South Baikal & the Tunka Valley
The windows of trans-Siberian trains passing between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude frame attractive lake vistas along much of Baikal’s south coast. Few travellers are actually tempted off the train along this stretch but if they are, it’s usually at Slyudyanka, the starting point for the Circumbaikal train rides and a launch pad into the remotely scenic Tunka Valley.
The lakeside railway town of Slyudyanka provides a grittier alternative to Listvyanka for those eager to get up close to Lake Baikal's waves/groaning ice and the Trans-Siberian Railway, which hugs the lake's pebbly shore either side of town. Most alight from a train at the glittering, solid-marble train station, which is a mere five-minute walk from Lake Baikal.
Barguzin & The Barguzin Valley
The road north from Ust-Barguzin emerges from thick forests at Barguzin, a low-rise town of wooden cottages that dates back to 1648. Walking from the bus station you can see its handful of dilapidated historic buildings in about 20 minutes by heading along ul Krasnoarmeyskaya past the cursorily renovated old church to pl Lenina.
Low-rise Ust-Barguzin has sandy streets of traditional log homes with blue-and-white carved window frames. These are most attractive towards the northern end of the main street, ul Lenina, where it reaches the Barguzin River ferry. From here, views are magical towards the high-ridged peaks of the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula.
From the turn-off for Arshan it’s just 9km along the Tunka Valley road to the village of Zhemchug (Жемчуг) where, for around R100, you can wallow in a series of hot pools that leave a chalky-green residue on skin and clothes. Around 25km further along the road, the valley’s unkempt, low-rise little ‘capital’ Kyren (Кырен) is home to the Tunka National Park HQ.
Svyatoy Nos Peninsula
Rising almost vertically out of shimmering waters, dramatic Svyatoy Nos is one of Lake Baikal’s most impressive features. It’s within the mostly impenetrable Zabaikalsky National Park and joined to Ust-Barguzin by a muddy 20km sandbar that’s possible but painful to drive along (there’s also a toll).
Tiny and roadless, this serene Baikal village is what the great Siberian escape is all about. But things weren’t always this quiet; in the 19th century Koty experienced a mini gold rush and boasted soap and candle factories, a glassworks, churches and a school. Today all that’s long since over, leaving Irkutsk’s nouveau riche to assemble their lakeside dachas in peace.
You’d be excused for dismissing Port Baikal as a rusty semi-industrial eyesore when seen from Listvyanka across the unbridged mouth of the Angara River. But the view is misleading. A kilometre southwest of Stanitsa (the port area), Baranchiki is a ramshackle ‘real’ village with lots of unkempt but authentic Siberian cottages and a couple of handy accommodation options.