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Introducing Monchegorsk

Though 'Moncha' means 'beautiful' in Sami, and though its mountain-fringed setting on the vast Bolshaya Imandra Lake, is undeniably idyllic, visitors to Monchegorsk may be put off by the noxious emissions belched out by nearby factories. Still, the town makes for a convenient stopover if you're looking to explore the Lovozero area and delve into Sami culture.

Monchegorsk-based Kola Travel, an experienced, multilingual Russo-Dutch firm, offers an inspiring selection of Kola adventures, including hiking, rock hunting, snowmobile safaris and traditional hut stays, as well as expeditions to Franz Josef Land and really good day-trip options.

The Geological Museum offers an in-depth introduction to the minerals on which Monchegorsk and its nearby towns have been built. The smooth spheres of jasper, may just, erm, rock your world.

The only decent place to stay, and one of the most comfortable hotels in central Kola, is the modern, business-style Laplandia Hotel, which comes complete with friendly, helpful receptionists and comfortable en suites. Next door, at Murmansk export Kruzhka, you can chow down on surprisingly good sushi rolls, pasta, pizza, shashlyk, ribs, wings and salads in a plasticky enchanted-forest setting.

From the bus station, one block off pr Metallurgov, there are departures for Murmansk (R345, 2¾ hours, up to 10 daily) via Olenegorsk railway station (R86, 40 minutes), and Kirovsk (R209, 1¾ hours, four daily) via Apatity (R169, 1¼ hours, four to six daily).