Worth a Trip: Nikola-Lenivets

Contemporary art doesn’t usually hide in the remote countryside, but here’s an exception. Taken over by a group of architects and land artists more than 20 years ago, the once abandoned village of Nikola-Lenivets (http://nikola-lenivets.ru/), 220km southwest of Moscow in Kaluga region, is now a huge open-air exhibition space with gigantic installations made largely of wood and located along a circular route running through the forest. You could call it abstract architecture.

The centrepiece is the Universal Mind, a massive temple-like structure designed by one the project’s founders, Nikolay Polissky. Preceded by an avenue lined with wooden pillars, it’s made of convoluted tree branches and resembles a giant human brain. Connecting the branches are metal plates which catch the light of the setting sun, making the whole construction shine like a gold nugget.

In the adjacent field the Gilded Calf by another Nikola-Lenivets founder, Vasily Shchetinin, resembles a caravelle or a bull – depending on the angle you’re looking from. The artist mused over what the Charging Bull statue in New York’s Wall Street would look like at the time of a financial meltdown, and imagined that the bull would turn into a new Noah’s ark bringing people back from the sea of greed.

The village itself sits on the bank of the Ugra River, which leads into the dense forest of Ugra National Park. Thousands flock to Nikola-Lenivets for the annual Archstoyanie (http://arch.stoyanie.ru/) international festival in summer (dates vary), when new objects are presented.

You can buy maps and hire bicycles from the reception office at the main turn to the village. A windowless but airy wooden hostel offers several rooms, a penthouse and bunkbeds. There are also wooden huts and large tents which can be booked for overnight stays. A modern cafe in the village is a good place to chill out but for a great dining experience try Ferma, a nearby farm run by Sergey Morozov and his wife Anna. Their own garden produce is served as delicious soups and salads or with handmade pasta, and a selection of homemade drinks includes the rhubarb kompot (a sweet soft drink) and samogon (traditional moonshine).

Getting to Nikola-Lenivets isn’t easy. Your best bet is to hire a car in Moscow and head out on your own. Exit the city via Leninsky Prospekt which becomes Kyiv highway. After about 100km, turn right to Medyn; from there, turn to Kondrovo and follow the signs to the village. The trip takes just over three hours, if you avoid the horrendous weekend traffic jams in Moscow. There’s no public transport to Nikola-Lenivets but you can get an elektrichka from Kievsky Vokzal in Moscow to Maloyaroslavets. Then book one of the drivers listed on Nikola-Lenivets website (in Russian-only) or contact the reception office to get them arrange it for you.