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… 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 foreign friends who come visit us here in Moscow tell us that Red Square – with St. Basil’s Cathedral 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 is in the Cities section of the Top-100 series.
44. Putorana Plateau.
Heard lots of good things about this place, but still haven’t been – yet.
45. Altai mountains.
The Russian Shambala. Everything here is brighter, more extraordinary, more remarkable. The water’s tastier, the mountain reliefs – sharper, the sky – bluer, the grass – greener. In short – more Shambalic! First-hand accounts – here.
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!
46. 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.
47. 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.
48. 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 submarines seals.
Those are the pros. As to cons, there are just two, but they’re pretty bad ones: (i) the climate, and (ii) 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), Kamin (Stone) and Klyuch (Key). They need viewing in a row – preferably from the west, preferably during a cloudless sunset. Pics (no English text) – here.
Tolbachik volcano & 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 Caldera Uzon.
The Valley of Geysers is 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.
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 views – fantastic.
Khodutka hot springs.
Another unreal place: a humongous 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 unworldliest hilly hiking route on the planet. Unmissable…
This isn’t simply a volcano – it’s a complex massif made up of five different volcanoes each erupting periodically as per their own schedules, and all growing together as a single construction. And since the volcanoes are old some of them are partly ruined. But that only makes them more photogenic – including their orange rock formations.
A lake at the southern end of the Kamchatkan peninsula, best known for: (i) the largest sockeye salmon in the world; (ii) its bear-kindergarten; (iii) its Kutkhini Bati rock formations; and (iv) a few nearby volcanoes, including the beautifully-formed Ilynsky. In summer, if the weather’s fine (not guaranteed!), there are plenty of helicopter excursions here.
49. Kuril islands.
The string of islands between the south of Kamchatka and the north of Japan. 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.
White Sea islands.
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 bio-chemo-wizardry!
This place is Mars on Earth. Red rubble deposits of glaciolacustrine origin eroded by a river. The strip of land along the river was a site of great interest to Soviet geomorphologists, but today it’s of interest mostly to tourists and photographers.
A small archipelago a few hundred kilometers from Kamchatka, which, geologically, is the end of the aleutian island ridge. The spellbinding charms of northern islands, all with unique flora and fauna and historical heritage.