November 23, 2015
Top-100 series: Russia.
On we go with my journey around what are to me the 100 most beautiful places in the world, all of which I reckon need visiting at least once in a lifetime without fail – so as not to live the rest of that lifetime with regret!
Next up, the world’s largest country!
Russia’s East European Plain doesn’t have anything outstandingly must-see when it comes to natural beauty. Of course, there are beautiful places – and many of them, but none quite make their way onto my Top-100. Then, east of the Urals there’s the West Siberian Plain – a rather plain, er, plain, this time all tundra/taiga/steppe (from north to south, respectively), marshes, rivers, lakes, oil extraction and mosquitoes. Things only start getting Top-100-worthy still further east. But I’ll get to that in a bit. For now though…
39. Red Square and the Kremlin.
Many of our foreign friends who come to visit us here in Moscow tell us that Red Square – with St. Basil’s at one end, the Kremlin to one side and GUM on the other – is the most beautiful spot in Europe, especially at night when lit up. And who am I to argue? I too am a big fan.
Note: St. Petersburg was in the Cities section of the Top-100 series.
40. Altai mountains.
The Russian Shambala. Everything here is brighter, extraordinary, more remarkable. The water’s tastier, the mountain reliefs – sharper, the sky – bluer, the grass – greener. In short – more Shambalic!
Hmmm… I used the Russian search engine Yandex for the following maps and pics. Google kept giving me Chinese or Mongolian links when I entered Altai!
41. Lena Pillars.
Lanky (from 100 to more than 200 meters tall) rock columns making up a stone ‘forest’ that stretches for miles along the bank of one of the world’s longest rivers near Yakutia in far eastern Siberia. Details here.
42. Lake Baikal.
The largest lake in the world (based on volume of water), famously clearly visible from outer space. You need to visit it at least twice – in late summer and early spring – to catch the outstandingly crystal clear panoramic views of the lake and the extraordinary Baikal ice, respectively. They say it’s surreally beautiful. To my chagrin and shame I’ve never been, but I do intend to get there soon.
43. Kamchatka Peninsula.
Kamchatka, in my humble opinion, is the most unusual, colorful and mind-blowing place on the planet! I’ve seen a great many of the world’s outstanding beautiful natural wonders, but none of them come near Kamchatka! Ok, maybe just New Zealand comes kinda close, but it’s still quite a way off.
On the volcanic fault along the eastern coast of Kamchatka alone there’s a zone approximately 600km in length that’s home to several serious contenders for Wonder of the World status, which are also well worthy of their own entries in my Top-100. Volcanoes + geysers + hot springs + unearthly nature and countryside practically untouched by man = uniquely fantastical scenery.
In the forests and fields – placid bears; in the rivers – copious quantities of fish; in the surrounding oceans – killer whales and
Those are the pros. As to cons, there are just two, but they’re pretty bad ones: the climate and the price of getting there. No matter: I’ve been more times than I can count, and I’ll be off again many more times. I’ve told tons of tales from Kamchatka; have a random read of a few – here.
Now for some Kamchatkan details:
The Klyuchevsky volcano group. Unreal beauty of a troika of volcanoes: Bezymianny (Unnamed), Kamen (Stone) and Klyuch (Key). They need viewing in a row – preferably from the west, preferably during a cloudless sunset.
Tolbachik volcano & the Northern Fissure.
Black desert (pics only; Russian text), unreal paysages, multicolored stone ‘carpets’ underfoot up near the peaks. Tolbachik – c’est volcanic chic, especially in winter, and especially during an eruption. Details here.
Valley of Geysers and Uzon Caldera.
The Valley of Geysers – one of the few geyser locations on the planet, and the caldera of the Uzon volcano – a multicolored and multi-laked natural ‘chemical plant’. Together: unique geyser–caldera-ism.
Mutnovsky and Gorely volcanoes.
A sensational sight, Mutnovka‘s colossal crater can be accessed through a canyon, and once inside you can walk over to the waterfall that flows into the Opasniy (Dangerous) Canyon. At the top of Gorely Volcano (pics only; Russian text) there are two slightly smaller craters, both of which containing multicolored lakes. Alas, for several years already white-hot gas has been sizzling out from a crack in the second crater, lava is real near, and one of the lakes has grown shallow. Nevertheless, the view – fantastic.
Khodutka hot springs. A most unusual phenomenon. A sizable lake with piping hot water (40 degrees centigrade and higher) sat next to a voluptuous volcano. It’s best getting there on foot from Ksudach.
Ksudach Caldera. Another unreal place: a humungous old caldera, inside of which grows a relatively new volcano, accompanied by two lakes. The walk around the rim of the caldera (which takes two days) is to me probably the most unworldly hilly hiking route on the planet. Unmissable…
44. Kuril islands.
An archipelagic continuation of Kamchatka. Harsh climate, unpredictable weather, inaccessible, and expensive to get to. However! Here are guaranteed yet more totally unearthly views of volcanic islands, hot springs and much more. And a not unimportant bonus: No one (absolutely no one) around for hundreds of miles. Details here.
Heard lots of good things about this place, but still haven’t been – yet.
White Sea islands.
Idyllic isles. Been to Kuzova, but not the Solovetsky Islands. The northern wind and the ‘glacier-licked’ islands really are quite something.
Stolby (Krasnoyarsk pillars).
True natural wonder of Russia. Unique rock formations. Just look at the pics.
A supremely strange place. A mountain ridge that forms a perfect circle. And it isn’t even volcanic in origin – nor meteoric! It came about as the result of some mysterious underground wizardry!