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Introducing Arkhangelsk

In the 17th century Arkhangelsk was immensely important as Russia’s only seaport and in 1693 Peter the Great began shipbuilding operations here, launching the Russian navy’s tiny first ship, the Svyatoy Pavel, the following year. Though the founding of St Petersburg in 1703 pushed Arkhangelsk out of the limelight, it later became a centre for Arctic exploration, a core of the huge northern lumber industry and a crucial supply point during the 20th-century world wars.

Only a few historical timber houses remain from the city's heyday, but there's a cosmopolitan charm to the city's parks and waterfront promenade, and Arkhangelsk's lively jazz scene and smattering of good restaurants make it a great stopover en route to two of the region's big attractions: the Solovetsky Islands and the beautifully preserved wooden architecture of Malye Karely.

Arkhangelsk was also the dystopian setting for much of Robert Harris's dark novel Archangel, and fans of the book may find themselves feeling decidedly jumpy at the sight of Stalin-like shadows in the nearby forest.