The central Caucasus rises from the steppe in an intriguing landscape studded with dead volcanoes and spouting mineral springs. The curative powers of the springs have attracted unhealthy, hypochondriac or just holiday-minded Russians since the late 18th century.
Today the healthy outnumber the ailing in the spas, sanatoriums and hotels scattered across the region known as Kavkazskie Mineralnye Vody (Caucasian Mineral Waters, Минеральные Воды). The parks and elegant spa buildings recall the 19th century, when fashionable society trekked from Moscow and St Petersburg to see, be seen and look for a spouse.
Many of the 130-plus springs have, however, fizzled out from lack of maintenance. Those that remain feed fountains in drinking galleries and provide the elixir for sanatorium treatments of ailing bodies.
Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk are the main resorts. The transport hub, Mineralnye Vody, lacks mineral spas of its own, despite the name.