Yalta's air – an invigorating blend of sea and pine forest sprinkled with mountain chill – has always been its main asset. Back in the 19th century, doctors in St Petersburg had one remedy for poor-lunged aristocrats: Yalta. That's how the Russian royal family and other dignitaries, such as playwright Anton Chekhov, ended up here.
With its odd mixture of the Levantine and the Soviet, the Crimean capital is not an unpleasant city, but there is no point lingering here, as everything else on the peninsula is much more exciting – and it's only a short bus ride away. The Crimean capital was the scene of dramatic though largely bloodless events during the Russian seizure of the peninsula.
Neighbourhood names like Chumka (Plague) and Quarantine aren't romantic, but they hark back to the city's past. Founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC under its current name, Feodosiya was rebranded Kaffa by the Genovese, who took over in the 13th century, turning the city into a meeting point for caravans from the Orient and European merchants.
The Russian annexation of Crimea has transformed Kerch in a big way. What used to be a distant backwater is now the main transport hub connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. Overcrowded ferries bring hordes of Russian holidaymakers across the narrow straits of Kerch, with lines of cars stretching for kilometres and waiting time sometimes measured in days rather than hours.
More a village than a town, the former capital of Crimean Tatar khans is cradled in a narrow valley squeezed between two limestone escarpments. Its name means 'garden-palace', and it's a garden that needs a lot of tilling after 50 years of neglect, during which its owners lived in exile.
From bloodthirsty pirates featuring in Homer's Odyssey to the Soviet nuclear-submarine fleet – everyone used this beautiful curving fjord, invisible from the sea, as a secret hideout. The British army wintered here during the Crimean War when a storm destroyed many supply ships moored outside the bay.
As an important stop on the Silk Route from China, Sudak was a major and well-defended trading centre run by the Genovese. Its central claim to fame is the fortress that survives from that era, but that's not quite all in this overcrowded resort. Just a few kilometres away lie the popular beaches of Novy Svit.
A merry band of Russian bohemians, led by gregarious bearded artist Maximilian Voloshin, descended in the 1900s on what was then a small and remote village of Bulgarian refugees, transforming it into a favourite playground for the intelligentsia. This boho atmosphere lingered for a century, but the tide of wild capitalism has largely washed it away.
Gurzuf's steep, winding streets and old wooden houses, backed by Mt Roman-Kosh (1543m), were traditionally a magnet for artists and writers. Russia's greatest poet, Aleksandr Pushkin, frolicked in Gurzuf's subtropical gardens after being exiled from depressing St Petersburg, and writer Anton Chekhov cured his tuberculosis and misanthropy on these shores.
Lying in the foothills of green mountains 7km inland from Sudak, Dachne is a sprawling village of fruit gardens and many old wells with the clearest and tastiest mountain water. The population is mixed – Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar. Several households here are united in a rural tourism project, which gives a wholly different perspective on life in Crimea.