Highlights of Russia
Moscow is the epicentre of contemporary growth in Russia, a place where the reminders of the Imperial and Soviet years stand side by side with the international brands of the West. The city has an impressive abundance of galleries, including Tretyakov's eponymous gallery which exhibits Russia's finest and most distinguished artists and the Pushkin Museum which houses Moscow's largest collection of foreign art. Stalin's Bunker provides fascinating insight into Russian military history, while the Cold War Museum reminds visitors of a delicate point in east-west relations. Moscow's profound musical heritage may be celebrated at a number of venues, notably the Bolshoi (productions currently staged at the New Bolshoi, adjacent to the original) and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. Other highlights include the Kremlin, Red Square, Novodevichy Convent and the ornate metro stations.
Hailed as the "Venice of the North" for its canals and waterways, St. Petersburg is a historic centre uniquely fusing a stylistic allegiance to Europe with elegant Russian architecture. The glamour has returned to this one-time Russian capital since the massively devastating siege during World War II, adding to the deep historic spirit of reform. Nowadays, it is a year-round destination, with enchanting winter skies and otherworldly midsummer white nights. Highlights include the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Yusopov Palace, Catherine Palace and Petrodvorets.
The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring is a circle of towns to the northeast of Moscow which forms an excellent touring itinerary outside of the city into rural Russia.The towns were created from the 11th century onwards after hostile tribes led to northward migration from the south. Many of these towns – Vladimir, Suzdal, Yaroslavl and Rostov – flourished as trade centres, whilst Sergiev Posad became an important religious centre following the foundation of the Trinity Monastery of St Sergius. The prevalence of churches in the region became a sign of their relative wealth and their onion-domed spires are a common feature of the landscape.
The Volga River
Beginning in the western parts of Russia, sail along the magnificent Volga, the longest river in Europe. Cruise through the rural Russian countryside from Moscow to St. Petersburg, admiring unrivalled views of a largely unchanged landscape, still abundant with silver birches, elaborate wooden houses and a deep-rooted way of life. Visit ancient towns such as Uglich and Yaroslavl and experience authentic Russia beyond the lights of the Kremlin. The route continues to the picturesque northern areas across the largest lakes in Europe - White, Onega and Ladoga.
There are few places in the world left that can boast such diverse and abundant wildlife as the Kamchatka. This land of volcanoes, geysers, wild bears and Pacific salmon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Valley of Geysers is best visited by helicopter and numbers are restricted. This is the only geyser field in Eurasia and the second largest concentration of geysers in the world. Kamchatka is best known for its brown bear population. Under the control of the most skillful local guides and instructors, guests may watch wild bears in their natural environment.
From the Gulf of Finland to the Ural Mountains, northern Russia is a tapestry of pine and birch forests, marshes, tundra and remote lakes. Explore the frozen landscapes of the Karelia region by snowmobile safari or travel cross-country through the Urals, admiring the magnificent panorama from horseback. Sail to the Solovetsky Islands to see the eminent wooden churches, before journeying across to the White Sea to observe rare beluga whales in their natural habitat. Over in Murmansk, trek or ski through uncultivated territories and nature reserves where reindeer herds continue to wander freely.
Uzbekistan has long been a strong trade centre, located on the Great Silk Road between Europe and Asia. The cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are filled with intricate architecture, turquoise-blue domes, dazzling minarets and detailed mosaics. Samarkand reveals the country's cultural heritage, and the legendary Registan is one of the most impressive public squares in the world. Its architectural impact can be traced from India to Russia. The capital city of Tashkent merges the beauty of the old city with many local artisans producing hand-knotted carpets and beautiful Uzbek ceramics, while performances of folklore singing and dancing remain commonplace.
Azerbaijan is a country of remarkable diversity, juxtaposing modern dynamic cities with timeless rural villages against a backdrop of the truly majestic Caucasus mountains. In the capital of Baku, imposing skyscrapers encircle the city's ancient core; a maze of narrow alleyways, historic caravanserais, mosques and palaces. Outside of the city, along the shore of the Caspian, lies the volcanic desert of Gobustan from which rise huge rocky boulders bearing the engravings of artists from the Neolithic period. Depicting ancient tribes, hunting scenes and dances, the drawings offer a truly insightful historical account of the area.
The world's oldest Christian nation, the mid-Caucasus country of Armenia lies in cultural isolation surrounded by Muslim states and religion is of prominent importance here as a result. A poor country of considerable beauty, the spectacular mountain ranges, lakes and dense forests envelop endless monasteries and crumbling churches. Armenia's spiritual centre of Echmiatsin is a focal point in the country's capital Yerevan, and, as one of the oldest churches in the world, is well worth a visit.
A largely untouched land of myth, history, culture and traditions, Georgia embodies the values of hospitality and friendship. Revel in the striking scenery and vast array of wines of the Kakheti region, or bask in the cultural vibrancy of the capital city of Tbilisi with its theatres, galleries and churches hidden amidst the narrow streets adorned with lace-trimmed balconies.