THE BLACK SEA AND THE CAUCASUS
There are about 300 kilometres separating the Taman Penisula steppe in the north and the resort city of Sochi in the south of Russia’s Black Sea coast. From May to October, the country’s resort life is concentrated on this relatively short coastline. Dozens of coastal towns and villages, hundreds of hotels and health resort centres, millions of vacationers from all over Russia and foreign tourists from different countries flock to the Black Sea coast area. It is situated at the same latitude as the Adriatic Sea resorts, the Italian and French Rivera’s, and therefore resembles them in many respects.
Why is the Black Sea called “black”? There are many versions of the answer. The ancient Greeks and Romans called it Pontus Euxinus, the “hospitable sea”, whereas Turks, on the contrary, nicknamed it Karaden-Ghiz, “inhospitable” (in other words, “black”). It is also assumed that the sea got its name because of the colour of the silt left on the beaches after storms, or due to the fact that metal items grow black when they are deep underwater.
By the way, this last fact is the cause for another Black Sea epithet: the “Sea of Dead Depths.” There is no ife in the Black Sea at a depth of 200 metres and beyond because of the high percentage of hydrogen sulphide dissolved in the water. There are very few fish, though one may come across an occasional huso or sturgeon. Oysters, mussels and crabs can be found, eels and swordfish appear from time to time, with whales even more of a rarity. Dolphins, however, visit the area quite frequently, not only in the high seas or dolphinaria (in the towns of Ghelenjik and Adler), but also at seaside beaches where they allow people to play with them sometimes. There are two species of shark found in the Black Sea, both fortunately small and completely harmless. A type of cancer-fighting medicine is produced from the liver of the cramble shark.
The northern Black Sea coast area, including the Taman Penisula and the Kuban lowland, are known for their traditional wine-making Starting at the end of the 19th century, a winery has been operating on the shore of the picturesque Abrau-Dyurso Lake near the city of Novorossiysk. It s huge wine caves are built 90 metres under the ground, and it is here that the production of first class-quality Russian wine began. The quality of the wine is comparable with famous French champagne, but it is much cheaper to buy. One may try and local collection of different wines in numerous degustation rooms and, of course, in any of the restaurants along the coast.
Anapa, the largest family resort in Southern Russia, has existed since 1846. There are 40 kilometres of perfect sandy beaches, and 10 kilometres of pebble beaches here. The sea is shallow and its bottom is flat, making it especially enjoyable for small children.
The city of Sochi is called “Russia’s summer capital.” This resort city and park takes up 150 kilometres of coastal area, consisting of such health resort towns as Adler, Khosta, Matsesta, Dagomys and Lazarevskoye, where the first health resort appeared in 1838. The city’s population exceeds 300,000 and it hosts at least 3 million vacationers every year.
Over 200 hotels and health resort centres are located in the area Many palm trees, agaves, magnolias, red maples and numerous flower gardens decorate the streets and colour the city with their unique palette. The Sochi Arboretum, a home for plant species from all over the world, is especially famous. One may see subtropical flora in the “Southern Cultures” park, as well as finding oneself in a celebratory mood while walking through the “Riviera” seaside park. As with any sea resort, there is something here for everyone, from scuba diving, windsurfing and water-skiing to yachting, sailing, fishing and underwater hunting.
Sochi is also famous for its mineral water springs and mud-baths, especially in the valleys of the Matsesta, Agura and Khosta rivers, where those in search of treatments and therapy have come since days of old. It is said that the Athenians, Romans and Byzantines would make the journey to this part of the world from their respective countries to receive such treatments. The sulphide-chloride-sodium saturated waters of Matsesta were discovered in 1902. There are over 50 borewells which lift the healing water from deep underground for therapeutic baths, inhalation and sparkling drinking water. The best known mineral water in the Black Sea area is the carbonic Chvizhepse. The local resorts are famous for successfully treating all sorts of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neurological, haematological and dermatological problems. Many consider that Sochi is on par with the glorified resorts of Nice of San Remo. The favourable subtropical climate, pure oxygenated sea air, as well as rich zones of southern vegetation, should definitely do wonders for anyone’s health.
Southward, in the city of Tuapse, the spurs of the Big Caucasus mountain range come down to the very sea coast. The gorges and mountain creeks forming numerous waterfalls are very picturesque. The Akhshtyrsky Canyon of the Mzymta River is one of the most beautiful places one can find in the area. A twisting mountain road inlaid with rocks leads one to the village of Krasnaya Polyana (“Red Glade”). On the way there, tourists usually visit a trout-farm where one can fish, and an apiary (local honey-making enterprise) which is the largest in Europe. A lot of construction and renovation work is being done in these places. Alongside an old and very narrow road, a recently laid modern one, wide and safe, can be found. Some tunnels are being constructed for that road, one being as long as 2 kilometres.
Krasnaya Polyana is situated about 600 metres above sea level. Lately, great attention has been paid to the development of a brand-new mountain-skiing health resort for government employees. There are excellent conditions in which to do this: abundant snow, a mild winter climate and versatile skiing slopes attract both tourists and sportsmen to the area. President Vladimir Putin, who is a great fan of mountain-skiing, has visited this health resort several times, which surely gave a new impetus and efficiency to the construction work at the resort. Mountain-skiing is becoming more and more popular in Russia: the entourage allows for the development of national winter health resorts, of which Krasnaya Polyana is a good example. New hotels, cafes, elevating platforms and other objects of tourism infrastructure were built here at a mercurial pace.
The wild, severe and majestic atmosphere of the Caucasus Mountains makes a strong impression upon locals and visitors alike. The height of the mountainous peaks, covered with eternal snows, reaches about 2 kilometres in the area of Krasnaya Polyana. This is also a favourite gathering place for mountain skiers and hang-gliders. One may also take a ride from here in a hot-air balloon, in order to better admire the fantastic panorama of the mountains from a birdâ€™s-eye view. In addition, local rafting is very popular among tourists, with water routes designed for different levels of skill, as well as with routes for children beginners and skilled sportsmen.
In the mountains, the air temperature goes down to 6 C as one goes up every 1,000 metres: so, if it is 25 C at the seaside, it is as cold as 7 C at an altitude of 3,000 metres. In this way, Krasnaya Polyana offers its visitors a unique “package” of mountain-skiing and sea-bathing all in one. After enjoying first class skiing, one can drive down to the coast and then, it about half an hour, can enjoy a dip in the warm sea. There are not very many places on the planet where such contrasting climatic conditions are combined so organically and comfortably.
Having passed the Big Caucasus mountain range 9the easiest way to do this is definitely by plane), one reaches another very interesting place in Southern Russia: the Caucasus Mineral Waters health resort. Approaching the area, one passes a panorama of mountains, among them the Beshtau, Mashuk, Zheleznaya and Zmeika: they look like volcanoes, until the flat steppe opens out into the distance. The air in this region is extremely clear and pure, and the hillsides of the rather low mountains are covered with dense oak and hombeam forest. There are lots of apple, pear, cherry-plum and other sorts of wild fruit trees thriving here.
The health resort is surrounded by the beautiful spurs of the Big Caucasus. Here, one can see rocky peaks reaching up to touch the sky above the clouds, blue glaciers, green alpine meadows, the depths of gloomy ravines, noisy rivers with their rapids and waterfalls, small villages and ancient temples. People believe that the view of the awesome Caucasus landscape itself has miraculous healing power; many painters and photographers flock to the area to pay tribute to the unbelievable scenery there.
There are about a thousand small, amazingly beautiful and pure lakes with turquoise-coloured water on these mountains, as well as several hundred glaciers. Some peaks here reach as high as 4,000 to 5,000 metres. Elborus, a dormant volcano which is the highest peak in Europe (5642 metres), is situated here. This giant double-peaked mountain seems to close off the long Baxan Ravine. One may ascend Elborus by cableway as high as 3,500 metres from the Azau Glade.
The Dombai Glade is located in the Teberda Riverâ€™s upper reaches. Tourists, even those who are not that familiar with the terrain, can quite easily go from this point to either Alikbek Glacier or to the Klukhori Passage (2,782 metres) and the blue, small and deep Klukhori Lake, where ice floes dance even in the hot summer.
The peaks of the Elborus, Cheghet and Dombai mountains are covered in deep snow year round. Hese are traditional resting places for tourists, alpinists and mountain-skiers; hotels and cableways were already built here long ago. The Baxan Ravine is as beautiful as the Alps, with the Baxan River, which flows from the Elborus, consisting mainly of mineral water.
Mineral waters are the most traditional and efficient healing sources in the Northern Caucasus. The local mineral water springs have been famous from days of old: they are extremely versatile in their treatments and healing therapies, which are unique in the world. The famous health resorts of Kislovodsk, Pyatigorsk, Zheleznovodsk and Yessentuki were established here as early as the 19th century. Over a hundred mineral water springs are concentrated within quite a small area. The most famous of them is Narzan, meaning “mighty water” in the Circassian language. There are over 100 well-equipped health centres and over two dozen tourist and hotel complexes in the area. Over half a million people come here every year to rest and to get therapeutic treatment. They usually forget about what is ailing them for a long time after their visit to the Caucasus Mineral Waters resorts From this goes the legend of Caucasian longevity: it is precisely in this region that the majority of people live to be older than 100.