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Introducing Magadan

Tucked between hills facing the Sea of Okhotsk, and a world away from anything but the bear droppings and gold nuggets of the wide Kolyma Region, Magadan is a quiet city with an almost cute, rather European centre in pastels. Not exactly what you expect from the so-called 'gateway to hell, ' as it was called by its builders: the estimated two million Stalin-era Gulag prisoners who passed through here.

These days, most of the friendly folk you'll meet here came in the 1960s after Stalin's death in a rebuild, positive-energy frenzy. That said, probably no other town in Russia wears the stigma of the Gulags more - and probably no other place (including Moscow) has done as good a job of paying tribute to the victims.

The rare visitor - other than business people selling construction equipment to gold mines up north in the mountainous Kolyma Region - can camp at a Gulag, fish or raft on the Arman River, cross-country ski, see birds, or hike. The trip to Yakutsk on the Kolyma Hwy is a classic rugged overland journey.