Must see attractions in Russian Caucasus

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mineral Water Spas

    Kurortny Park

    Founded in 1823 and covering 1340 hectares, this hillside park is among the largest in Europe. It's riddled with walking trails past rivers, ponds, forests and formal gardens. The park ascends southeast from a plaza behind the semicircular Colonnade to the peak of Mt Maloe Sedlo (Little Saddle; 1306m). There are several other entrances including the grand Cascade Stairs. It’s a two- to three-hour hike from the base of the park to the so-called Olympic Complex (1200m), where you'll find the upper cable car terminal. On the way you’ll pass various cafes, statues and other points of interest, including the luscious Valley of Roses. At 1065m you reach Red Sun Hill, where, on a clear day, there are great panoramas of the yawning valleys and green plateaus of the surrounding countryside, including Mt Maloe Sedlo to the west and, on clear mornings, Mt Elbrus to the south. It’s another 45-minute walk from the Olympic Complex to the summit of Mt Maloe Sedlo. Trails also lead to Mt Maly Dzhinal (1484m) and Mt Bolshoe Sedlo (1409m); Kislovodsk maps show all the walks, most of which are numbered and signed. For a speedier ascent, you can ride the cable car. The lower station, close by the viewpoint over the Valley of Roses, is within 10 minutes' walk of the Cascade stairs.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Black Sea Coast

    Stalin's Dacha

    Stalin's dacha, Zelenaya Roscha, is a fascinating place, built specifically to accommodate a small, private and paranoid man. Tours are in Russian but some of the patriotic guides speak a little English. From Sochi take any Adler-bound bus and get off at the Zelenaya Roscha stop. Enter through the gates of the sanitorium and walk about 1km uphill to the dacha. The tour includes Stalin’s private rooms (with some original furniture), the movie theatre where he checked every film before public release, and his billiards room. Stalin was a lousy player – he played only those he could beat or who were wily enough to lose. The Stalin portraits on the walls were added after his death. The other paintings are all reproductions, as Stalin believed that artwork belonged to the people and therefore should hang in a museum. The depth of the water in the swimming pool (just 1.5m), the height of the stair treads, and most of the furniture were specially built to accommodate Stalin's small stature (165cm). Security was extremely tight: a guard every 15m around the dacha, a secret lift and tunnel down to the sea, and buildings painted green to camouflage them within the forest. Don't miss the photo op of the day: a waxwork figure of Stalin smoking his favourite pipe. Visitors have been known to swear they can smell pipe tobacco while in its presence.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sochi

    Lenin Mosaic

    How about this sparkling, red, 8m-high head shot of Ilyich as a backdrop for your holiday photos? This beauty was unveiled in 1980 to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of the father of the Bolshevik Revolution.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mineral Water Spas

    Mt Mashuk

    There's a fantastic view of Pyatigorsk, and all the way to Mt Elbrus on good weather days, from the 993m summit of Mt Mashuk. You can reach here either by hiking up a tree-shaded road or – easier – riding the cable car. The best views of Elbrus are early in the morning but it's also a lovely spot to come to for sunset. If you’re hoofing it, Mt Mashuk is about a 45-minute climb from the cable-car station. You can also rent bicycles next to the lower cable-car station.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mineral Water Spas

    Lermontov Museum

    Many Pyatigorsk attractions revolve around larger-than-life writer, poet, painter, cavalry soldier, society beau and duellist Mikhail Lermontov. Chief among them is this museum, a walled garden compound containing four cottages, including the pretty thatched one in which Lermontov lived during his final months. You can see original furniture, copies of Lermontov’s poems, sketches and 19th-century trinkets.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mineral Water Spas

    Narzan Gallery

    This graceful, well-preserved 1850s building recalls the spa town of Bath in England. Inside, the rich, carbonic Narzan Spring bubbles up inside a glass dome and spits out mineral-rich water – both hot and cold – into more than a dozen fountains. It doesn't taste that bad, and if you come here, you’re obliged to have a cup, so drink up! Narzan means ‘Drink of Brave Warriors’ in Turkish.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Park Tsvetnik

    This lovely wooded park with many architectural and monumental features forms a 1km-long arc around the eastern end of pr Kirova on the lower slopes of Mt Mashuk. Walk through the ornate entrance gate and around the right side of the Lermontov Gallery and ascend to the park via Diana's Grotto, a favourite picnic spot in Lermontov. At the top of the hill, a network of paths leads to a much-photographed bronze eagle sculpture. Continue northeast and you'll reach the Academic Gallery, perched above the eastern terminus of pr Kirova. This attractive classical building was built in 1851 to house one of Pyatigorsk’s best-known springs, No 16 (currently closed). It was here that Pechorin first set eyes on Princess Mary in Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time. Inside a wing of gallery is the Insect Museum housing a small collection of critters (spiders, snakes, frogs) as well as a lovely butterfly collection from around the globe.

  • Sights in Central Caucasus

    Central Park

    The large Central Park of Culture and Recreation (to give it its full name) offers forest lushness, small green lakes with paddle boats, an amusement park and the scenic Nalchik River, where locals take a dip to cool off on hot days. To get there, walk or jump on marshrutka 1 or 17 heading west along pr Shogentsukova. Inside the park is a chairlift, which ascends over a small lake to the hilltop Restaurant Sosruko, an intriguing building designed as the head of local hero Sosruko with an outstretched arm and hand holding a flame. There are excellent views out to the nearby mountains from here.

  • Sights in Black Sea Coast

    Mt Bolshoy Akhun Lookout Tower

    Popular with day trippers, this 30m-high lookout tower offers great views of the Caucasus Mountains. From the entrance of Sochi National Park, follow the main trail along the Agura River. After one hour the trail forks. The right (southeast) fork leads up to Mt Bolshoy Akhun (662m), topped by a lookout tower from where you can gain commanding views of Sochi, Adler and Mt Fisht. Locals say you can see the Turkish coastline from here on a clear day. Mt Bolshoy Akhun is also serviced by an 11km road, which makes it a popular organised tour from Sochi. A 5½-hour excursion costs around R1500 and includes a stop at the Agura waterfalls.

  • Sights in Kuban Steppe

    Ataman Palace

    Once the living quarters of the Cossack chiefs, the Ataman Palace now houses an exhibition that traces the development of Don Cossack culture from the 16th century to the present day. There are some great artefacts, including an impressive 400-year-old sundial and plenty of antique Cossack weapons. Household items, clothing and artwork are also on display. Upstairs is a diorama of Starocherkasskaya, with an accompanying multimedia show (in Russian) about the town's history. Adjacent to the palace is the 1761 Church of Our Lady of the Don, which was the private church of the Cossack chiefs.

  • Sights in Black Sea Coast

    Vorontsovskaya Cave

    About 40km from Sochi, this chain of caves is a popular and worthwhile excursion. Some 12km of the cave system is mapped, but tourists have access to 500m of illuminated passages. Some of the rooms are quite spectacular, decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. The largest 'hall' is named after Prometheus, the Greek deity who was chained to nearby Mt Fisht as punishment for sharing fire with humankind. There's no public transportation to Vorontsova, but you can hire a taxi (about R3000) or join a tour (R700). It gets cold inside, so dress accordingly.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Yaroshenko Museum

    The highlight of this museum, which is based in three attractive wooden houses in lovely gardens, is the 'White Villa' (Belaya Villa), housing a small but beautiful collection of works by Nikolai Yaroshenko (1846-98), a leading proponent of Russian realism and expert portrait painter, who settled in Kislovodsk in his latter years. Yaroshenko’s lovingly cared-for tomb is just outside nearby St Nicholas Cathedral. The museum has two entrances – one beside the cathedral and one from Kurortny Park.

  • Sights in Black Sea Coast

    Sochi Park

    Located in the former Olympic park, this sprawling funfair is sometimes called Russian Disneyland, with 20 'European-standard' rides (including Russia's highest and fastest roller coaster). There are also hands-on activities and adventures for kids, as well as family-friendly entertainment, such as puppet shows, circus performances and a lights-and-fountains display. Take the train to Olimpisky Park station or take marshrutka 124 from Sochi’s train station (R50). The castle hotel Bogatyr is also on-site.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Alikonovka Gorge

    Around 8km west of Kislovodsk is this rugged gorge. It's an attractive spot that trades on a legend about a boy who leapt from the nearby cliffs out of love for a local girl. The girl was supposed to leap too, but thought better of it. Those same craggy cliffs, shooting up from the gushing Alikonovka river, are now popular with rock climbers. There's pleasant walking here, a natural spring where people also come to drink the water, a hotel and a couple of places to eat.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Lermontov Duel Site

    In a clearing on the forested western flank of Mt Mashuk is a monument marking the Lermontov duel site. The exact spot is unknown, but it is thought to be near the needle-point obelisk devoted to Lermontov that even today is bedecked with flowers. To get here, ride marshrutka 16 from the Upper Market to the Mesto Duely (Duel Site) stop (five minutes). From there walk around 500m to a fork in the road, bear left and continue for around the same distance.

  • Sights in Central Caucasus

    Blue Lakes

    Worth a stop en route to the Cherek Valley are these small karst lakes with water in various shades of blue. The largest of the three lakes, which is deep and keeps a constant cold temperature, is surrounded by souvenir stalls. The other two (which freeze over) are reached by a dirt side road. There is a diving club at the main lake, but you'll need to be a walrus to swim here, and there are dangerous currents too, so probably best just to enjoy the view.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Ring Rock

    This naturally formed archway, in a limestone cliff 10km north of central Kislovodsk, is an intriguing sight, despite the abundance of graffiti. At the base of the rock, and as good a reason to come here as any, is a market where vendors sell crochet shawls, woolly sock, sheepskin rugs and Caucasian hats made of felt and fur. A taxi here and back from the city centre, including waiting time, costs around R400.

  • Sights in Mineral Water Spas

    Chaliapin Dacha Literary Museum

    The legendary Fyodor Chaliapin (1873–1938) lived in this palatial wood and stained-glass villa in 1917. Now a museum, it features paintings and photos of the Russian opera singer and actor in various roles, plaster ceilings bursting with cherubs and fruit designs, and lovely glazed-tile chimneys. The museum also hosts classical-music concerts (R400) on Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm.

  • Sights in Kuban Steppe

    Resurrection Cathedral

    At the eastern end of ul Sovetskaya, the Resurrection Cathedral contains a soaring golden iconostasis, a baroque chandelier and an unusual floor of metal tiles. Peter the Great took a special interest in the church, and even helped lay the altar brickwork when he visited in 1709. The adjacent bell tower provides a bird’s-eye panorama. Women should wear headscarves inside the church.

  • Sights in Sochi

    Arboretum

    On the southeastern edge of town, Sochi’s lovely arboretum is lush with more than 1500 species of trees and shrubs, including numerous species of palm. It's a relaxing place to wander for a while. For a scenic overview, take the cable car to the top and walk back down.