In 2014 the Russian town of Sochi was propelled into the global public consciousness when it played host to that year’s Winter Olympics. But the town had in fact been a magnet for Russian tourists for decades prior to its staging of the prestigious sporting event.
Boasting beautiful beaches and mountain scenery, along with a history, culture and cuisine distinctive to the Russian Caucasus, visitors arrive in their droves each summer to enjoy its myriad of sights, landmarks and attractions. For those planning a visit, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do in this fascinating and alluring city.
1. Dagomys Tea Plantation
Laying claim to being the most northernmost tea plantation anywhere in the world, the Dagomys Tea Plantation owes its standing to the region’s unique microclimate that makes it fertile ground for the growth of tea leaves. But far more than a mere production site, the plantation is also a fully-fledged tourist attraction thanks to a wide range of events and activities that take place here. Visitors can come and explore the farm, listen to talks on the history of tea in Russia, participate in 19th-century style tea-parties in an authentic Russian wooden country log home situated at the top of a mountain, and listen to performances by folklore groups singing traditional Russian songs. Needless to say, there’ll be plenty of tea sampling opportunities too, as well as the chance to pick up tea-themed gifts and souvenirs at the on-site shop.
2. Mount Akhun
Visit Mount Akhun on a clear day and you won’t find a better vantage point for expansive views of the region. Located 15km from Sochi’s city centre, the mountain’s summit is marked by an imposing 100-foot Romanesque tower from which visitors can enjoy panoramic views that, if you get lucky with the weather, can stretch as far as the remote Turkish coastline. If you’d like to spend the night here, you can leave the camping gear behind as nestled at the foot of the mountain, 11km along a serpentine road, is a luxury health resort. If that’s not enough, elsewhere within the same mountain range can also be found ruins of a medieval Christian church and around 20 caves.
3. Museum of the Resort Town of Sochi
To gain a deep insight into Sochi’s rich natural and cultural history under one roof, this museum is the place to come. Featuring a vast collection of artefacts, many of which were discovered by local mountaineers in the early 20th century, the museum is a veritable gold mine of information and intrigue. The pieces on display date back from antiquity all the way through to the current day, providing a potted history of the region that will delight anyone with a keen interest in Caucasia and its absorbing past.
4. Swimming in the Black Sea
With 105km of Black Sea coastline, most visitors to Sochi during the summer months will doubtless want to enjoy a swim in its warm, calm waters. The country’s biggest and busiest summer sea resort, the city attracts more than four million visitors each year, all drawn by the beautiful mountainous coastline, array of pristine shingle beaches and vibrant nightlife. In fact, between the months of May to September, Sochi’s population more than doubles thanks to the tourist hordes who descend here, including celebrities and Russian oligarchs. But don’t let that put you off…
5. Stalin’s Dacha
A brutal dictator he may have been, but no-one paying a visit to his former bolthole on the Russian Rivieira can deny that Joseph Stalin was at least a man with an eye for a nice home. Known as a ‘dacha’, the Russian word for ‘holiday home’, the charming wooden property has remained largely untouched since its former owner’s death in 1953, with many of his possessions, including clothes, photos and even a pool table, still present. Another pleasing legacy is the outstanding mountain and ocean views that can be enjoyed here. One notable addition since the home was occupied has been a visitors’ restaurant on the ground floor, where you can enjoy classic Caucasian dishes while mulling over the notorious history of this fascinating site.
6. Vorontsovka Caves
One of the longest cave complexes anywhere in Russia, the Vorontsovka Caves contain evidence of human habitation dating back an incredible 20,000 years. It is this fact, along with the caves’ remarkable visual appearance, that draws visitors here from far and wide. Located in the Khosta and Adler districts of Sochi, the caves can be navigated by foot via a series of entrances dotting the slopes of the Kudepsta River Valley at heights of up to 720 meters above sea level. There’s photo opportunities everywhere you look, so be sure to bring your camera, and sturdy footwear is also strongly recommended.
7. Loo Byzantine Church
In Sochi, every day is a school day, with history everywhere you look. Nestled atop a mountain in the scenic environs of Sochi National Park in the Agura Valley, these centuries-old remnants of a Byzantine church comprise one of the region’s most important historical landmarks. Visitors can gain a fascinating insight into the early influence and expansion of Russia’s Eastern Orthodox Church, and if you look closely you might even spot some fragments of coloured windowpane that it is believed where used for stained glass within the church. Be sure to leave time to explore the sprawling park itself, which contains a number of waterfalls, canyons, gorges and caves, plus scenic walks offering fantastic views of nearby mountains.
8. Rosa Khutor Ski Resort
It may be somewhat less well known than its counterparts in northern and south western Europe, but this part of Russiai is also a mecca for skiers. For those in the know, the number one skiing destination is Rosa Kutor, a resort nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, one hour’s drive east of Sochi and the scene of the 2014 Olympic Alpine and Nordic events. Boasting 132km of ski slopes, 56 lifts, and a variety of fine hotels and après-ski bars. It has abeen frequented by such high profile names as Russian president Vlaimir Puten down the years – though that may or may not enhance its appeal for you. But one thing is certain, this is the place to come for world class action on the slopes.
9. Godlik Fortress
In a city scattered with ancient ruins, this Byzantine-era edifice set against an imposing cliffside backdrop, is certainly one of the most impressive. The triangular-shaped fortress that once stood here was built between the 4th and 5th century and its original formation can still be made our today, despite father time having taken its toll. Located in Sochi’s Lazarevskoe district, many visitors come to view the site, which resonates with history in a way that truly makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Close your eyes and you can just picture the daily activities that took place here all those years ago.
10. Sochi Art Museum
Built in 1936, during the era of the Soviet Union, the Sochi Art Museum is one of the city’s most visually striking landmarks, boasting ornate classical architecture that impresses everyone who sees it. Enter the building itself, and the experience gets even better, with a huge variety of artworks on display, dating from centuries past to the current day. Local artists are given due prominence, but there’s also plenty of works by Russian artistic greats of yesteryear, many of which tell the story of Sochi’s fascinating and often tumultuous history.
11. Olimpiyskiy Park
The legacy of the 2014 Sochi Olympics continues to burn strongly, and nowhere more so than at Olimpiyskiy Park, which was built especially for the prestigious sporting carnival and captured the world’s attention. Even if you’re not an athletics fan, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here: you can rent a buggy, bicycle, quad bike or just stroll around and admire the park’s striking landmarks, including the 40,000 capacity Fisht Olympic Stadium, an open-air venue and the setting for so many of the sporting endeavours achieved in Sochi three years ago. The park also plays host to regular musical fountain shows in the evenings.
12. Riviera Dolphinarium
With its proximity to the Black Sea and its beautiful mineral springs, it is fair to say that water and Sochi go hand in hand. One of the city’s most popular water-based attractions is the Riviera Dolphinarium, located within Sochi Riviera Park, which is Russia’s largest aquarium. Here visitors can come and enjoy captivating shows featuring an array or marine life, with an assortment of majestic dolphins playing a starring role. Watch these incredible animals perform a full gamut of tricks, including mid-air swirls and catching balls. If you want a front row seat – and don’t mind getting wet – be sure to book early.