Lazarevskoe Route

Lazarevskoe, the most out-of-the-way part of Sochi, is very easily the perfect getaway for a quiet family holiday. Lazarevskoe regales the tourist’s eye with sprawling beaches and beautiful nature. It also happens to be the Sochi neighbourhood least affected by the “Olympic” changes.

You know you have arrived in a subtropical resort when you see this snow-white station amid the palm trees and flowers. The station, which in fact consists of several single-story buildings, was built in 1951 and immediately became the social heart of Lazarevskoe. This is where tourists arrive, and where the locals come to welcome them. And you have to walk past the station on your way to the sea 150 metres away from the platform. The bus station is nearby, and there are numerous new hotels, shopping centres and cafés in the neighbourhood. The bust of Admiral Mikhail Lazarev stands at the station, facing the sea. It is the first thing that meets the eye of the tourists when they arrive by train. The monument in honour of the great navy commander, who played a formidable role in the conquest of the Caucasus and the founding of Sochi, was placed here in 1954.

Sergei Bobylev/ТАSS

The Ethnography Museum occupies a historical building – the early 20th-century two-story mansion that used to belong to local merchant Papandopoulo. The owner enjoyed his new home, which has to this day retained its terraced roof, wooden spires and old tile roofing, until the 1917 Revolution, whereupon it became a school, and was eventually converted to a museum, opening in 1990. The exhibits on display in three rooms throw light on the daily life and culture of the indigenous local peoples from ancient times to the early 1900s. The exposition begins with the history of the Adyg Shapsug people, who have inhabited the Black Sea side of the Caucasus for centuries, continues to explore the phases of the arrival of Russian settlers after the Caucasus War, and presents the customs and culture of the new settlers. The museum staff have collected 1000 plus exhibits.

This small church – it’s only 17 metres tall – was built in 1903 in an oak grove far from human habitation. Like most churches in Russia, it has seen years of desolation and neglect, and years of revival and rejuvenation. The church was closed down in 1936, its holy vessels and icons were destroyed, and an art gallery took over the building that would exhibit the art of some Moscow artists who spent some months out of every year at Lazarevskoe. The gallery shared the building with a radio station. Divine services resumed at the church after 1950, but there would be further attempts to convert the temple to secular use. In the 1990s the local town hall sponsored reroofing, a new gilded dome and interior murals for the church.

The Church of the Holy Nativity of Our Lady is now part of a complex, which also includes the Church of the Right Reverend Seraphim of Sarov, a refectory and a museum of church history. A Sunday Bible school for children opened here in 2005, followed by a school for adults in 2014.

Sochi was founded in the mid-19th century, when some forts and fortifications were built here. Ruins of a few such historical structures can be found on the coast. One is on the bank of the River Psezuapse in Lazarevskoe. Several rows of stonework are the only reminder of the 19th century Caucasus wars. A group of Russian warships commanded by Admiral Mikhail Lazarev dropped anchor in the estuary of the river in 1839, and soon ground was broken for the fort that would spell the beginning of the community of Lazarevskoe. The fort, which took a few months to build, was named after Lazarev, who had supervised the construction. The fort was destroyed in the Crimean War. A military outpost named Lazarevsky was built in its place in the 1860s, and a village grew around it.

There are no other dolmens like this one anywhere on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, and it happens to be near Lazarevskoe, in the Volkonskoe Gorge. This solid-rock dolmen of incredible proportions dwarfs similar edifices found elsewhere in the Caucasus. The many dolmens found in these parts – slab-like, cruciform, shaped like wells, or monolithic – have always perplexed researchers, and continue to perplex them to this day. Scholars seem unable to decide whether these dolmens were crypts or places of worship. All the more mysterious and fascinating is this four-meter giant near Sochi, which is as big as a modestly-sized human dwelling, carved out in a sandstone rock. There is a kind of a landing in this massive boulder at the height of four meters, which is in front of a round aperture leading inside – into a small, horseshoe-shaped room with a spherical ceiling. There are a few more holes at the very top of the dolmen. A path leads from the dolmen into a beautiful gorge. A creek flows amid the low hilly banks at the bottom. At one point two huge rocks converge over it, as if in an attempt to obstruct its flow. This twin rock has a name: Two Brothers. It is utterly unclear where these rocks came from.

Sergei Bobylev/ТАSS

The foremost landmark in the Lazarevskoe Culture and Recreation Park is the tallest Ferris wheel in Russia. It was engineered by Vladimir Gnezdilov, the same renowned engineer who created the 73-metre Ferris wheel for Moscow’s 850th anniversary in 1995. The Sochi Ferris wheel takes you 80 metres up in a closed or open seat. You enjoy a breathtaking view of the Caucasus Mountains, the meandering seaboard, the city down below, and the limitless expanse of the sea. Perhaps the best time to take a ride is at sunset, when the sky slowly reddens as it receives the last rays of the drowning sun.

Founded in 1975, the park was planted with all kinds of exotic trees that provide ample shade in the summer heat. Amusements in the park are concentrated within the “ride city,” which is closer to the sea. There are also a few cafés and outdoor stages, where Russian pop acts perform and all kinds of festivals happen in summer.

Artur Lebedev/ТАSS

This part of the Sochi National Park in the valley of the River Kuapse, squeezed, as it were, between two mountain ranges – Asheisky and Bezymyanny – is overgrown with oaks, chestnuts, beeches and ferns.

The gorge is named after Old Man Mahmed, the hero of local lore. Like Ivan Susanin of Russia, Mahmed, hired as a local guide by enemy soldiers, led them into the neck of woods where they died, and thus saved his village.

The entrance to the gorge is impeded by a heap of rocks from a rock-fall, beyond which the prepared trail begins. If you follow it, you will pass a little grotto and enter a narrow rocky corridor. The river, which toiled to carve itself a passage to the sea, built a veritable arch here. Three metres up, the walls of the gorge converge. Beyond the tunnel the gorge expands abruptly. This is what the locals call the White Hall, due to all the chalk-stone washed up on the bank at the river-bend. The water falling down one of the walls of the “Hall” from a height of more than 10 metres is called Mahmed’s Beard. Another waterfall nearby has formed a semblance of a basin, which they call Mahmed’s Bathtub. Still farther down the gorge you will discover a cascade of three bathing bowls, which the locals call the bowls of health, beauty and love. At this point the trail climbs up, bringing the traveller back to the walnut glade.