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Introducing Sochi

Your first reaction to Sochi, the pearl of the ‘Russian Riviera’ (and 2014's Winter Olympics host city) is bound to be one of surprise. For one it’s, well, big. It has traffic, high-rise buildings and an urban attitude that you’d hardly expect from a seaside retreat. Its beach could easily be mistaken for an oversized rock garden. And while expensive European retail chains affirm its glitzy reputation, a gaggle of dilapidated sanatoriums recall a not-quite-bygone era when Sochi was a very proletarian Soviet spa town.

In short, wealthy developers bent on transforming Sochi into a world-class resort have a project on their hands. But all is not hopeless. They do have miles of prime Black Sea coastline to work with. The sea is warm and reportedly clean. That rocky shoreline? Nothing a little imported sand can’t cure. And the winter playground of Krasnaya Polyana is only 90 minutes away, making it possible to enjoy both sea and slopes in late spring.

Sochi remains open for business even as it undergoes an unprecedented facelift. The high season is early May to late September, with the big crowds arriving in July and August, driving prices up. We reckon that June is the best time to come, when the city is at its freshest.