Touring the Golden Ring, a string of medieval towns northeast of Moscow, is like settling into the comforting arms of Mother Russia: it's a bucolic realm of whitewashed churches with golden onion domes, rippling meadows blanketed with flowers, and samovars bubbling away in colourful gingerbread cottages. In contrast to Moscow's cosmopolitan chaos, these ancient towns are a cultural salve for the Slavic soul: you'll find the spiritual heart of the Orthodox Church here, as well as historic architecture, religious art, traditional cooking and time-honoured handicrafts. Centuries ago this was the power core of eastern Kyivan Rus, but it declined as Moscow took political centre stage. Largely untouched by Soviet industrialisation, it now attracts flocks of Russian tourists searching for a lost idyll.
Wander through medieval monasteries. Cycle the countryside. Unwind in a banya (hot bath) after a meal of freshly caught fish and local ale. Whatever you do, grab this Golden Ring for yourself.