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Host to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Sochi is nestled in the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains and stretches along the coast of the Black Sea. Referred to as the 'Russian Riviera', it boasts an inviting subtropical climate, pebbled beaches and botanical parks, alongside waterfalls, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve and a world-class skiing resort.
Sochi is also famed for its sulphur springs and myriad health spas, including the world-renowned Matsesta district. But the city is more than just a healthy holiday destination, with the elite of Russia descending upon Sochi for the annual summer film festival while tourists flood in to enjoy the beaches. During the winter, Sochi sees a slew of travellers making their way to the nearby ski resorts, particularly Krasnaya Polyana.
Birthplace of tennis ace Maria Sharapova and Stalin's favourite holiday retreat, the city of Sochi offers visitors great skiing, hiking and sailing opportunities. Any trip here will be a memorable and relaxing one.
Also known as Agursky, the Agura Waterfalls are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Sochi. Located just outside the city, these majestic waterfalls cascade from a height of 98 feet (30m) and are a popular stop off along hiking trails that wind through the forest along the Agura Ravine in the Sochi National Park. At the Eagle's Rocks, hikers can enjoy the view of the crystal clear waterfalls crashing down to the oval pool below and admire the panoramic views over the city and Black Sea. Swimming is allowed and a very popular activity in the warmer months. It is possible to organise tours to the waterfalls, but also easy to seek them out independently.
Matsesta is a micro-district in Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, primarily renowned as a health resort. Matsesta, meaning 'fiery water', has become the city's most renowned health spa district, harnessing the powers of the hot sulphur springs that have become synonymous with Sochi. The water from the hot springs naturally contains more than 27 types of minerals and is used to treat people with respiratory and cardiac problems, though it is also perfect for simple relaxation. Featuring a number of different spa facilities which all have bathing rooms, massage tables and inhalation cubicles, Matsesta Spa is a major tourist attraction and a big draw card for travellers to the region.
Located just outside of Sochi, the small village of Dagomys is a popular holiday resort on the Black Sea. The former haunt of Russian nobility in the 19th century, the holiday residence of Tsar Nicholas II still exists as a hotel. The scenic village boasts lovely pebble beaches set against the dramatic backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains and nearby mineral springs of Matsesta. Dagomys is also a paradise for outdoor activities, including hiking and bird-watching in the Dendrarium Botanical Gardens. Summers in Dagomys are noticeably cooler than in other coastal areas too, thanks to mountain air currents. While Dagomys is not as lively as nearby Sochi, the resort's quiet and relaxing atmosphere makes for a great weekend getaway.
One of the more popular ski resorts in the Caucasus, Dombai is a scenic mountain valley located at the confluence of three rivers, 37 miles (60km) from the Black Sea coast. Famous for its pure air, Dombai is frequented mostly by Russian holidaymakers, lending it a unique and lively atmosphere and preserving the town's authentic character. The facilities at Dombai are old and fairly worn, but there is a tourist complex comprising hotels and a recreation centre. Lifts and ski trackers operate on a pay-as-you-go riding system, serving varied routes catering for all levels of skiers. The gentle slopes near the top of the mountain are better suited to beginners, as the incline becomes very steep toward the bottom.
The laidback seaside resort of Gelendzhik has been around for several millennia, founded as a Greek outpost around 64 BC. The town is set along a curving bay with calm pebble beaches ideal for swimming and watersports, and land-based activities like horseback riding, quad biking and hiking. But Gelendzhik is best known for its spa and waterparks, and there is also a cable car line specially built for tourists to take in the views from atop the mountain. A new airport opened in 2010, making it easy to get to Gelendzhik from Moscow and St Petersburg.
Skiers and snowboarders in Krasnaya Polyana can enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the West Caucasus. Located just 25 miles (40km) from Sochi and the Black Sea coast, the resort boasts well-groomed pistes and good après-ski nightlife. It owes much of its popularity to excellent heliskiing opportunities, as well as good runs for beginners. The resort underwent massive renovations ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, with facilities including the Russian National Sliding Centre, Psekhako Ridge and Roza Khutor Alpine Resort, as well as Alpika Service Mountain Resort and Russian National Ski-jumping Centre.
Sochi experiences a humid subtropical climate with warm summers and mild winters that seldom see the temperature drop below freezing. Average summer high temperatures reach up to 83ºF (28ºC), while average winter lows drop to 37ºF (3ºC). The Krasnaya Polyana mountains experience perfect snow conditions and are largely protected from the wind - unique conditions that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. The ski season is from October through May.
Trolleybuses and minibuses run frequently throughout the city of Sochi. Taxis are also readily available but can be quite expensive; it's best to negotiate a price with the taxi driver before setting out. Car rental is another option in the city, but the chaotic driving style, heavy traffic and lack of parking makes it inconvenient for most short-term city trips.
Sochi offers travellers a varied sightseeing buffet, with beaches, ski resorts and health spas set alongside scenic wilderness areas. Sightseeing in Sochi is less about iconic cultural and historical attractions and more about recreational fun, with spas, parks and sporting facilities often taking centre stage.
Popular attractions within the city include the Arboretum Botanical Garden (Dendrarium), which allows for beautiful views over the city; Riviera Park, where recreational facilities are plentiful and open-air concerts are held; the Zovokzalny War Memorial, dedicated to local soldiers killed in World War II; the Loo Temple, including ruins dating back to the 12th century; and the Discovery World Aquarium, a world-class marine facility.
Beyond city limits, the Sochi National Park beckons visitors with striking natural features like the Agura Waterfalls. The seaside resort towns of Dagomys and Gelendzhik draw sun worshippers, while ski resorts such as Krasnaya Polyana and Dombai entice snow enthusiasts.
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