Travel the Russian countryside: Road tripping from Moscow to St. Petersburg
Customized tour to the real countryside: visit traditional Russian villages and explore the ordinary life of people
Road-tripping from Moscow to St. Petersburg
Ecotour along the Volga River
Real Russian countryside filled with ghost towns
Underground adventures in limestone quarries
One day in a traditional Russian village: plowing the soil, helping with livestock, horse riding and local people
Novgorod The Great: the oldest town in Russia
Price: about 35 000 RUB / person for 5-days tour
Includes: hostels, minivan, food, museums, sauna
Staritsa town... outstanding town in Russian Countryside!
Living in Moscow and being in love with travelling, we have visited every interesting place in nearby 300 km from Moscow. However, only a few of them still live in our memory as the most attractive. And only a few of them are so magnetic to make us return again and again. And only one is so perfect that we celebrated our wedding there. This place is 700-years old Staritsa town and its beautiful surroundings, truly the place where the time stopped!
Staritsa is a small picturesque town located in the country, just 200 km north-west from Moscow. Staritsa stands on the bank of Volga River, «the mother of all Russian rivers». Many years ago, Staritsa was the favorite town and a royal residence of Ivan The Terrible, famous Russian ruler. At present, Staritsa is a small city with only 8000 citizens in the shadow of neighboring Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Only rare tourists visits this godforsaken corner of the Russian province. However, Staritsa stands out for its 700-years history, and traces of previous epoch are still evident here. The oldest monastery was found in 16th century, many churches were built in 18-19 centuries. Since 19th century, the spirit and appearance of the city has not changed: old mansions and abandoned churches bring their meditative and unhurried nature. In the high tech era, you will see Russia as it was 100 years ago – a breathtaking voyage through time, indeed.
The beauty of Staritsa is emphasized by spectacular sceneries of its surroundings with light pine forests growing at the high bank of Volga River with its clear water and swift current.
For a long time this area was famous because of its abundant limestone deposits. Since Russia was always a region of forests, not stones, the limestone was especially valuable as a material for building fortresses, churches, and royal palaces. Ramified networks of numerous abandoned underground quarries stretch along Volga River divided by canyons of small streams. Traces of previous epoch still live here. In winter, water leaks from the surface forming amazing icicles and ice stalagmites – an unforgettable experience even for sophisticated traveler. The beautiful Russian countryside as it is!
7 reasons to visit Staritsa town
• It is the real Russia, not rich and bustling Moscow!
• It is located off the beaten paths - just try to find any foreigner who was there
• It is not far from Moscow, but the nature is unspoiled like in the middle of the Siberian taiga
• The upper part of the Volga river, «the mother of all Russian rivers» is also worth a visit
• Wandering within ramified network of abandoned underground quarries is a real adventure!
• Nearby husky nursery will give a special thrill to your intense love of nature.
• Abandoned churches and monasteries make you feel nostalgic for the greatness and richness of a bygone era...
Our journey to the Russian Countryside
As I also mentioned, we love Staritsa town so much that travel there several times every year. As usual, our May journey to Staritsa began from packing our bags into CrazyBu (UAZ-452 "Bukhanka" or "Loaf of Bread" minivan).
After only 4 hours of merry chatting inside the van with Georgian wine and a fast highway and we are almost there! There are some guesthouses and hotels in Staritsa, but we usually prefer camping on the high bank of the Volga River with amazing river view from the "windows" of our tents. The rays of the sun, chill wind from the river and intense smell of evergreen fill our morning.
This was the first time when we visited "Chukavino" eco-land, nice place especially for children and animal lovers! There were many types of horses as well as camel, reindeer and numerous ducks, chickens and turkeys. And surely, husky - VERY active and VERY sociable animals that lick us from head to toe! Should I say that everyone was thrilled?
The weather was quite cloudy – a standard situation for Russian spring. Our next stop was a nearby church and the old beautiful mansion. The story of this place is typical for Russian cultural objects: they were nationalized by Soviet government and transmitted to the local factory.
Then "Perestroika" and chaos of 1990-s, attempt to restore the mansion, then strange complicated story resulted in many property disputes. Now the area doesn't belong to anyone and remains in constant disrepair.
However, the place still looks impressive despite or even because of the creepy atmosphere. Just look at the photos - someone dries out old floorboard just in front of the gates of 17th century church. The latter is abandoned, too - wild flowers and young trees started to grow through ancient gravestones...
There were also a very old and branchy tree without leaves (the spring...) and there was a self-made bench with table beneath with a strange-looking old woman. Further we found a very old car, several tumbledown buildings and... are you ready? An Ostrich farm! Ostrich shared the place with a flock of sheep standing knee-deep in the mud. From the dusty May sun her looming shadow grows... True Detective (C) What a place!!!
Russian countryside has a very interesting feature... It could look nice and picturesque when it gets some sunshine or depressed and creepy when the weather is cloudy, especially in the rainy springs when everything is grey. This time the weather was cloudy so we enjoyed the atmosphere of desertion and nostalgia for the greatness of the past epochs.
Staritsa town was grey but impressive, too. All these beautiful churches of several hundred years old, ancient monastery, the high bank of Volga River, authentic 19th century manors and almost no tourists - that's why we like the town so much!
We also met a professional historian working as a guide (because he earns about 150 USD at the "main" job). He was slim, had bushy red hair and bright blue eyes. We thought that many years later he could be the Professor in the next "Back to the Future" movie!
Our next stop was Torzhok, a town located 70 km from Staritsa by (typical for Russia) a very bad road full of potholes and ghost towns. But the weather was great!
Moreover, we were extremely lucky because it was the main day of a medieval festival! We saw a large tent city and a lot of re-constructors wearing beautiful medieval clothes. Then there was much sparring between warriors in armor of different types. And finally we enjoyed the battle between two armies of about 50 people each! It was really impressive...
It was long day and long journey. We spent two days there but it felt like a week at least! Nice company + nice place + luck => amazing journey. Thanks, guys!
Do you want to travel the small towns in the Russian countryside?
Russian countryside in winter
Is it possible to travel the countryside in winter? Sure! What can be better than enjoying snowy fields shining under the soft winter sun? Especially when you sit in the Soviet van that combines fresh air coming from every little hole in the cabin with a super powerful heating from engine.
Being so close to nature, you may also try some popular Russian winter activities – rolling down the slope, sledging behind the car, skiing along the river and walking in snowshoes through the winter forest. Moreover, in Staritsa you may have a look at husky nursery and even ride the dog team along the frozen Volga River channel. Russian bathhouse («banya») will bring the relaxation after the very active day...
About the Russian Countryside tour
There is a great difference between Moscow, St. Petersburg, and all other Russia... It is not easy to understand life here when you are stuck in a traffic jam on your way to Kremlin with a coffee in your hand! The concept of this tour is to show you the real Russia with numerous small towns, pristine nature, abandoned churches and the common life of ordinary people. If you have only 1 or 2 days, we recommend you visit Vladimir and Suzdal towns. But if you ready to spend more days and experience what only rare tourist can see - you came to the right place!
Once a month we make the 5-days tour from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This tour does not include Golden Ring towns! Instead, you will see Staritsa town and Novgorod the Great, beautiful places to visit in Russia! They are not a part of the Golden Ring just because they are located to the north-west from Moscow (and Golden Ring is north-east), haha. The itinerary is perfect for those who are going to St. Petersburg. It takes only 4 hours to get there from Novgorod by a cheap local train.
We will drive from Moscow to Staritsa town (about 200 km). Most of the day will be spent road tripping. We will see Moscow suburbs, a lot of small villages, abandoned churches with tumbled down crosses, small countryside towns, and nice nature. Depending on your wishes, we will spend the night at the hostel or camping at the riverbank.
This day we will visit the 700-years old Staritsa town with its beautiful old mansions, abandoned churches and a real monastery, truly the place where time stopped! You'll see the real life of a small Russian town on the banks of the Volga river.
In the afternoon, we'll have an ecotour along the Volga River to see its light evergreen forests, limestone cliffs and the crystal waters of numerous small creeks. You will learn a lot about Russian nature and life of the people here.
We will also visit the ramified network of underground quarries where people mined limestone for churches and monuments. Depending upon your adventurism, you can either wander in some easily accessible beautiful quarries or search the road back from remote parts of the most challenging kilometers-long underground network! The Russian bathhouse («banya») will bring the relaxation after the very active day.
We will visit an elderly couple living in a traditional Russia village. They have a small farm with several horses, cows and ducks. We will help them with their daily work - plowing the land (not by tractors, but by horses), caring for the livestock and cooking food in a traditional Russian oven… And surely we will taste some real fresh milk and eggs while they will be telling us about their common life, their habits, and the households.
We will say goodbye to friendly couple and move to Ostashkov town to have some adventures (4x4, horse riding quad, boat trip, kayak...)We will choose activity all for together one month before the trip.
We will drive to Novgorod the Great and walk there. Novgorod is the oldest city in European Russia, famous for its history. It was a people's republic at 9-12 centuries! Oh, good times... The city is known for the variety and age of its medieval monuments. The huge fortress at the city center is even more impressive than the Moscow Kremlin!
After the day in Novgorod we will say farewell to each other at the Novgorod train station where the cheap local train well be waiting for you. Only 4 hours later you will be in St. Petersburg to wonder its architecture wandering all its small streets and river channels.
Price: from 35 000 RUB / person for 5-days tour!
Transportation: CrazyBuuu minivan or VW Multivan
Includes: hostels, minivan, food, museums, sauna (Russian banya), equipment
Not includes: meals in local cafe, alcohol, souvenirs, train to St. Petersburg