Fairy tale of Russian winter
Duration: 12 days / 11 nights
Driving distance: 1550 km (40% asphalt and 60% off-road)
Types of driving: highway, snow and ice off-road
Type of tour: Self driving tour
Vehicles: UAZ PATRIOT
Minimum driver age: 21
Group size: from 6 to 20 persons
Accommodation: Best hotels on the route. 5* hotels in Moscow and Saint Petersburg
Meals: 3 times a day
Best time: December - March
Day 1. Moscow
Arrival to Moscow. Pick-up at airport arrivals hall. Transfer to the hotel, check-in. Rest of the day at leisure. In the mood for sightseeing in Moscow? We are happy to offer you some ideas.
Option 1: Walking tour of Moscow city center: Red Square, followed by a short introduction to Moscow metro (1,5-2 hrs). You will see St.Basil’s cathedral (exterior), GUM mall , Kazan church, State History Museum and the Moscow metro (Revolution Square station).
Option 2: Guided tour of the most iconic streets and architecture with a private vehicle (3-3,5 hrs). Highlights: Red Square and St.Basil's Cathedral, Bolshoi Theatre and the Alexander Garden, the State Duma and Russian Govt buildings, Lubyanka Square with KGB HQ, the Russian State Library, Sparrow Hills, Moscow-City business district, Poklonnaya Hill, Victory Park, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
Option 3: Moscow River Cruise on the amazing Radisson yacht (2,5 hrs). Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: - /-/-)
Day 2. From Moscow to Lake Seliger. 383 km
Hands-on introduction to the cars, and then we set off on our journey! We head north/north-west to Tver and Novgorod Regions and end up at Seliger Lake, which in fact includes a chain of natural reservoirs formed after the ice age. Hundreds of large and small lakes and islands surrounded by gorgeous coniferous forests create an amazing landscape covered by snow and ice.
The view from your car window will change from peaceful villages hidden between the lakes to the elegant Orthodox churches on the hilltops to the winter wilderness scenery – surely, a novel experience for some. Off-road driving across the hilly terrain and walks along forest trails are definitely in store. In the evening, we will check into a cozy hotel on the shore of the lake.
You are welcome to go for a walk around the area or experience ice sledding on the lake. Accommodation in cottages (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 3. From Seliger Lake to Veliky Novgorod. 320 km
Our goal for the day is Veliky Novgorod, founded in 859, a mighty stronghold of the medieval era. Before leaving Seliger, we pay a visit to Nilo-Stolbenskaya Pustyn (Nilova Pustyn), located on Stolobny Island. Founded in 1594, it was once one of the largest and wealthiest Russian Orthodox monasteries, and still is one of the most impressive ensembles of Neoclassical architecture in Eastern Europe.
We continue our drive along the beautiful Valday Upland, admiring the wonderful views and forest roads. One of the day’s highlights is the source of the Volga River – the longest and decidedly the most renowned river in Russia. We make a short stop and take a walk to the source amidst the pure white snow to appreciate the splendid view of the surroundings.
Finally, we reach Veliky (Russian for “great”) Novgorod, once a vital participant of the Hanseatic League. Ethnic dance and song show that leaves noone indifferent is planned for the evening. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 4. From Novgorod to Upper Mandrogi. Distance 345 km.
After breakfast we pay a visit to the Novgorod Kremlin nestled along the Volkhov River – the oldest of the extant fortresses in Russia. Then we head on to Upper Mandrogi. It will be a long drive with some interesting stops. We’ll pass Old Ladoga, the oldest inhabited area in the Leningrad Region. According to many chronicles, this was the original capital of Northern Russia of the 800-900s. A fortress dating back to the 1100s, ancient churches, monasteries, barrows and caves make for a significant accumulation of ancient monuments here.
We reach Upper Mandrogi, the most fabulous Russian village on our route, home to dozens of craftsmen who create traditional clothing, pottery, toys and lacework to this day. Hand-forged metal souvenirs, Matryoshka dolls, Christmas decorations, linen, felts – too many to name them all. Some will argue that the most important part is the famous local ‘pirozhki’, the characteristic Russian small pies filled with meat, fish, cabbage or berries. We stay in one of with the whimsical wooden houses painted in a multitude of colors for the night. Accommodation in cottages (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 5. From Upper Mandrogi to Petrozavodsk. Distance 25o km.
You get to enjoy horse-sledding in the morning, and will also have an opportunity to visit the souvenir shop and take home something made by local artisans. We head on to Petrozavodsk, with some off-road and forest pathways definitely in store for the day.
The capital of Karelia region, Petrozavodsk is by no means the gritty, industrial city its name (‘Peter’s factory’) would suggest. Its neoclassical facades, a large student population and a well-established connection with Finland all make for a distinct comfy atmosphere, and the appealing lakefront promenade invites for a stroll.
Apart from being a cargo port, it is also the launching point for visits to two of the region's biggest culturalattractions: Kizhi Island and Valaam Monastery. We check-in to one of city’s best hotels by evening. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 6. Visit to Kizhi Island
We will head to the shore of Lake Onega after breakfast to board a ‘khivus’ (hovercraft) for a slide along the smooth ice surface to Kizhi Island. This ride takes about 1.5 hours.
Wooden architecture can be found throughout Russia, but Kizhi Island boasts some of the nation's most famous and most intricate pieces. These structures from various times (the oldest one is believed to date back to 1300s), were carefully collected and transported to the island to be preserved and displayed for the public. Masterpieces of church architecture, iconography and household items created in Karelian, Veps and Russian villages over the centuries are all to be found here.
After a fascinating tour of the museum grounds, we will have a picnic with kebabs and baked vegetables. We return to Petrozavodsk to spend another great evening and enjoy dinner served in one of the city’s coziest cafes. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 7. From Petrozavodsk to Sortavala. 160 km
This morning we leave the enchanting Petrozavodsk and head to Sortavala. One of the adventures planned for the day is getting acquainted with the Siberian Huskies. We stop at a fabulous place hidden on a river bank in thick Karelian woods, where the playful energetic dogs are waiting for us. Learn how to harness a sled and experience how amazingly fast the team of these dogs can go. The ride is very exciting for both children and adults, and meeting the Huskies, known to be the kindest dogs in the world, is an absolute delight.
We will have lunch around a fireplace in a traditional Northern chum (tent) and enjoy a local band playing ethnic instruments. Our day trip finishes in Sortavala, and we spend the night in a hotel on the shore of the forest Lake. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 8. Ruskeala Mountain Park. 60 km
We set off to explore the Ruskeala Nature Reserve – a definitive must-see location. The Ruskeala quarry, that had been a source of marble since the 1600s, was closed in 1985. The stone extracted here was widely used for decoration of palaces, churches and even some metro stations in St.Petersburg. The quarry was later officially recognized as a cultural heritage site. Operated by a private travel company since 2005, The Ruskeala Mountain Park is a tourist attraction not to miss. Take a walk around the flooded quarry, see the monuments of industrial architecture, enter the mystical tunnels and passages. The winter ice sculpture festival in the canyon is another spectacle that attracts crowds of guests.
Option. Roam around the vicinity on snowmobiles. Snowmobile rides are an undisputed hit among the guests who visit Karelia. Having explored the canyon, we return to the hotel for a relaxed evening. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 9. From Sortavala to Vyborg. 300 km
We say goodbye to Sortavala and its open-air museum of Finnish architecture; in total, the city and its suburbs have more than 200 historical buildings of Northern Art Nouveau (or national Finnish romanticism) heritage.
The trip continues to Vyborg. Time for some off-road experience on the shore of the Ladoga – the second largest lake in Russia!
Located in the boundary zone between Finland and Russia, Vyborg has changed hands countless times over the centuries.The name is most likely translated from Old Swedish as “Holy Fortress”. Archeological findings tell us that a Slavic-Karelian settlement existed on these grounds approximately from the XI century A.D. The land was then controlled by Novgorod for a while, but was taken over by the Swedes in the late 1200s, and was dominated by Sweden until 1710, when the Russian Empire took over. In 1917—1940, the city belonged to Finland, to be once again conquered by the USSR in 1944. Therefore, a distinctive touch of Finnish and Swedish architecture styles is ever present. The Vyborg Castle, built by the Swedes in 1293, is an excellent example. Wandering along the Old Town streets, you will inevitably mark its difference from other Russian cities. Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)
Day 10. From Vyborg to St. Petersburg. 200 km
Located in the boundary zone between Finland and Russia, Vyborg has changed hands countless times over the centuries - most recently in 1944. Therefore, a distinctive touch of Finnish and Swedish architecture styles is ever present. The Vyborg Castle, built by the Swedes in 1293, is an excellent example. We’ll visit the museum located in the castle. Wandering along the Old Town streets, you will inevitably mark its difference from other Russian cities.
Moving on to St.Petersburg, we cruise along the Finland Gulf, enjoying the wonderful views. We might drive down to the sandy bank by some of the picturesque villages and try how solid the ice is. Astonishment is the emotion you must be prepared for, when we finally enter the majestic Imperial Capital of Russia by evening! Accommodation in a hotel (Meals: B/L/D)