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Introducing Kirovsk

Kirovsk is a miners' town that owes its existence to the world's purest deposits of apatite, as testified by the giant lump of the stuff on a pedestal along main ul Lenina and a cute gornyachok (little miner) sculpture nearby. There's a grim beauty to the industrial detritus of Kirvosk, founded in 1929, with gaping shells of abandoned Soviet buildings and open-pit mines set against the backdrop of Lake Veliky Vudyavr and the surrounding snow-covered mountains.

With its own microclimate, Kirovsk really comes into its own in the long winter, with a surprisingly good skiing scene that lasts until mid-May and local daredevils freeriding off-piste even after the ski lifts shut down for the season. In winter, ice skaters and morzhi (hardy Russians who swim year-round, cutting swimming holes in lakes in winter) take to the frozen lakes and sculptors take up chisels at the Snow Village. In the brief warmer months, Kirovsk's cluster of hotels, located within walking distance of the central clocktower ('Big Ben'), makes a good springboard for rambles in the surrounding wilderness.

You can find a super-detailed online map of Kirovsk at www.kartami.ru/kirovskmurmanskoy.