Prior to its 2014 debut on the world stage, Sochi was celebrated in Russia for its sunny skies and balmy temperatures, which attracted privileged Party members to seaside sanatoria. Even Comrade Stalin had a vacation home near this Black Sea coastal town. But the 2014 Winter Olympics revealed the city’s real treasure – the magnificent Greater Caucasus – with its spectacular scenery and endless mountain adventures.
Now Sochi is set to welcome visitors year-round, not just for beach holidays, but also for more active leisure. A slew of athletic facilities were constructed for the Olympic Games, including ski resorts, ice arenas and more. The former Olympic Park is home to a western-style amusement park known as Sochi Park, while the surrounding street circuit – now the Sochi Autodrom – hosts Formula One racing. The Fisht Olympic Stadium was converted into an open-air football stadium for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The sea is indeed warm and the climate subtropical, however Sochi’s beaches are rocky and grey, with artificial trees and sunbathing loungers dressing up the skimpy stretch of sand. It’s not the prettiest or most pristine beach you’ll ever visit. That said, the seaside boardwalk – or Naberezhnaya – is loads of fun in summer, when nightclubs pump out booming bass lines and the party lasts all night long. In June, July and August, the cultural calendar is packed with open-air summer theatre and live music at venues like the waterfront Festival Concert Hall.
More private and secluded beaches extend south of the city all the way to Adler. To access them, hop on the train bound for Krasnaya Polyana and get off at Matsesta, Khosta or Izvestiya station.
Another way to experience the sea is to take a sightseeing cruise from Sochi’s historic sea terminal. On a clear day, you can admire the snow-capped mountains towering behind the city. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins frolicking in the water.
The Greater Caucasus mountains are a stunning backdrop to this city by the sea. To gain some altitude, take the high-speed train from Sochi to the village of Krasnaya Polyana (Red Valley). Here, three resorts offer facilities for skiing and snowboarding à la Matthias Mayer and Kaitlin Farrington. The most famous is Roza Khutor, which hosted the alpine skiing events at the 2014 Olympics. This world-class resort offers almost 80km of ski trails, including some at the Rosa Peak (2320m), the region’s highest. Equipment is available for hire, same as at all the area resorts.
When the snow melts, you’ll have more fun at Gorki Gorod, with 7km of mountain bike tracks and four hiking trails, encompassing forests, fields and waterfalls. Other attractions include a ropes obstacle course (aka the Adventure Park), strung between the trees at 1460m, and a year-round indoor water park whose glass-domed roof enables you to enjoy the mountain views while splashing around.
If you prefer to enjoy the great outdoors without the physical exertion, you’re in luck. Both Roza Khutor and Gorki Gorod offer scenic gondola rides to their highest points, where you can admire the spectacular surrounding landscape from viewing platforms or from the top-notch restaurants (Vysota 2320 and Vershina 2200, respectively).
When you come in from the sun (or snow), you’ll discover that dining in Sochi is delicious and unique, thanks to the city’s southern locale and its proximity to the sea. Just stroll along the Naberezhnaya to scope out the open-air cafes and seaside restaurants.
Sochi is only a few kilometres from the Georgian border, which means that the aromas of grilled meat and khmeli sumeli (Georgian spice mix) waft on the sea breezes. Follow your nose to Chyo? Kharcho! for the best shashlyk (kebab) on the Naberezhnaya, or try its namesake kharcho (lamb stew) and other Georgian specialities. The wide, welcoming terrace with views of the boardwalk and the beach beyond makes this a great place to relax with a beer and enjoy some people-watching.
To sample the local seafood, head to Dok, a sophisticated spot overlooking the harbour. The raw bar features oysters from the Far East and the White Sea, in addition to the smaller specimens from local Black Sea waters. Another excellent option is at the hotel Sanremo, which has a fabulous restaurant-lounge at sea level. This is a perfect spot for sundowners, with indoor and outdoor seating, a tantalising seafood menu and a pretty cool atmosphere.
For a taste of Europe in Sochi, stop by Frapp – near the train station – to fill up on sweet or savoury waffles, fresh-squeezed juice and Viennese coffee, or just to hang out with Sochi hipsters before boarding your train out of town.
Make it happen
For an immersive cultural experience, adventurous travellers might consider a stay in a seaside sanatorium. Alternatively, the Sanremo is a great choice for its intimate atmosphere and prime beachfront location.
The Sochi train station was revamped for the Olympics and is looking fabulous. In addition to the regular services to Adler and Krasnaya Polyana, trains go north to Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don and further on to Moscow. Sochi’s airport is at Adler, 25km to the south. Many airlines fly to Moscow, and in summer there are also flights to other major Russian cities.