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Sakhalin Island

El Dorado for present-day businessfolk and ‘hell’ to Anton Chekhov in 1890 (not to mention the thousands and thousands of prisoners shipped here from the late 19th century), Sakhalin Island these days is defined by its booming oil and gas hub, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. But there's much more to this often beautiful island, which is filled with a wild terrain of forests, islands of seals, streams full of fish, slopes for skiing and lots and lots of bears. Relatively cheap flights can get you here, but prepare to open the purse strings once you’ve arrived: Sakhalin is no place for shoestringers.

The main 948km-long island is one of 59 (including the Kuril Islands) that make up the Sakhalinskaya Oblast (Sakhalin Region). Sakhalin’s weather is – even locals will agree – despicable. Winter is freezing and long, while summer is humid and brief. August and September are the best months, mosquitoes notwithstanding.