The 2500-year-old settlement became a Genovese trading post in the medieval period. In 1475 it fell to the conquering Turks who gave Balaklava its current name, which means Fish's Nest. After the Russian takeover of Crimea, the area was settled by Greek refugees escaping Ottoman rule.

During the war Florence Nightingale ran a field hospital on one of the plateaus above the village, and the infamous charge of the ill-fated Light Brigade took place in a valley north of the city.

Stalin deported Balaklava Greeks to Central Asia in 1944. Few of them returned to their hometown, which was turned into a top-secret Soviet submarine base.

Feature: The Charge of the Light Brigade

Unquestioning loyalty, bravery and inexplicable blunders leading to tragedy – these ingredients turned an engagement lasting just minutes into one of the most renowned battles in military history. The action in question is the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade, which occurred during a Russian attempt to cut British supply lines from Balaklava to Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

The battle began northeast of Balaklava early on 25 October 1854. Russian forces based on the east–west Fedioukine Hills wrested control of Allied (Turkish-held) gun positions lining the parallel southern ridge of Causeway Heights. Then they moved towards Balaklava itself.

Initially the Russians were blocked by the 'thin red line' of the British 93rd Highlanders, and repulsed by Lord Lucan's Heavy Cavalry Brigade. But four hours later, they appeared to be regrouping at the eastern end of the valley between the Fedioukine Hills and Causeway Heights. British army commander Lord Raglan sent an order for the cavalry 'to try and prevent the enemy carrying away the guns'.

The order was vague – which guns exactly? – and misinterpreted. The Earl of Cardigan headed off down the wrong valley, leading his Light Cavalry Brigade into a cul-de-sac controlled on three sides by the enemy. The numbers are disputed, but nearly 200 of 673 were killed.

'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre,' exclaimed a watching French general. ('It's magnificent, but it's not war.') Later, romantic poet Lord Alfred Tennyson would lionise the 'noble six hundred' who rode into 'the valley of death'. His poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' did more than anything to mythologise the event for posterity. On its 150th anniversary, the charge was even re-created in front of British dignitaries, including Prince Phillip.

The 'Valley of Death' is now a vineyard, just north of the M18 road from Sevastopol to Yalta. You can look down on it from the hill of Sapun Gora (Сапун-гора), where there's a WWII diorama and Memorial. Marshrutka 107 (1.50uah) will get you there from central Sevastopol.