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Introducing Staraya Ladoga

Although you’d hardly guess it now, this tranquil village, 125km east of St Petersburg on the winding banks of the Volkhov River, lays claim to being Russia’s first capital. The idea of this place being a 'capital' of anywhere is quite extraordinary, though, and today you’ll find an ancient fortress, several churches and some prettily painted wooden cottages. It makes for a pleasant escape from St Petersburg, particularly in summer when a swim in the river adds to the charm.

The town was known simply as Ladoga until 1704, when Peter the Great founded Novaya (New) Ladoga to the north as a transfer point for the materials arriving to build St Petersburg. Protected as a national reserve, the town’s basic layout has remained virtually unchanged since the 12th century, give or take a few ugly Soviet blocks.