|The increase in tour operators offering the Russian Federation as a destination from Europe means a wide choice for potential visitors. A bias towards tailor-made holidays has brought additional activities and adventures to the traveller’s scope. There is a huge potential to develop independent adventure tourism and recent years have seen significant increase. There are several opportunities on offer.
The Russians have also quickly developed some very high-tech offerings. It is possible to fly in a MIG-29 aircraft, a fighter capable of more than two times the speed of sound, that was once part of the formidable Soviet Air Force. Those interested in Russia’s achievements in the is a cosmonaut training complex open to visitors.
Residential Russian-language courses and other short-term study programmes are also available. Accommodation is usually with Russian families, and activities are prearranged. For more information, contact VAO Intourist, 13/1 Milyutinsky per., Moscow 101990 (tel: (095) 923 5089; tel/fax: (095) 923 8575; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
This is on offer in the Caucasus, at Baksan Elbrus (north) and at Teberda-Dombay (west), and Kamchatka. As for the big cities, Moscow has a ski jump in the Vorobyevi Hills and days of cross-country skiing, with boots and poles provided, at Suzdal.
Cross-country skiing is available just outside the city at Olgino on the Gulf of Finland. Downhill skiing enjoys a short season in the Russian Federation and usually lasts from January to March. Skiing in the Russian Federation calls for much skill and fitness, more than the average skier takes with them each year to other European resorts, as facilities in general will take some years to equal those of luxury alpine resorts.
Heli-skiing is also available now in the Caucasus and Kamchatka where, it is claimed, the powder snow rivals that of Colorado and there is a guarantee of snow throughout the short season. In the midst of the wilds of Karelia, north of St Petersburg, cross-country skiing is routed through the taiga and over a terrain of frozen rivers and lakes including Onega and Ladoga.
Those who wish to go trekking can climb to altitudes of 3200m , where the landscape changes on the way from alpine meadows of red poppies to snow-capped peaks and scenic plateaux. Until recently, previously unexploited areas of the Fan Mountains, known as Matcha, had never ever been trodden by Western feet. Perm in the Middle Ural Mountains is home to some of the rare birds of prey. Baseguy National Reserve has been created on the Kama River Basin and ornithologists can get glimpses of eagle owls, great grey owls, Ural owls and golden eagles.
Caucasus Mountains, which extend from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, separate Russia from Armenia and Georgia. Dominating the range is Mount Elbrus, at 5642m , the highest peak in Europe. The jagged peaks overlook vast vegetation range from palm trees to deciduous forest and flower-carpeted valleys. Elbrus offers a strenuous, though non-technical, climb to the summit. Trekking, again strenuous, is possible across the striking scenery of the peak and its neighbours. 6-day Elbrus trekking circuits and 3-summit climbs in the Adyl-Su Valley that include the Elbrus peak are also available. Siberia used to be associated with salt mines and permafrost, yet the Altai region of southern Siberia rivals Switzerland for rolling hills, snowy peaks, pine forests and flowers. Undiscovered areas of Siberia, on the borders of Mongolia and Kazakhstan where summer temperatures hit 22°C , are heady with the scents of its flowers, herbs and trees. Mount Belukha rises to 4506m over a few scattered villages in an area where the bear population outnumbers the human. Not unsurprisingly, among the tours offered are botany itineraries through June and July with safari camp accommodation. There are horse riding holidays as well, with routes through the Alpine meadows and coniferous forests of the Sayano Altai Mountains, which also include opportunities for botany, birdwatching and river rafting.
Getting around the Pacific peninsula, reminiscent of Alaska just across the Bering Sea, can be done by flying, on all-terrain vehicles or on two strongly shod feet.
Central Asia’s Lake Baikal – dubbed the Blue Eye of Siberia – offers camping holidays and canoeing for groups. It is also possible to go scuba diving. The Kamchatka River in Russia’s Far East has some stiff river-raft tests and also canoeing.
Enthusiasts should note that the Veselovskaye Reservoir in the Rostov-on-Don region is noted for fish, particularly pike, carp, perch, bream, gudgeon, bullhead and roach. Several towns and cities have artificial ice-skating rinks for the summer but during the hard winters frozen lakes and rivers ensure plenty of room for skating. St Petersburg’s Central Recreation Park is a favourite among the skaters and it also has a ski centre.
Almost every provincial city has a football team and larger cities have many clubs organised within factories, unions and government offices.
International events include the Izvestia Hockey Prize and the Kremlin Cup tennis tournament.
The ethnic diversity of Russia is reflected in the wide variety of local traditional sports. Martial arts are a recent import and are steadily gaining popularity.