Huge and often turbulent, Lake Ladoga is linked to St Petersburg by the River Neva. Valaam is the most important of the islands in the lake’s northern archipelago because of its ancient monastery. Its golden domes suddenly rise from the mist that often shrouds visiting cruise ships. The founding religious community often suffered Viking and Swedish attacks during the Middle Ages. The current buildings date from the 18th century. As well as being a very important pilgrimage centre, the monastery was a noted centre for innovations in crafts and agriculture. Its missionaries brought Orthodox Christianity to Alaska's shores. A religious community was re-established on the island in the year 1989, and renovation of the monastery is already under way. Inspite of years of neglect, Valaam still retains a mysterious air.
Novgorod, south of St Petersburg, was founded over 1100 years ago and was one of the most significant towns of ancient Russia. Novgorod was the founding city of Rus, the nucleus of modern Russia, although Kiev became the capital later. Picturesquely located on the banks of the River Volkhov, the city is a treasure trove of ancient architecture, with 39 churches and cathedrals. Inside the walls of the Kremlin, St Sophia’s Cathedral (mid-11th century) is the oldest stone structure in the Russian Federation.