Lipetsk: The Russian gentry’s favorite resort

When the Lipetsk mineral water brand was founded in 1805, the city earned a reputation as the place where Russia’s rich and fashionable came to get away from city life. Today Lipetsk is mostly known for its booming metallurgical industry, but it still hasn’t lost the cozy charm of a provincial resort.

The city of Lipetsk. Source: Legion Medion, Geo Photo

The city center of Lipetsk is a quaint place full of fountains, churches, parks and old-fashioned, two-story town houses. The central square is dominated by a huge statue of Peter I (the Great) who is dressed up as Grandfather Frost for New Year celebrations. This is one of two statues of Peter in town. The other is a cast-iron pyramid-shaped obelisk, which stands tall on his namesake Petrovsky Hill.

It is no coincidence that Peter the Great is so beloved here. Locals consider the emperor the city’s founder. He set up the first metallurgical plant as well as the famous health resort. While traveling around the area early in his reign, Peter learned about massive deposits of iron ore not far from the city. In 1703, construction work started on the Verkhne-Lipetsky factories at the emperor’s behest.

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Peter could see the commercial sense in locating ironworks in Lipetsk, right by the Lipovka River. Just down the river were Peter’s first shipyards, which needed the metal to build warships. Towards the end of the 18th century, however, Russia strengthened its presence on the Northern shore of the Black Sea. New shipyards were established there, and shipbuilders in the Don basin became redundant. The Lipetsk warship factories quickly fell into disrepair and were closed down.

From shipyards to spas

Lipetsk might have remained a little-known town in the provinces were it not for its springs of chloride-sulphate sodium water.

There is a legend about how these healing waters were discovered. Not far from the ironworks lived an old lady and her maid. One day, the maid fetched some fresh water from the spring and put it on to boil. The water suddenly turned black in the saucepan. The old lady was frightened and assumed her maid was trying to poison her. The girl was taken away to be questioned and the story could have ended very differently were it not for the intervention of Peter. The emperor demanded the water be taken away for analysis, and the girl was released. It was soon learned that the water had healing properties, and so a health spa was opened in Lipetsk. In the 19th century, it was one of the most popular destinations for the St. Petersburg nobility.

Today, the mineral springs are located in Nizhny Park along with the oldest spa in Russia – the Lipetsk sanatorium.

If you have two hours

Starting from the oldest street in the town, Lenin Street (formerly Dvoryanskaya Street), stroll across to Sobornaya Square and have a look around the Khristorozhdestvensky Cathedral, the work of Italian architect Tommaso Adolini. Then, make your way down the 101 steps by the cascade fountains on Petrovsky Hill. At the bottom you’ll find Komsomolsky pond, where you can gaze at another fountain bubbling up from under the water.

Then, cross the road and walk around Nizhny Park. By the entrance to the park, those who dare can taste the unprocessed healing water - salty, with a very metallic after-taste. Locally produced Rosinka or Lipetsky Byuvet mineral waters are sold in bottles from a nearby kiosk. These waters are also packed full of health-giving minerals, but they are much more pleasant to drink.

After Nizhny Park, visit the zoo and feed the lambs, then go off in search of the world’s only monument to terrorists – the name locals have given a sculpture in the park dedicated to the revolutionaries of people’s freedom.

The best place to end your walk is on Petrovskaya Square, where you can see Peter’s statue and the singing fountain. If you have the time and energy you can set off along the riverbank to check out the modern part of town, a place dominated by the Novolipetsky metallurgical plant – the town’s main industry.

If you have a little more time

Explore the surrounding countryside. The ancient city of Elets is a short 1.5 hour train ride from Lipetsk. Zadonsk, 50 miles away, is the home of a number of ancient monasteries. 

It is also worth visiting Astapovo (55 miles from Lipetsk), where Leo Tolstoy spent the last days of his life. Astapovo is home to a very special museum dedicated to the author, where you can hear the voice of the man himself, saved on a gramophone record.

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