Russia's playground: Sochi
Gateway to the optimistically named ‘Russian Riviera’, Sochi is a Black Sea resort with a lively boardwalk and glorious sunsets – in summer, coastline nightclubs pump out booming baselines from dusk till dawn
The Winter Olympics have always held a special place in my heart. Unlike the Summer Games, there are quite a few sports that I love – the hustle and the violence of ice hockey, the eagle-like gliding of the jumpers and the high-speed corners of the bobsled. Although most of the Winter Olympics take place in dreamy winter destinations around the world, the 2014 edition held in Sochi interested me quite a bit. Not only is Sochi a winter wonderland but it also one of Russia's best beach destinations with balmy summers that offer quite a few places to sunbathe and work up a tan.
Located at the very southern edge of the Russian peninsula, Sochi is tucked into a corner of the Black Sea and offers immensely magnificent views of the sea. Although one of the better ways to experience this is definitely from the many sandy beaches lining the coast but a decision to head out to sea on a privately-owned charter yacht is going to be well rewarded. With landscapes that offer a stark contrast, the experience is quite an otherworld like.
Sochi has been a part of the Russian stronghold, so history runs quite deep here. Being a summer destination, many prominent leaders of the Soviet Union built beautiful Dachas here to get away from the chilling cold of the capital and enjoy the balmy temperatures. Much of the money from the Russian revolution was invested into the betterment of the Sochi and bettering the Matsesta Sulphur baths where most of the heated springs come in from. One of the most prominent Dachas is that of Stalin. Located on the mountainous roads, this green coloured 3 storied building is filled with resplendent wooden furniture from that era. The Dacha still has a swimming pool and office desk of Stalin along with a wax statue of the host. One interesting thing to note is the low steps present throughout the house, made especially for Stalin's rheumatism.
Every city has a vantage point and Sochi's is the magnificent Mount Akhun. Although it only rises a paltry 2,000 feet above Sea level, there is a Romanesque watch tower built in 1936 which offers a panoramic view of the sea coast and Caucasus mountains. These mountains feature Sochi's record-breaking slopes and have quite a few ski resorts that open from December from May including the Alpika-Service, Mountain Carousel, Gazprom and Losa Khotur. These slopes aren't only meant for the Olympians and there quite a few wide gentle slopes where even beginners can take their first ski steps. Next on our agenda are the Voronstakaya Caves and the Sochi Arboretum. While the former requires a small hike of about an hour and showcases beautiful stalactites and stalagmite, especially in the main hall Prometheus, the latter showcases its subtropical flora is all its glory. Take a cable car all the way to the top for a scenic view down below. Another reason to be visiting the mountains of Akhun is the tea from the Northernmost gardens of the world. Growing in a cold climate means a lot of antioxidants and flavonoids in the tea along with various herbs that you can find here.
Not only does Sochi provide for a whole lot of sightseeing but it is one of the underrated party destinations in Russia. With pubs and bars that range from German-style ones to Irish ones and even some Russian ones are thrown in, the Bar London and Cho-Ko-Te will offer the best value for money. After a full day's worth of roaming and partying, there is no better place to settle down for some soul food than the Suluguni. Serving out contemporary Russian and Eastern European dishes, there is a lot of cheese, potato and meat on offer here. Try out the traditional Armenian stringy cheese which is smoked and braided before being served and is quite a mouthful. The Sakhalin offers cuisine from another part of Russia, an island with the same name and the menu here consists of some exquisite seafood including shrimps, oysters, scallops and sea urchins.
No trip to Russia is ever going to be complete without trying out its world-famous caviar. I headed to the Falana Caviar Farm, to not only see the caviar farming but also try out some with crackers and champagne as accompaniment. Only after having it do you realise that this isn't the combination you were looking for. When in Russia, drink like the Russians. And so, I decided to dig into some premium vodka from the promised land. Finding the best combinations in Sochi is imperative and the Sorrel urban Bistro serves out some delectable combination of vodka and caviar. Start off with a glass of triple distilled Vodka as it eases smoothly down your gullet. Then comes out a platter of brioche to pair with your caviar. Ladle on some sour cream before putting on a mixture of chopped onions, egg yolks and chives and carefully portion out the precious caviar with a ceramic spoon. The experience of a salty, nutty taste offset by the spice is something you won't be able to experience anywhere else.
To conclude my experiences and deliver a few final words on my experiences in Sochi, I would reiterate my surprise upon finding how reality matched my expectations of Sochi. When I arrived, I expected a land much like Russia, frigid, old and inflexible to the wears of time. And yet it exceeded any set expectations by a wide margin. Although it still has the ice-capped mountains and snowy slopes for skiing, Sochi is full of beaches to sunbathe, gourmet food to devour, some really interesting history to discover and a whole lot of parties to attend to boot. Its unique position in a land otherwise set in its ways means that it has functioned as an official and unofficial summer capital for Russia throughout its long history. Little wonder now that it plays host to a wide variety of celebrities and world leaders who look to the location as an idyllic luxurious getaway which is as private or public as you wish. Ultimately, Sochi is a travel destination that will spoil you for choices and allow you to experience a convergence of various worlds in the comfort of modernity. A definite travel recommendation for a seasoned or infrequent traveller.