Russia is at once breathtaking, baffling and stunningly beautiful. Monumental in every respect, it’s a land where untamed wilderness sits alongside bustling urban centres, and adventure lurks around every corner. From imperial splendour to icy Siberian tundra and from time worn Soviet-era monuments to uber-hip urban culture, Russia is a land of contradiction and superlatives. No wonder Churchill described it as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
In the west of this vast country, the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow serve up sweeping postcard sights by the dozen. Moscow is the rapidly beating heart of the ‘New Russia’, where Asia and Europe combine to create a boisterous metropolis on a grand scale. Whether it’s history, culture or a hedonistic nightlife you’re after, Moscow certainly has it all. St Petersburg, with its majestic film set of palaces, cathedrals and waterways is well deserving of the title ‘Venice of the North.’ Peter the Great’s ‘Window on the West’ is the most European of all the Russian cities with its baroque and rococo grandeur mirroring (and exceeding) the best of the grand capitals of Europe.
For the first time in its history, Russia is now wide open for foreign visitors to experience, and exploration beyond the two main hubs is well advised. The Golden Ring, a collection of ancient gems, transports the traveller back to a bygone age. Towns such as Suzdal and Vladimir, rich in old world charm are a daytrip from the capital, and with Europe’s longest river the Volga travelling south through Russia’s rich heartland to the Caspian sea, it is possible to witness a varied selection of cities, panoramas and peoples. These in turn provide a magical insight into the country beyond its increasingly Westernised veneer.
Those who look further afield towards the east, meanwhile, will find a land of varied, often sublime natural beauty. The region of Russia stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in the east is vast, rich in diverse cultures and contrasting landscapes. From the lake dwellers of Baikal and the old imperial city of Irkutsk (The Paris of Siberia), the mountains of the Altai and the shamans of Tuva, Siberia has many secrets. It is an area long hidden, rich in mythology and today remains much of a paradox.
It is a combination of the above and so much more, fused with a touch of mystery that is drawing an increasing number of tourists to the Russian Federation, all eager to discover and experience the puzzles and mythologies of modern Russia for themselves. Numbers are set to increase further still in the run up to 2018 when the country will play host to the football World Cup. The poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote: ‘Russia cannot be understood…In Russia one can only have faith’ and it has been said that Russia is impenetrable. Indeed, perhaps indeed she is. However you’ll have the time of your life trying to find out!