Yalta, the Russian Riviera

The Swallow's nest in Yalta, Crimea. Source: TASS/Ovchinnikov Alexander

The Swallow's nest in Yalta, Crimea. Source: TASS/Ovchinnikov Alexander

Crucial conferences gone by and Chekhov’s inspiration are not all that a visit to Yalta will evoke. A drive in a convertible at sunset will transport you to the Crimean Mountains on the one side, and the tranquil, turquoise sea on the other. Walk along the embankment, order fresh seafood, listen to the sounds of the sea and see for yourself why Yalta is Crimea’s premier resort.

(Editors note: Over a year has passed since a referendum was held on Crimea, after which a treaty was signed between the peninsula and Russia. This has created enormous controversy between Russia, Ukraine and the West, and many foreign embassies warn against travel here. Economic sanctions passed in response to this event, make travelling in Crimea not easy. Almost no international airlines come to Crimea and visitors must bring fistfuls of cash along because bank and credit cards are not accepted anywhere. It is possible to change foreign currency in banks.)

Stretched along the southern coast of Crimea between the Black Sea and the Crimean Mountains, Yalta (1479 kms from Moscow) has always been the most popular resort on the peninsula. Clean beaches, 250 sunny days each year, sanatoriums and varieties of entertainment options attract around half a million tourists annually, according to data from the Crimean Ministry of Resorts and Tourism earlier this year.

Here are 10 ideas to get acquainted with Yalta, Crimea’s “city of happiness,” over a weekend.

1) Ride a Soviet-era cable car in the centre of Yalta. The little cars travel slowly to the main viewpoint on top of Darsan Hill, from where the sea and typically regional houses, gardens, pavilions and a tower with an old clock can be viewed.

Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

2) Travel back a hundred years in time to the summerhouse of famous Russian writer and playwright Anton Chekhov. The efforts of Chekhov's sister Maria have ensured that everything here has been preserved as it was during Chekhov's times. The atmosphere is so authentic, it appears as if the writer will emerge from his study and offer a cup of tea.

Source: Alamy/Legion-Media

3) Those daunting, 800 steps all the way up to Lastochkino gnezdo (the Swallow's Nest) are worth conquering. The stunning view from that point with a small tower makes the effort worthwhile. The ‘Swallow’s Nest’ offers a perfect, panoramic view of the sea. German oil magnate Baron von Steingel, who loved spending his vacations in Crimea, had it built to resemble a castle with contemporary looks, At the beginning of the 20th century he decided to build a romantic castle here similar to such buildings dating from the Middle Ages along the banks of the Rhine River.

Source: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

4) “Churchkhela” sellers are visible on practically every corner. ‘Churchkhela’ is a local dessert that resembles bunches of coloured grapes. It is comprised of nuts covered with caramelized fruit juice. Try to avoid buying these sweets near tourist sights of interest, because the prices will be raised and cheaper options will be available at a market.

Source: TASS/Dinara Devlet-Kildeyeva

5) Go to Massandra to experience the atmosphere of an old winery and taste the red port wine Livadia, the semi-sweet Cherny Doktor (Black Doctor) or the white desert wine Sedmoye nebo knyazya Golitsyna (The Seventh Sky of Prince Golitsyn).

Source: RIA Novosti/Milhail Mokrushin

6) Buy some yellow cherries and apricots on your way to Vorontsov Palace, where Winston Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference in 1945. Leading up to the palace there is a park with various corners named for romantic themes: Tea Pavilion, Swan Lake, Sunny Meadow and Meadow of Contrasts.

Source: Lori/Legion-Media

7) At the palace book a thematic excursion that investigates the secrets of Graf (Russian title equivalent to earl) Mikhail Vorontsov, a Russian government official and hero of the War of 1812. Like many influential figures of his time, he was a Mason, which is why there are secret signs and symbols typical of the design used by the most powerful brotherhood in the world in his residence and the park surrounding it.

8) After visiting the Vorontsov Palace head to Livadia palace, the Yalta summer residence of the royal family of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II. To many this spot is best known for its role as the headquarters of the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Source: RIA Novosti/Konstantin Chalabov

9) Climb to the top of Ai-Petri Mountain along the Botkinsky trail specially created for Terrainkur (German term for a health trail) and climate therapy. On the slopes of Ai-Petri check out the Ai-Petri meridian, caves, a weather station and Bedene-Kyr peak. There is a beautiful view of the coast from the plateau up top, which can be reached by automobile or cable car.

Source: Alamy/Legion-Media

10) On the slopes of Ai-Petri discover the unusual Uchan-Su waterfalls. Unlike most falls, these look best during the torrential rains and melting snows of spring and fall. Its name can be translated as flying water. According to legend a beautiful girl was stolen by a dragon and turned into a stream of water while rapidly flying down the rock.

Source: RIA Novosti/Dmitriy Debabov

The easiest way to reach the peninsula is by plane. Russian airlines Aeroflot, S7, Donavia and Utair, and the charter airline Vimavia fly there from all three Moscow airports. The planes are often full, therefore it’s best to book your flight in advance, especially if you want a window seat or to sit together with your companion. The flight takes 2.5 hours. Roundtrip fares from Moscow start at 5,500 rubles (about $86). For cheap flights around Russia we recommend using jetradar.com, a travel search engine.

At the moment the only tour company for foreign visitors operating in southern Russia, including Crimea, is Southern Comfort - Tours to the South of Russia. The company employs tour guides that speak English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and other languages, trustworthy drivers and managers that can organize individual tours based on a client’s wishes.

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