Recently more and more foreign tourists have shown their interest in exploring beyond Moscow and St.Petersburg when visiting Russia. Some of them want to know how locals live in the countryside opposed to the fast-paced life in big cities. Others want to take an in-depth look into Orthodox Christianity. Some want to escape busy and vibrant Moscow and find a quiet retreat in the countryside for a day or experience blinding-white and knee-high snow in winter. Moscow region and neighbouring areas are studded with small magical towns forming a circular route around Moscow. This touristic route is called the Golden Ring of Russia.
The closest Golden Ring city to Moscow is Sergiev Posad. This serene 14th-century town is a home to UNESCO World Heritage site – St.Sergius Trinity Lavra – the spiritual centre of Orthodox Christianity.
The half-day trip is best to do by a high-speed comfortable train to avoid the notoriously bad traffic in and around Moscow. After just a 1-hour train journey and a short walk from the train station the stunning panorama of St.Sergius Trinity Lavra will open up dazzling you with the shine of golden onion-shaped domes. Don’t miss a perfect chance to take enough photos! The spot is so picturesque that local artists spend hours-on-end there imprinting the image on their canvas.
The architectural complex of the Lavra was constructed by the best Russian architects of 14th-19th centuries and is a real gem of the area. A lot of churches of versatile architectural styles and the skillfull bell-ringers will please your eyes and ears and leave you in awe. However, there is much more to St.Sergius Trinity Lavra than just its exceeding beauty. The place is sacred for Russians as it was founded in 1337 by one of the most venerated Russian saints – Sergius of Radonezh; it is as well an acting men monastery. The ongoing 24-hour service and singing in the Ascension Cathedral proves the importance of the Lavra to Orthodox Christians comparable to the importance of Vatican to Catholics. Those of you seeking understanding of our religion – you will not be disappointed.
On the way back to the train station you can try monastery kvass (an authentic Russian refreshing drink), tea with authentic pies baked right there; or shop for the best souvenirs in the region. A lot of craft guilds are located (and have always had their roots) in and around Sergiev Posad so it is the right place to buy matreshkas (Russian dolls), Bogorodsky wooden-cut toys, Verbilki porcelain and other items.
For a greater immersion into the Russian countryside take a full-day tour to Vladimir and Suzdal.
Once again, a bullet train is our best friend for this trip. Having departed from the Kursky Railway Station at 9:30am you will find yourself in the 9-centuries-old town of Vladimir at 11:20am.
Suzdal is the real idyllic Russian countryside, just as one expects it to be. One-two-storied colourful wooden houses with intricate-cut window-trimmers, classical Russian ‘babushkas’ sitting at the porch, beautiful nature and of course churches. With snowfall the entire town transforms into a winter wonderland and in spring and summer vast meadows become vibrant colourful flower fields.
Deepen your indelible impression of this little town by visiting the open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life with real wooden houses of the 18th century, listen to the bell-tolling of Saviour Monastery of St.Eythimius and cross the Kamenka river over a wooden bridge to get to the footsteps of the famous blue-domed church in Suzdal Kremlin.
Life up here is slow-paced; the tranquility is a contrast to buzzing Moscow and even to the nearby town of Vladimir.
After visiting Suzdal, Vladimir will seem a lively place but still very charming with its low-storied stone buildings and cozy streets. Although different from Suzdal, it is no less spectacular! Vladimir houses 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites of the so-called ‘white-stone architecture’ (of pre-Tatar-Mongol period): Assumption Cathedral, St.Demetrius Cathedral and the Golden Gates.
Make sure you go inside the Assumption Cathedral to see its interiors painted in the 15th century by Andrey Rublev – the most famous icon-painter of Russia. Admire the intricate white-stone carvings of St.Demetrius Cathedral – one of the not-so-many preserved Byzantine-style churches in Russia. Climb to the top of the Golden Gates – the only one of the seven gates protecting the city that survived after a Mongol siege of 1238. A little church on top of the Gates will be a touching detail and a cherry-on-top of your memorable experience of the day.
Visiting some Golden Ring cities and discovering Russia beyond just Moscow and St.Petersburg will certainly be a unique experience and for some – even venturing off the beaten path – so make sure you add at least one of these little journeys to your travel bucket list when planning your trip to Russia!
Moscow Private Tours company offers 2 tours to Golden Ring cities with private guides – a perfect fit for those travelers who are not yet ready to venture on the full multiple-day tour around the Golden Ring but wish to get a glimpse of that mysterious and charming Russian countryside.