The phrase ‘Russian Riviera’ may sound like an oxymoron but it may just be the last great undiscovered tourist destination. It’s an area of wild and unspoilt beauty: snow-capped peaks, alpine lakes, gorges, waterfalls, hot springs and Byzantine churches.
It’s largely undeveloped as a centre for tourism but the gateway to this vast, unspoilt terrain is Sochi. Russia’s only sub-tropical city sits on the eastern side of the Black Sea in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Its black stone beaches are warm enough to enjoy from May through to October and its palm lined streets give it the air of a tropical resort. Stalin had a dacha here, now a museum, and encouraged the building of health spas, but it was the 2014 Winter Olympics which transformed the fortunes of the city.
The most expensive Winter Olympics in history has left Sochi with a legacy of five-star hotels, vast sports stadia and one of the largest railway stations in Europe. As a skiing destination, it is outstanding. It has four ski resorts and 142km of slopes, with pistes which are wide and sweeping. What is perhaps most extraordinary is that you can hike in snow-capped mountains in the morning and a thirty-minute bus ride later you can be sunbathing on a sub-tropical beach.
Spring is probably the most beautiful time to visit but high summer is most popular for visitors who enjoy swimming and hiking. Sochi is a municipality which incorporates four boroughs and it offers a sophisticated range of entertainment to the visitor. Perhaps a walk by the harbour to watch the yachts and ocean-going cruisers or enjoy one of the spectacular sunsets, before visiting a bar, restaurant or club. Or perhaps a visit to the Sochi Casino and Resort, a luxury mountain venue, which will host the partypoker Millions Russia, from the 3rd – 14th September.
No trip to Sochi would be complete without a visit to the Fisht Olympic Stadium, built for the Winter Games and now being refurbished in readiness for the 2018 World Cup and currently host to regular sporting activities. If you are travelling with children then they may well enjoy the spectacular Arboretum on the southern edge of the city which boasts over fifteen hundred species of trees and shrubs. Or perhaps a visit to the Amphibius Water Park which sprawls over two hectares and offers seventeen thrilling rides, or the Mountain Beach Water Park on the top level of the Gorky Gorod Mall. Here, beneath a transparent dome, you can enjoy white sand and palm trees and a steady temperature of thirty degrees.
In short, Sochi has an extraordinary variety of entertainment on offer, from outdoor pursuits in a pristine natural environment to high class restaurants, atmospheric bars and lively clubs, to museums and art galleries, all in a sub-tropical resort. It’s hardly surprising that Sochi is already very popular with Russians, how long will it be before the rest of the world catches on?