearly 70 years and it did not open for services until 1868. Like many Russian Orthodox churches, the Trinity Cathedral used to have a lavish interior; however, the Bolsheviks confiscated its priceless icons and decorations in 1921. Today, the Trinity Cathedral is active again as a house of worship.

The Dancing Forest of the Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit is a narrow strip of land, ranging from 300 metres to four kilometres in width, which separates the Baltic Sea from the freshwater Curonian Lagoon in Kaliningrad. The spit is strewn with sand dunes reaching several dozen metres in height.

The most remarkable element of the local landscape is the mysterious Dancing Forest made up of quaintly twisted pines forming natural curves and loops. A walking trail through the forest allows visitors to experience the unique and vulnerable ecosystem.

Uvs Nuur Basin

One of Central Asia’s largest enclosed basins, stretching 160 kilometres from north to south and 600 kilometres from east to west, the Uvs Nuur area is home to about 300 Scythian, Hun-Sarmatian and Turkic burial mounds as well as numerous statues and cave paintings.

The Uvs Nuur basin is a geography textbook brought to life; the spectacular diversity of landscape ranges from virgin forest steppes and cold deserts to permanent snow, pockets of glaciers, taiga and even tundra. A walking trip is the best way to appreciate this amazing scenery.

Borovsk

This ancient town in the Kaluga province is famous for the graffiti done by retired engineer and local history expert Vladimir Ovchinnikov.

Ovchinnikov’s works bear resemblance to old engravings, Russian icons and classical paintings. The most popular items are “A Globe of Borovsk,” which represents the town’s principal landmarks, a portrait of Soviet rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky and an image of Napoleon, who made a stop in Borovsk for one night during his retreat from Moscow in 1812.