Worth a Trip: Cherek Valley & Upper Balkaria

The Balkar are one of the two main ethnic groups of Karbadino-Balkaria. In 1944 all the Balkar, along with other Caucasus people, were banished to Central Asia, falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis. When allowed to return in 1957, the new village of Upper Balkaria (Верхняя Балкария), 58km south of Nalchik, was established. This replaced 18 older villages, the ruins of which now dot the upper reaches of the spectacularly scenic Cherek Valley.

Aim for the restaurant Tau El, which serves delicious shashlyk, salads and the buttery khichiny (flat breads stuffed with meat or cheese). This wooden complex, set on the Cherek Balkarsky River, faces the ruins of the largest of the abandoned villages. In their attractive grounds is a re-creation of what the old stone village homes looked like, as well as a small hotel with excellent rooms (R2000), should you decide to stay overnight and explore more of the area. There's a suspension bridge across the river here, providing access to the ruined village, which also has one of the most intact watch towers in the valley.

A journey into the Cherek Valley can be combined with visits to the Aushiger Hot Spring and the Blue Lakes. You could charter a taxi for the day in Nalchik, or arrange a tour with Elbrus Elevation, with the option of cycling or hiking around 2km of the 125-year-old road into the valley, with vertigo-inducing views down the steep, narrow gorge.