The low northern sky, the silence that rings in your ears, the necklaces of lakes and centuries-old giant pines – the Republic of Karelia is known for its mind-blowing nature. But apart from admiring the landscapes, there are plenty of interesting things to do. A Russian hot bath, Father Frost, listening to the church bells, riding on a dog sled and taking part in a “valenok” throwing contest – WMJ.ru along with tourist service Rambler.Travel names five reasons to go to Karelia for the winter holidays.
Make a Wish
Petrozavodsk, Karelia's capital, is sometimes referred to as a sanctuary of Stalinist architecture. Monumental prospects named after Lenin and Marx and the Rail Terminal and Karelia Music Theater ensemble were built here in the middle of last century. There are also some contemporary sightseeing highlights, including the embankment of Lake Onezhskoye, which is considered an open air art gallery. This impromptu museum includes avant-garde art pieces that were given to Petrozavodsk by its sister cities, which include the “Meeting Place,” “Wave of Friendship” and “Tubingen panel” sculptures. Make sure to find the “Wishing Tree” installation, which you can find by an enormous ear. Whisper your dream into the ear and it will most certainly come true.
Compete in Valenok Throwing
One of the most beloved characters in Karelia is Father Frost Pakkaine. He is, however, so young in comparison to other Christmas characters that he could be Santa Claus's grandson. Pakkaine, which means “little frost” in Karelian, has a cheerful nature and loves winter games. You can meet the Karelian Father Frost at the “Derevnya Aleksandrovka” (Aleksandrovka village) tourist centre. Pakkaine lives in a spacious tent, receives guests together with Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) and forest trolls, treats them with herbal tea and offers interesting leisure activities. Thus, you can compete in “valenok” throwing, a traditional Russian felt winter boot, ride speedy snow mobiles, practice archery and warm up in a Russian wooden hot bath.
See One of the Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Europe
The Kivach Waterfall on the Suna River is one of the three highest in the Old World, second only to the Rhein Waterfall in Germany and Large Yaniskengas in the Murmansk region. But it is peerless in terms of beauty. Thousands of people come to see Kivach every year and admire the waters of the Suna flowing over four stone terraces. Gavrila Derzhavin, an 18th century poet, wrote about the waterfall.
It's also famous for the legends connected to it. One of them says that Kivach came to be thanks to two sisters – the Suna and Shuya rivers. One day, Suna was tired and fell asleep. When she woke up, she realized that her sister had run off far ahead. While trying to catch up to her, Suna rushed forward and broke through the mountains on her way. One of the rocks fell into the river and that's how the Kivach Waterfall was born.
Become a Dog Sled Driver
At the home of the winter wizard Talvi Ukko, another Karelian Santa Claus, you can acquaint yourself with the great witch Louhi and visit the reindeer farm. But the main thing to see is the largest sports kennel in Russia for raising sled dogs. You are unlikely to ever see this many cute animals in one place. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan malamutes, Taimyr sled dogs and some other fluffy species live there. At the kennel, you can ride on a sled or even become a sled dog driver. Just don't forget to look around, as the Karelian snow-covered landscapes are animated illustrations of a winter fairy tale.
Listen to Carillon Chimes
The small town of Kondopoga, which is located 46 kilometers from Petrozavodsk, is called “the Pearl of Karelia”. This ancient city, with a history spanning over 500 years, is famous for its beautiful wooden Dormition Сhurch of Kondopoga and a unique carillon. The largest of them is a 14-meter arch with 23 bells. It's located by the local Ice Palace. The unusual instrument gives an impromptu concert each hour. You can hear a march by Mendelssohn, "For Elise" by Beethoven, and even the Russian folk song "Murka!"
How to get there: You can get to Petrozavodsk by train, which takes about 12 hours. The most convenient train leaves Moscow daily at 9.02 pm and arrives at the Karelian capital at 8:55 am. It's faster to get there by plane – the trip only takes one hour and 15 minutes.
Where to stay: It's best to book a hotel in Petrozavodsk. The most interesting things in Karelia are not located very far from the capital.
If you don't want to book hotels and look for train tickets, just buy a Christmas tour to Karelia for only $210.