“Shrimp, sunflower seeds, baklava!” That odd beach vendor chant is the sound of summer in the Crimea, a small Ukrainian peninsula that juts into the Black Sea. The vendors make their way past sunburnt bodies occupying every inch of the coast, offering Turkish honey pastries or Russian salty shrimp as an appetizer to a sumptuous holiday of contrasts.
mountainous Crimea is a wild and fairly undiscovered beach destination in
Eastern Europe. Frequented by Russian holidaymakers, the peninsula has had little
influence from the West and is better known for its war history than for the
long strips of pebble beach propping the rocky Crimean Mountains. In the late
19th Century, Russians fought the British, French and the Ottoman
Turks from these Crimean shores, as a part of an extended conflict over the
spoils of the Ottoman Empire. The winner of the three-year Crimean War depends
on which country’s history books you consult, but what has prevailed is an odd
blend of Russian and Turkish cultures.
Turkey, the Crimea inherited a mild Mediterranean climate; from Russia,
millions of loyal tourists who take off en masse every summer for an annual
break. Although the Crimea is a part of Ukraine now, most locals continue to speak
Russian and reminisce over the Soviet Union, which partly explains the annual
there are so many sun worshipers, the beach looks like New York City’s Times
Square on New Year’s Eve. With more disposable income to burn than Ukrainians,
Russians drive up local accommodation and food prices, forcing Ukrainian
tourists to travel in the shoulder seasons.
Crimean beach scene is a crowded and lascivious affair, where food, people and
water blend together. Young women, with figures that would make Venice Beach
babes jealous, roll up the sides of their swimming bottoms for a better suntan,
blurring the line between public and nudist beach. Most men prefer swimming
briefs, no matter how unathletic their bellies look.
dozens of lovely beach towns, but only a few offer proper tourist
infrastructure. Hot water, menus in English, toilet paper and public toilets
are hard to come by in many areas, so stick to larger cities, which are more
likely to have Western hotels. While locals advertise rooms for rent by nailing
hand written boards to random trees and lampposts, residential properties can
suffer occasional water and gas shortages. For the best accommodations and
dining options, the safe bets are Yalta, Novyi Svit, and Sevastopol, all within
an hour and a half drive from Simferopil, the capital of the Crimea and the
only city on the peninsula with an airport.
Only six kilometres from a popular resort called Sudak, the village of Novyi
Svit (“New World”) sits at the foot of the lush pine peaks that nestle the bay.
hiking gear to explore its many historic trails. Previously called Paradise,
Novyi Svit is famous for its vineyards and champagne, which are so good even
Tsar Nicholas II, according to local legend, spent a few heady nights here in
the early 1900s. He was the last Russian monarch to enjoy the Crimean holiday palaces,
one of which was built in Yalta specifically for his family. Livadia Palace, a whitewashed
Renaissance mansion, entertained the Romanovs until the start of World War I in
to Yalta, explore the town of Sudak, which is dominated by a magnificent
14th-century fortress. Stretching more than 30km, the ancient
battlements were erected by Venetians until the Genoese took over the peninsula
in 1365. The town itself is a typical Crimean mix of grey Soviet apartment
houses, buzzing open-air markets and developing hotels that are best to avoid.
Stay in Prince Golitsyn hotel to enjoy a private beach and hikes into the ancient mountains. Eat at Aquatoria, a
fish restaurant that pledges to serve only the same day’s catch.
held the Crimea dear to their hearts, infusing it with palaces, mansions and
exquisite wineries and vineyards. Later, the Soviet elite converted the royal
real estate into sanatoriums and built dachas
(summer houses) for their own folly.
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.
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.
Stay in Villa
Elena, a luxurious
five-star hotel from 1912. Eat in Khutorok La Mer for Ukrainian cuisine on the
waterfront and spice up the experience with Turkish hookahs that you can smoke.
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
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
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).
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
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