International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Today, some of them serve as museums while others have been resold into private hands. The most famous of the government-run mansions, perhaps, is Yalta’s stunning, late 19th-century Livadia Palace. The elegant, palm-lined palace overlooking the sea made it into textbooks when Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt convened here to carve up post-war Europe in 1945. Today, you can tour the rooms where they plotted, with some of the original furniture preserved. An art and photo gallery, as well as lavish courtrooms, give a good impression of Tsar Nicholas’ lifestyle.
The high life in Yalta continues today. Known as a shabby chic party capital for the young and wealthy, the town lures travellers with a glamorous yacht-lined pedestrian pier, fancy hotels and nightclubs that stay open till dawn.
For the best blend of sand, pebbles and history, head to this active naval base for Russian and Ukrainian fleets. Built by the Russians in the 18th Century, the town still stirs passion about who it really belongs to. Recently, in exchange for cheaper gas, Russians extended their lease of the fleet till 2042.
The town itself does not feel Ukrainian. Whitewashed government buildings, concert halls and battleships line the horizon, and there are elaborate monuments celebrating Russian feats of war. The place has a noble feel reminiscent of the former empire.
In the west of Sevastopol, the Greek ruins of the city of Chersoneses date back to 5 BC. Apart from collecting prenatal pottery pieces (there seems to be no restriction against it), locals and tourists can enjoy a refreshing swim in the rolling, blue waves of the Black Sea -- so called for the colour of its deep waters densely populated with algae.
Stay in the waterfront Sevastopol hotel, steps away from Sevastopol’s pedestrian piers and best for watching naval parades. And eat in Kazbek, a Georgian cuisine restaurant famous for its plov (pilau rice with meat) and khachapuri (warm white sour dough with melting cheese inside).
From the airport in Simferopil, hire a cab (bargaining the price down twice is a must) or get on a shuttle bus. You can also take an authentic Soviet trolley that drags through the mountains for more than two hours without an air conditioner; the 84km route is said to be the longest in the world and, perhaps, the cheapest.
To avoid Russian holidaymakers, travel in the shoulder season, which begins in late April and lasts through May. The sun will be warm enough for a healthy tan and quick water dips. Alternatively, visit the Crimea in September or October for the beauty and quiet peace of the Indian summer. Hotel prices and availability will be ample, the sea still warm and mountain trails blissfully vacated.