The Caucasus region of Russia has long been celebrated for its beautiful landscapes, tall mountains, mild climates, and the power to renew the body and soul. Even Russian masterminds like Pushkin and Tolstoy wrote of its wonders and the region’s magical medicinal spring waters.
As for me, I was lucky enough to have grown up in this region.
For the sake of keeping this post short and sweet, I will only stick to reviewing two small towns within the Stavrapol’ region of the North Caucasus Region– Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk.
This beautiful resort town is named after the abundance of natural spring waters that the region produces. In fact, the town’s name literally translates to “sour water.” I know, I know, that doesn’t sound appetizing in the least bit. However, people swear by the stuff and do everything from drink it to bathe in it.
One of the town’s most beautiful attractions is definitely the resort park. The park is only accessible on foot and patrons are prohibited from driving their cars within the park itself.
Atop a tall hill within the park lies a hidden gem, a small restaurant called Chainii Domik. Translation: Little Tea House. The restaurant only has outside seating and has some of the most spectacular views of the park and the town itself. The wait staff is attentive but gives you your space and the food is absolutely spectacular. I recommend the shashlik, a popular Russian shish kabob that is grilled over an open fire. Yum!
When I visited this restaurant, we were lucky enough to be sat immediately. When we asked why there weren’t many people there, the waitress said that people are reluctant to hike up a steep hill for several miles only for a restaurant. Lucky for us, we got to actually drive through the park because my godfather knew the man guarding the park gates. If I could only describe the jealous (and confused) stares we got from the other park visitors as we drove our car straight on through the park.
As for the rest of the town, it’s absolutely bustling with energy. There are a multitude of family-owned shops, little cafes like the Little Tea House, and Soviet-style resorts that Russians still stay in when they need a break from the hectic city life.
When I last visited this city at age 15, I told my family that if there was one town in Russia that I had to live in for the rest of my life, it would be Kislovodsk. The air is cleaner, the food is better, and the people seem nicer and more at ease. Visitors don’t call the place “city of the sun” for nothing. Of course, there is still the occasional gypsy beggar at the train station that will probably invade your personal space in order to attempt to get money from you, but you’re likely to find that anywhere in Russia.
This town gets its name from the five peaks of the Beshtau mountain range. In fact, the name literally translates to “5 mountains.” This town, also a resort town, has one of the oldest spas in Russia and has been renowned for it since 1803.
If there is one thing you have to see when visiting Pyatigorsk, it’s the grotto. This grotto is open to visitors but people are prohibited from touching the grotto’s infamous mineral waters. Legend has it that a famous Russian poet once became paralyzed as a result of an accident and could no longer walk. The poet moved to Pyatigorsk and was advised to daily engulf his body in the waters of the grotto as well as drink from it. Eventually, the poet was able to walk again like the accident never happened.
This grotto is also atop a steep hill on Mount Mashuk that requires a pretty hefty hike. However, there are buses that can transport you there for very reasonable price. Also, there is a mineral water stream about half of a mile away from this grotto that the public can actually touch and bathe in if they wish to do so. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to. The waters are warm and make your skin feel completely refreshed afterward. As long as you’re not turned off by the middle-aged men in Speedos and fairly pungent smell of sulfur that comes from the water itself, you have nothing to worry about.
As for the town’s other attractions, it is very well known for its food scene. The dining is typically casual but the food itself is phenomenal and includes assortments of grilled meats and regional vegetables that have plenty of Armenian and Georgian flare.
Take a ski lift atop one of the city’s other mountains and you’ll find daredevil mountain bikers riding freely down the mountain and others simply skydiving off of it. I personally thought these people are crazy but I must admit, it looked fun.
If that’s not your scene, you can still find food trucks and souvenir shops on top of the mountain that are sure to please anyone.
Whether you’re coming to the region to visit one of its famous resorts or you’re just passing through, be sure to come to these little towns. In my opinion, this is where you see the true heart of Russia and all she has to offer.
Here are a few more pictures from my last trip to Russia in 2007: