The vast, seemingly endless region of Vologda (Вологодская область) is given character by a scattering of ancient monasteries, the tattered charm of once-grand towns…and the Russian Santa Claus. Some highlights, such as Kargopol, are places that time forgot once railways supplanted river transport.
At first look, Vladivostok is something like ‘Russia’s San Francisco’ – a real stunner, with pointed mountains springing up above a network of bays, most strikingly the crooked dock-lined Golden Horn Bay (named for its likeness to Istanbul’s). Closer up, it can be a little grey, with Soviet housing blocks squeezed between new condos and century-old mansions.
Black Sea Coast
A narrow coastal strip edges the Black Sea from where rolling hills ascend fairly rapidly into mountains in the southeast and low uplands in the northwest. This is the Black Sea coast (Побережье Чёрного моря), Russia’s sole seaside playground until the Kremlin's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
One of Siberia’s oldest cities, Tomsk was founded in 1604 and was a major trade outpost before the founding of Novosibirsk (then Novo-Nikolaevsk) and the subsequent relocation of the trans-Siberian railway line. It’s a university city where around one in every five residents is a student – hence the youthful, intellectual atmosphere.
The Far East’s most pleasant surprise – and a welcome break after days of relentless taiga on the train – Khabarovsk boasts a dreamy riverside setting, vibrant nightlife and broad boulevards lined with pretty tsarist-era buildings. Unlike so many places, the city has developed its riverside in the public interest.
Vast and beautiful, the Greenland-shaped Krasnoyarsk region (Красноярский Край) stretches all the way from the Arctic islands of Severnaya Zemlya to a mountainous tip at Mt Borus. Its capital is Krasnoyarsk, a buzzing, forward-looking metropolis and a popular stop for travellers riding the Trans-Siberian Railway.