Top 20 must-dos while in Sochi

The Sochi mountains are an ideal place for winter sports. Source: Geo Photo

The Sochi mountains are an ideal place for winter sports. Source: Geo Photo

In case you find yourself in the 2014 Olympic host city, RIR has a list of activities you absolutely should not miss.

1. Take the compulsory tourist photo

While in Sochi you must get a picture of yourself against the backdrop of the subtropical palms along Platanovaya Alley (Sycamore Alley). Tourists who visit Sochi in the winter are captivated by its snow-capped palm trees.

2. Take a cruise on a yacht

Yachts are available to take visitors on a cruise along the Black Sea coast. The yachts and boats moored at the port are ready to set sail at a moment's notice. Take a bottle of wine or a thermos of mulled wine on your cruise and relax in the privacy of the open sea.

3. Buy some "liquid gold"

Try some local honey, otherwise known as "liquid gold." This natural delicacy is gathered in local apiaries in huge quantities. There are a number of bee farms clustered along the road to Krasnaya Polyana. Honey obtained from chestnut, linden, or acacia trees is sold for 800 roubles ($25) per litre. Sometimes nuts are added to the honey.

In Sochi, you can always go skiing. Source: Geo Photo

4. Try feijoa jam

You need to taste jam made from feijoa (a fruit related to guava). Locals prepare the jam without boiling the fruit and just add sugar. This ensures that the nutritious value is preserved.

5. Drink some local wine

Sochi's wine tasting halls offer guests dozens of varieties of professionally made and homemade wines. Locals make their own wines in the fall, as soon as the grapes ripen in their yard or at their dachas. Mostly red wine is made from the Isabella grape. The infused beverage is poured into regular plastic bottles that held mineral water and stored in a cold place. You can find wine made by local winemaking enthusiasts at city food markets where they sell churchkhela (sweets made from grapes, nuts, and flour).

6. Buy caviar at a trout farm

No Russian meal is quite complete without red salmon caviar. In addition to the red salmon caviar brought here from the Far East, in Sochi they also sell locally produced caviar. Red and black caviar are harvested at a trout farm in Adler. Trout caviar is healthy, tastes as good, and is less expensive.

7. Try lavash

It must be fresh, just out of a Georgian tandoor oven. This flat bread shaped like a large drop is baked in just about every corner of the city. Bakers knead the dough and make it right in front of the customers. Fresh Georgian lavash, which has a faintly salty taste, can be eaten with sugar and tea, milk, kefir, or sweet sparkling water. Lavash goes well with meat or vegetarian meals.

Walk in a snowy park. Source: Geo Photo

8. Bring home a sample of the world's northernmost tea

Sochi is proud of its tea, which is grown the northernmost grown tea in the world. The tea, which has a very delicate aroma and rich taste, is harvested at the Dagomys plantations, and the villages of Matsesta and Adler. Often different herbs that grow in the Caucasus Mountains are added to the tea. You can also take a tour at the Tea House, where a Russian samovar is steaming almost around the clock.

9. Try some mineral water from city fountains

Stroll along the central avenue of Riviera Park, which leads to a fountain with an endless supply of free natural mineral water. It is taken from wells on the outskirts of the city. This mineral water really quenches the thirst and has a beneficial effect on the body.

10. Take a dip in an outdoor warm pool

In Sochi, you can swim all year round.  The brave among the lot visit the city's beaches, but those who like it a little warmer swim in pools with heated seawater. The largest outdoor swimming pool is located in the centre of Sochi at Pearl Hotel. Even when the outside air temperature is below freezing, the water in this pool is always at least 26°C (79F).

11. View the Main Caucasian Ridge

…as well as the numerous villages hidden on its slopes, the vast expanse of the Black Sea, and most of the Sochi coast -- and you don't have to go up in an airplane to do it. The 30-meter Akhun white stone tower, built on top of Akhun mountain, offers a fantastic view. Tours to the most famous (and highest) observation deck in Sochi are offered daily. The view from Akhun is best in clear weather.

Take the obligatory tourist photo. Source: Geo Photo

12. Stroll through a forest that 1000 years old

Touch an ancient giant and make a wish in the Tiso-Samshitovaya Roshcha (Yew Boxwood Grove), located in the village of Khosta. Along the way you will encounter a steep rocky cliff with eagles circling overhead. Nearby are trees tied with hundreds of colourful ribbons. It is believed that people who leave a ribbon in the grove will definitely come back here again someday.

13. Play hide and seek in the dolmens

History enthusiasts will want to search the Sochi forests for ancient stone structures called dolmen, whose mysteries are still not completely understood. Several hypotheses have been put forward for why ancient people made dolmens. Some believe they were used for making astronomical observations, others see them as places of worship and for making offerings, and yet others, as crypts. In any case, the stone structures appeared in this area around the time the famous pyramids in Egypt were built.

14. Go snowboarding and skiing

The Sochi mountains are an ideal place for winter sports. During the Olympics, tourists can ski on the slopes of Mountain Carousel, which is a Games venue. Sports equipment can be rented at numerous places in Krasnaya Polyana.

15. Stop a wedding party

If you see a wedding party approaching you, stop them any safe way you can, for example, block the road with a rope. The newlyweds will offer you champagne or even money in order to continue on their way. Russian traditions can be strange!

16. Get invited to a Caucasian feast

If you find yourself at a real Caucasian feast with a hundred or even two hundred guests, get ready to eat and drink a lot. Lamb or pork kababs are grilled continuously at these parties, and the hosts make sure that no one's wine glass is ever empty. The most important advice in these situations is to not let them convince you to drink more than you can handle. Ask for a regular glass, since the traditional "horn of plenty" is a special vessel with a pointed bottom and holds up to a litre of wine. After every toast you must down your whole glass. Otherwise, the hosts might think you have disrespected their hospitality. In earlier times, Caucasian feasts sometimes lasted several days.

You can go fishing on the Black Sea. Source: Geo Photo

17. Make friends with the gypsies at a Russian feast

Russian feasts are no less fun. They serve traditional dishes such as salted pork bacon, salted cucumbers and cabbage, as well as Kulebyaka, which is a pastry stuffed with meat and potatoes. Try dancing with the gypsies in one of the cafes near Riviera Bridge.

18. See an alternative to Krasnaya Polyana

Visit the mountain village of Solokh aul. The views here dazzle at any time of the year, where the natural beauty has been left unspoiled, unlike in Krasnaya Polyana. In Solokh you can admire the mountain scenery, make a wish between two yew trees, visit a monastery and Panteleimon holy spring, and take a look in Solokh cave. On the way back from Solokh you can stop and see the famous Dagomys canyon – a unique natural formation where several huge stone slabs standing upright form basins in the riverbed. Vacationers go swimming here in the summer. And in winter you can enjoy the beauty of the mountain river, and sample a kebab and homemade wine. Nearby there is a Russian sauna, where you can check how tough you are. In the steam room, you can ask the attendant to really make you sweat with a bunch of eucalyptus branches.

19. Bargain at the market

Try a free sample of everything you are offered at the large food markets – freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, homemade wine, homemade cheeses and sausages, sour cream, grapes, and mandarin oranges. When you have selected the product you like, do not hesitate to bargain. Sellers are willing to knock down the price of their products to keep you from going to a competitor.

20. Try some Soviet desserts

Konditerskaya Alyonka (Alyonka Pastry Shop) located in the centre of Sochi is an important reminder of the Soviet heritage for the locals. Here they make pastries with a taste familiar to every Russian from his or her childhood. They haven't changed the names of the pastries either, there's the bouche, éclair, choux, and tartlet. Go in and try. By the way, even the interior of the shop hasn't changed in 30 years.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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