Travel to Crimea – The Jewel of the Black Sea

 Crimea holidays uk or what is Crimea. Think “ Russia ” and, like many western Europeans, the British tend to visualise troika rides through pristine, frozen birch forest; or perhaps strolling along the Nevsky Prospekt, past the frozen Neva River under the glittering lights of cosmopolitan St. Petersburg.  Mediterranean style holidays – and luxury – are not perhaps the first images that spring to mind. However, Crimea has long been a favoured tourist destination and this Black Sea Riviera has not only the perfect climate for rest, relaxation and recuperation, but also features spectacular scenery and natural health spas.

 

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A Land of Contradictions

Crimea is a land of contradictions; its strategic location on the Black Sea has meant that since antiquity it has been a prize that everybody wanted to win.  If the low countries ( Holland and Belgium ) have been the ”battleground of Europe” then Crimea could claim to be the ”Battleground of the Black Sea ”.  It has played a key role in many conflicts in the region throughout history – up until and including the Second World War.

The Greek ruins of Chersonesos, just outside the modern city of Sevastopol, are a testament to not only the Crimean Peninsula ’s popularity but also its position as a seat of wealth and power.

 

 

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Since ancient times the peninsula has changed hands many times.  For a long period it was controlled by the Mongol hordes from the Far East; the Khanate of Crimea was a subject state of the Golden Horde and much of the rest of modern day Russia fell under the same rule.  However, the Mongol overlords were gradually pushed back during the later Middle Ages and Russia established itself as the dominant power in the region; by 1783 Catherine the Great had turned her attention to the Crimea.  Not quite an island, Crimea is attached to the mainland by the narrow Isthmus of Perekop and the region is not only prized for its access to the sea but for the ease in which it can be defended.

Catherine the Great took Crimea from the Ottoman Turks in 1783 and also established protectorship over Georgia, giving Russia access to the Black Sea coast from two sides. In 1787 the 58 year old empress travelled from St Petersburg to Crimea, with a retinue of 2,300 people. She was met by 12,000 Tatar horsemen in ceremonial dress who escorted her to the Khan’s Palace at Bakhchisarai. A stone plaque was placed there to commemorate the occasion and can still be seen today. From there she travelled to Sevastopol, where she met Prince Potemkin, her governor-general (later rewarded with the title Prince of Tavrida) and saw the Black Sea fleet at anchor.

She then travelled on to Akh-Mechet (present-day Simferopol), Stariy Krim and Feodosia. Catherine was too shrewd a politician to be indulging in tourism, although her letters suggest that she enjoyed much of the journey. She was here to make a point – that Crimea was now part of the great Russian empire. From the Khan’s Palace she wrote: “This acquisition means an end to fear of the Tatars…This thought gives me great consolation, and I lie down to sleep today, having seen with my own eyes, that far from causing harm, it has been of the greatest advantage to my empire”.

 

 

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Greek Amazons battalion greeting Catherine The Great in Balaclava town, Crimea, 1787

Under the orders of the commander K.G. Zaponis and his friend Pavlos Sarantis (Sarantov) some one hundred wives and daughters of the Greek soldiers were enlisted and formed an “Amazons battalion” headed by Eleni Ivanovna Sarantova, the wife of the Greek Ioannis Sarantis. The latter was Potemkin’s friend and later was appointed councillor in Crimea’s Court. The women followed an intensive military training in riding, swordplay and firing guns. On May 24 (June 4) 1787 the “Amazon’s battalion” gave an official reception to Catherine in the village Kadıköy, on horseback, in colourful uniforms and armed with long barrel rifles. Other Greeks, including a priest, from the nearby Balaklava took part in the reception ceremony. The ceremony impressed greatly the foreign noble visitors as Joseph the II expressed his gratification with warm embraces and a visit to the camp of the battalion while other diplomats noted it as part of the spectacular events that Potemkin used to organize to impress Catherine and foreign guests. Eleni Sarantova was granted the rank of Captain, together with a diamond bracelet. The battalion was awarded with the amount of 10.000 rubles. They escorted Catherine further in her tour and dissolved after its completion.

Catherine the Great and her military commander, Prince Grigory Potemkin, (also her favourite, rumoured lover and possibly her secret husband), conquered Crimea and from this point on the peninsula began its long association with the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and, now, Russian Federation.

 

Imperial Holidaymakers

With its rugged coastlines, dotted with heavily scented pine trees, jewel like flowers, cliffs that plunge into the tempting waters of the Black Sea and glistening mountainous peaks, Crimea could be said to have “Tourist Destination” written all over it.  It wasn’t long before the Russians realised this and the peninsula began to develop a fledgeling tourist industry in the 19th Century.  By the time of Alexander II the area was already increasingly popular with Russian holidaymakers and the Tzar was so taken with it that he acquired Livadia Palace near Yalta .  His heir, Alexander III, also loved Crimea and it was there that he died in 1894.  The last Tzar, Nicholas II and his family were responsible for making Crimea the fashionable holiday destination for wealthy Russians.  Nicholas and his family loved the relaxed atmosphere in Crimea, which was far from the restrictions imposed on them by their official duties in St. Petersburg or Moscow . Crimea offered the family a chance to relax, loosen their corsets and bask in the hot, healthy sunshine.  The Tzar and his children loved nothing better than hiking and camping in Crimea’s stunning mountain landscapes or bathing in the Black Sea .  It was during this era that Crimea ‘s reputation as a spa and health resort began to fully develop.

 

 

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The last Russian Tzar, Nicholas II and his family in Crimea.

Revolutionary Times

During the Russian Revolution the Crimea was the departure point for many of the remaining members of the Imperial family including the Tzar’s mother, Dowager Empress Marie and his sister, Grand Duchess Xenia.  With them, Crimea ‘s tourist industry also departed, at least for a short time.  However, the climate, the scenery together with the health benefits did not go unnoticed by Russia ‘s new rulers.  As early as the 1920s, as the country began to recover from the First World War, the reviving qualities of the region were exactly what many Russians needed.  Sanatoriawere developed and Crimea began to see a healthy tourism industry flourish as more visitors from many different walks of life began to enjoy all of the benefits of the region.

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1925. Working class sanatorium in Crimea.

 

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Yalta, Crimea 1926.

Yury Gagarin, the first cosmonaut in the world, remained a down-to-earth and approachable person to the end of his life. He was the first to see our planet from space but he never thought of himself as a star.
August 17, 1961. Yury Gagarin on vacation in Crimea.

 

 

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After his space flight, Gagarin traveled extensively and met with many people. Sometimes he had to deliver speeches up to 20 times a day. Nevertheless, he and his family were able to go to the Crimea in the summer.

 

 

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Crimea’s Secrets

Perhaps one of the most well known and well developed attractions are the beneficial treatments afforded by the mud-baths. Crimean peninsular , unlike many other resorts in different parts of the world, is in fact synonymous, not only with rest and relaxation but with health treatments.The curative mud and brine treatments from the Lakes of Crimea are proven to be effective in medical rehabilitation. 

At Saki, an early bathhouse was established in 1827 and a few years later an outpost of the military hospital in nearby Simferopol was built.

 

 

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XIX century extraction of therapeutic mud in Saki, Crimea.

Mud may not sound the most glamorous treatment but today it has achieved a reputation as a very high class spa treatment indeed.  Mud products the Crimean region are renowned (and highly sought after) throughout the world for their high level of beneficial minerals.  Mud-treatments are not only considered extremely good for your skin, and health in general, they also have a very old history indeed.  

During the twentieth century, Crimea ‘s place as one of the most popular destinations for Russian holidaymakers became well-established.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, the region gradually began to open up to non-Russian tourists.  The tourist industry is still the most significant part of the Crimean economy and is continuing to open up to western visitors.  Like many Black Sea resorts it combines not only stunning scenery and fantastic weather, but retains a more natural feel than resorts in the over-visited and over-developed Mediterranean .  The people of Crimea have also long welcomed visitors to their part of the world and continue to be hospitable, friendly and generous.  In the summer of 2014 I will be travelling to this stunning, historic and fascinating land along with my son Alexei.  This blog will chart our adventures, which I hope you will join us in!

 

 

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