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If you only do three things:

1. Take a taxi from Yalta to Sevastopol along the coast road. The journey takes an hour and a half, but with the road sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Crimean Mountains, the views are worth it. Visit the Museum of the Black Sea Fleet to add to the slightly anachronistic feel of the city.

2. Travel back in time by visiting the home of Russia's greatest short story writer at the Chekhov House Museum in Yalta.

3. Visit the scene of the Yalta conference. As well as its historic significance, the Livadia Palace offers beautiful views out to sea and a relaxed escape from Yalta.

The flag of the Crimean Tatars

 

The Crimea
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“Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more.”
Anton Chekhov - The Lady with the Dog 1899

Introduction
Historical Wrangles
Problems in Crimea Today
How to Get There
Yalta
What to Do in Yalta
Sevastopol
And The Rest…

Introduction
The Crimean Peninsula is Ukraine’s hidden gem. Jutting out into the Black Sea, against a backdrop of mountains and a hot Mediterranean climate the Crimea is an unexpected and fascinating place to visit.

Just two hundred miles across at its widest, Crimea has attracted a uniquely rich list of settlers in the last 3000 years. Its strategic position at the heart of ancient trade routes combined with fecund soil and pleasant climate have convinced Greeks, Romans, the Genoese, Karaite Jews, Mongol Tatars, Turkish Emirs, Ukrainian Cossacks and Russian Empire builders to take root at one time or another on the peninsula.

Simferopol, the inland capital, does not offer too much of interest to the casual visitor, but from the leafy streets of Yalta that wind down to the sea, to the naval pomp of Sevastopol and the 2500 year history of Chersonesus, there is an immense variety of places to visit in the Crimea. The mountains themselves, along the southern coast, offer exceptional hiking and are studded with the evidence of the area’s unique history. [top]

Historical Wrangles
Crimea’s early history is long and varied. The peninsula was visited and colonised by a long succession of tribes and peoples from early Ionians to Ostrogoths, Byzantines and Huns.

In 1239 the Mongols of the Golden Horde took control of Crimea and settled, becoming the Crimean Tatars. They established a powerful Crimean Khanate that became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century.

In 1736 the Russians, under Catherine the Great, invaded and annexed Crimea outright in 1783. This was the beginning of a long history of Russification of the peninsula. Many Tatars, with their Muslim religion and Turkic language emigrated to Turkey, while Russians and Ukrainians settled in Crimea. Catherine then began a programme of destroying much of the evidence of the once great Khanate, creating the historical impression that Russia had just taken hold of a largely empty piece of land populated by farmers and nomads.

In the middle of the 19th Century the Crimea became the focus of Europe as the Britain, France and Sardinia allied with Turkey against Russia in a battle for control of the region in the Crimea War (1853-56). The heroic defence of Sevastopol 1854-5 cemented it in Russian consciousness as a city of military heroism and symbolic of Russian glory.

In the 1940’s Sevastopol was under siege once again, this time from the Nazis, and once again resisted for many brutal months.

In 1944 Stalin completed the Russification of Crimea in his usual grand manner. On the pretext of their supposed collaboration with the Nazis, the Russians exiled the entire Tatar population, then about 25% of the population of Crimea. Between 18th and 20th May nearly 200,000 people were loaded onto trains and sent to Central Asia and Siberia.

In 1954 Khrushchev, in a moment of bonhomie, gave Crimea to Ukraine. At the time this was not hugely significant; it was simply a change of administrative control within the Soviet Union. A bit like transferring the Isle of Wight from Hampshire to Dorset. On Ukrainian independence in 1991 however, the Russian people of Crimea found themselves living in a separate country from the motherland. In mainland Russia many mourned the loss of a treasured possession, Russian since 1783, and the loss of Sevastopol, twice a “hero city”. As a compromise Crimea has been given semi-autonomy within Ukraine, while Russia maintains jurisdiction over a few small military areas in the naval port of Sevastopol.

In 1989, as the Soviet Union crumbled, Tatars began returning home, largely from Uzbekistan, and now more that 250,000 are back living in Crimea. [top]

Problems in Crimea Today
The upshot of these historical complexities is that several tensions now bubble below the surface of modern day Crimea. The Ukrainians are unhappy because, despite living in an independent Ukraine, they find themselves in the minority in a semi-autonomous Crimea, which is dominated by ethnic Russians. However, the ethnic Russians themselves feel aggrieved because they consider Crimea to be spiritually and historically part of Russia and not Ukraine, and they resent being under the control of the Government in Kiev. At the bottom of the heap are the Tatar returnees who are the poorest and most disenfranchised section of Crimean society, largely seen as interlopers by both the Russians and the Ukrainians, and as a threat to Crimean stability. They continue to struggle for recognition and rights, while some 100,000 have still to gain full Ukrainian citizenship. [top]

Getting There
Most people’s point of entry will be the regional capital Simferopol. There are regular flights via Kiev and also direct international flights from Frankfurt and Istanbul. Overnight trains from major Ukrainian cities also arrive at Simferopol. There is not much to see in Simferopol but most places can be reached within an hour and a half. We recommend Yalta as a suitable base, a good place to relax and to break out and explore from. A taxi from Simferopol to Yalta (96km) should take just over an hour and cost about US$30. The cheapest option is the trolley bus, this is the world’s longest route taking you up over the mountains and along the coast for two and a half hours to Yalta. [top]

Yalta
A long established holiday retreat for Russian Tsars and top Soviet apparatchiks, the promenades of Yalta in summer still throng with Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakers. In recent years there has been a slight growth in the number of western tourists, not least from the cruise ships that call in at regular interval filling the cafés with blue-rinse Germans. The town nestles in a natural bay and is protected from the cooler winds of the inland plains by the mountains. In spring and summer the streets are lush with plants and trees making the air fragrant and tropical.

Yalta is a coastal resort town, yet has no real beach to speak of, rather a series of narrow strips of pebbles between the promenade and the sea. The promenade runs from the Hotel Oreanda at one end to Lenin Square at the other. Lenin still looks down on passers-by, incongruous in his heavy coat standing among the palm trees. There are a large number of restaurants and bars along the promenade, with prices that are well above anything that you find further from the sea front. There is also a growing number of gaudy amusements accompanied by the obligatory euro pop soundtrack. Boat owners tout for business along the promenade and you can charter a boat for a negotiated price that will take you out to the small dolphins that gather in the bay, or take you up along the coast for the day.

The classic hotel in Yalta is the Oreanda right on the promenade, however the best value is the Hotel Yalta, further out and up a fairly steep hill. The massive Soviet built hotel has been completely renovated has a huge array of facilities and every room has a stunning balcony view. [top]

What to do in Yalta and around:
There is not a huge array of specific attractions in Yalta itself, eating outside in the evening and people watching are the traditional past times, however we recommend:

Chekhov’s House Museum
112 Kirov Street (Take a taxi or bus from the town centre)
Anton Chekhov lived in Yalta from 1899 until his death in 1904 largely on the recommendation of his doctor in the hope that the sea air would help his ailing health. Chekhov was not only a hugely influential playwright, but also one of the world’s true masters of the short story. The house museum in Yalta contains all the restraint and subtlety of his writing, and retains all the atmosphere of the period. Chekhov wrote much of the Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters here as well as many of his later short stories.

The Livadia Palace
A short distance from Yalta, the Livadia Palace was built in 1910 as a summer retreat for Tsar Nicolas II. The small Italianate building is now more famous as the venue of the Yalta conference in 1945. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt decided the fate of post-war Europe in the downstairs conference rooms. Upstairs the museum focuses more on the Tsar and his family, with most of the rooms given over to artefacts and photographs.

The Vorontsov Palace at Alupka
Alupka can easily be reached from Yalta by taxi or one the minibuses that run regularly along the route (#32 or #26). More of a country house than a palace, it was built between 1828 and 1846 for Count Vorontsov as a Crimean retreat and is an impressive blend of Asian and European architectural styles, in a stunning location at the foot of the mountains.

The Cable Car up Ai Petri Mountain
Ai Petri is Crimea’s tallest peak. A cable car runs from just outside of Yalta to the top. At the summit you are not just greeted by some stunning views, but by a rather bizarre Tatar encampment that exists to offer tourists camel rides, mountain treks on horseback and a large selection of homemade Crimean wine decanted into plastic bottles for you. They will hold an impromptu tasting session and you can select your favourite. Don’t be put off by the rough and ready approach to this, these sweet red wines are almost uniformly fantastic. [top]

Sevastopol
Sevastopol is a city rich in naval history and is still the home of the Black Sea fleet that was once the pride of the Soviet Navy, and is now, in a somewhat dilapidated form, split between Russian and Ukrainian control. The city was actually closed to foreigners until the late 1990s and consequently retains much evidence of its glorious Soviet past. Monumental statues and broad triumphal avenues add to the atmosphere of another age. The Museum of the Black Sea Fleet is worth visiting if you are into naval history or Soviet artefacts. Another very popular attraction is the Panorama Museum that dramatically depicts the battle for Sevastopol in 1854.

Near by: The areas around Sevastopol resonate with history from the Crimean War. Both Balaklava and Inkerman were scenes of famous battles. Balaklava itself is worth a quick visit, a small and dozy little town that was once the site of Florence Nightingale’s hospital. We have it on good authority that one of the mountains that meets the sea at Balaklava is hollow and was used to house a highly covert Soviet submarine base. [top]

And The Rest…
There is such a rich resource of places to visit in Crimea that we could not cover them all however, if you have time it is worth investigating:

The Khan’s Palace at Bakhchisaray
The winery and palace at Massandra
Balaklava and the Crimean war battlefield sites
The ruins at Khersonesus
The cave villages at Chufut-Kale and Manhup-Kale
The Genoese fortress at Sudak
Hiking in the mountains also yields rich rewards of historical ruins, unique wildlife and
stunning views.
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