Introducing Kola Peninsula
The Kola Peninsula is a 100, 000-sq-km knob of tundra, forest, lakes, bogs, rivers and low mountains between the White Sea and the Barents Sea, making up most of the Murmansk oblast (region).
While the centre of the peninsula, near the main road and railway, is relatively developed and populated, the east is virtually devoid of human habitation, except for a few villages and small coastal towns accessible only by sea.
The region endured a rough time in the 1990s with the dismantling of the Soviet command economy and the shrinking of the armed forces, its population fell from over 1.1 million in 1989 to an estimated 842, 000 in 2005. But things are on the mend, and average wages here are now above national levels.
The Kola Peninsula is a place of amazing, if stark, beauty, and apart from the liveliness of Murmansk and other towns, it's the fresh-air attractions that make it exciting - skiing and snowboarding at Kirovsk, hiking in the Khibiny mountains, fishing some of the world's best salmon rivers, snowmobile safaris in winter, swimming in the White Sea in summer. The Kola Peninsula is also extraordinarily rich in rare minerals and semiprecious stones, and hunting for these is another special pastime here.
Since most of the Kola Peninsula is north of the Arctic Circle, here you can experience to the full those two wonderful natural phenomena, the midnight sun and the northern lights. In Murmansk the sun never sets from late May to late July, then from 29 November to 15 January it doesn't peep above the horizon. But even in midwinter you still get a few hours of murky daylight, and the northern lights and the shine of the moon and stars on the snow-covered landscape can be quite magical.
In summer, bring sunscreen and sunglasses - Arctic sunburn can really sneak up on you!
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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