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Sochi (Сочи)

Krasnodar Krai

Sochi is a resort city located on the Russian Black Sea. Sochi has for many years been a favourite holiday spot for Russian tourists. Sochi separates the beautiful Caucasus Mountains from the Black Sea and is quickly becoming the gateway to winter sport in the area. Although it may sound like Sochi is a small beach resort town, don't be mistaken. Sochi is a bustling city. In Summer Sochi truly comes alive as thousands of Russian tourists flock to the city. Beach side sunbathing on small rocky beaches, high-rise hotels, carnivals, concerts, dining and night clubs all form part of Sochi's somewhat unusual make-up.

Greater Sochi includes four city districts which stretch over 150km along the Black Sea water front. This makes Sochi one of the world's longest cities. City districts such as Adler were once considered unique towns but in 1961 were incorporated into Sochi. Greater Sochi also includes the ski-resort town of Krasnaya Polyana. The four city districts of Sochi are:

Tsentralny City District - Central Sochi.
Khostinsky City District - South Eastern area including Khosta.
Lazarevsky City District - North Western area including Lazarevskoye.
Adlersky City District - Southern most district including Adler.

Sochi will be the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. It will be the first time that Russia has hosted the Winter Olympic Games. A huge amount of construction is currently in progress to ready the city for the Olympics. The stadium-based events such as the ice-hockey and skating will be held south of Sochi proper in Adler. An Olympic Park and village are being built in the city. Most of the mountain skiing events will be held in the nearby ski-resort town of Krasnaya Polyana which services four popular ski fields.

Located at a similar latitude to southern France, Sochi is one of the few areas in Russia to have a subtropical climate. Average temperatures remain well above freezing all year round, only dropping below for a few days of the year. Temperatures on average are in the higher twenties during the summer months. Tourism in central Sochi dramatically declines in the winter months and Sochi can experience some cold and blustery conditions if wind blows off the black sea. However it's in the winter months that the nearby Krasnaya Polyana comes alive as the area's ski centre. The climate, almost unique in Russia, ensures that Sochi remains a popular holiday location, while the nearby ski fields receive consistent snow each winter.

In 2018 Sochi will host some games of the 2018 Football World Cup.

A Little History

Sochi has been known to be populated by local groups for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks also frequented the Sochi area. Christianity arrived in the area with the Byzantine Empire. In the late 1820s Russia conquered the area and set up a network of fortresses to protect the area from the Ottoman Empire. Cossacks were stationed in the area and Sochi was named in 1896. In 1961 the Adler and Lazarevskoye were added to the city. Sochi is thought now to be one of the longest cities in the worlds, stretching over 145km along the black sea coast.

Under Soviet rule Sochi developed into one of Russia’s favourite resort cities. Sanatoriums and hospitals were built. During World War II Sochi became a home for huge numbers of wounded soldiers from the Eastern front. After the war Sochi remained one of the country's leading health resorts. More recently under the rule of Vladimir Putin Sochi has received significant investment which will continue in the lead up to the Olympic Games.

Central Sochi

Central Sochi will surprise the foreign tourist, and these surprises will probably be both good and bad. Sochi is compared to many sea-side cites but in my opinion Sochi is a purely Russian creation and it doesn't do justice to compare it to foreign towns or cities. Sochi is a busy and bustling sea-side city.

Sochi's beach front boulevard is known as “Ulitsa Neserbskaya” or “Neserbskaya street” (Несебрская ул). The street is mostly a walk-way that stretches some distance along the black sea coastline. You can step down to several small beach areas which are separated every one hundred metres or so by concrete jetties. These beaches however are covered by large stones so you'll probably want to find somewhere to sit. In fact those used to the big sandy beaches of somewhere like Australia may even be a little surprised at the use of the term “beach” to describe these areas.

The boulevard is also also a complicated mass of shops, small stalls and amusements. This combines with water-slides and a vast array of cafes, restaurants to give the area a unique flavour. At one point a huge open air concert hall towers over the beach front. The restaurant selection is quite diverse ranging from fine dining to simple sea-side cafes serving cold beer. In summer at night this area comes alive. Sochi night clubs aren't in short supply. A couple of these night clubs are huge open-air clubs on the seas side which are open during the summer months.

Away from the sea-side Sochi has some beautiful parks and gardens, in fact the central city is full of gardens. Any time of the year it is possible to relax simply by walking around the city. The boulevard area is flanked by gardens which stretch almost it's full length but raised above to give a nice view out to sea. Park Rivera on the northern side of the Sochi river is quite an old park that is filled with a carnival and other amusements. Sochi's arboretum is also considered one the must see sites of the city.

As a tourist city shopping is also popular in Sochi. In fact Sochi is one of the best Russian cities for simply wandering around and exploring. The interesting mix of gardens, shops, artwork and architecture should keep the city wanderer entertained for some time.

Hotels in central Sochi can vary significantly in quality. From the towering, aging and reportedly awful soviet era monoliths to modern 5-star hotels. Service at such hotels can vary accordingly so reading reviews on the Internet before you book is probably a good idea. Several sanatoriums still operate in Sochi although this seems to the domain of the Russian traveller. Sanatoriums generally include health program that lasts for the length of the stay. Russia is embarking on a program to star-rate all hotels in Sochi before the Olympics which should benefit foreign tourists.

Skiing and Snowboarding in Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi

Sochi features some of Russia’s most southern winter resorts. These resorts are centred around the nearby town of Krasnaya Polyana. A significant amount of investment is currently under way in the area developing the ski resorts for the Winter Olympics. In fact, at the time of writing Krasnaya Polyana is simply one huge construction site. If you are planning to travel before the Olympics you should keep this construction in mind, however in general the ski resorts are all operating.

Krasnaya Polyana is located in the Adlersky City District around 70km drive from central Sochi. It is closer to Adler and the airport than central Sochi. Krasnaya Polyana is located in a narrow river valley flanked on both sides by the huge and imposing Caucasus Mountains. The valley stretches all the way to Adler. Ignoring the construction at township level, the scenery in the area and the drive to Krasnaya Polyana is beautiful. In 2013 construction of the light-rail system should be complete and the town will be linked to the airport and Sochi.

Esto-Sadok is township a few kilometres beyond Krasnaya Polyana township. Although these towns are quickly merging into one as hotels are rising from everywhere. Access to the ski resorts is from Esto-Sadok and slightly beyond. Gondolas from all four resorts operate from the town level. Most local hotels offer a transfer service to the ski resort base buildings but otherwise taxi services are easy to find.

Krasnaya Polyana is quickly becoming one of Russia’s premier ski resorts. This is due to the increased investment, warm climate and amazing terrain. Alpika-service has a vertical drop of 1698m (5570ft) which starts at an elevation of 2238m (7342ft). To put this in perspective, Blackcomb (Canada) has the largest vertical drop in North America of 1609m. Although the resort has such a huge vertical drop, it is certainly much smaller in terms of area. However, the total skiable area in the close vicinity of Krasnaya Polyana is rapidly increasing with the construction of the new resorts. Comparisons to Whistler Blackcomb in Canada are becoming common. This is mainly because both resorts are at a similar height and have a similar maritime climate being both some 30km from the sea.

Ski resorts in the area include:

Rosa Khutor – Opened in 2010/2011 and home of the Olympic alpine skiing and snowboarding events. This resort features long and steep terrain. The resort is serviced by modern 8-seat gondola and 6-seat chairlifts. During the 2010/2011 season there were four lift lines operating which are able to service the Olympic ski racing area. There are plans to build some a total of 18 lifts before 2014. There are snow-making facilities on the lower slopes. Rosa Khutor is likely to become Krasnaya Polyana's premier resort, and in its first season was considered by most to already be the best resort for advanced terrain. The upper slopes of Rosa Khutor are actually higher than Alpika Service so the resort will have a bigger vertical drop once all the slopes are completed. The resort plans to operate it's season into May.

Alpika Service – Krasnaya Polyana's original ski resort, next door to Rosa Khutor. Next to the newer resorts Alpika looks like it is due for an upgrade which it will very likely get. The slopes are serviced by dated double-chairlifts, there is currently no snow-making and other facilities are limited. The upper slopes feature some interesting upper-intermidate level terrain, but the area is small compared to Rosa Khutor. The terrain on the lower slopes is currently not very diverse, and is suitable for intermediate skiers/snowboarders.

Gazprom Laura – Closely linked to the Grand Hotel Polyana this new resort will host the Nordic events of the Olympics. It is the only field not on the southern side of the valley. Facilities are very modern with Gondolas transferring people from the township level. We have not yet skied here but most reports indicate that the slopes that are currently open are quite easy. As of the 2010/2011 season a significant amount of the resort is still under construction so more interesting terrain might open in the coming seasons.

Mountain Carousel – A new resort with its base in Esto-Sadok west of Alpika. We have not skied this resort as it was closed when we were there. The Olympic Ski jumping site will be on the lower slopes.

2014 Winter Olympics

Sochi won the rights to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in 2007. It defeated Pyeong Chang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria for the rights. All stadiums and facilities needed to be constructed to host the games. The winter Olympics will be centred around two main centres known as the “Sochi Olympic Park” (coastal cluster) and “Krasnaya Polyana” (mountain cluster).

The Sochi Olympic Park (coastal cluster) will include the main Olympic Stadium and host events such as the opening and closing ceremony, ice hockey, speed skating, figure skating, and curling. It is located in Adler on the Black Sea coast close to the airport. These facilities will be accessible from central Sochi using the light-rail system

Krasnaya Polyana (mountain cluster) will host all the skiing (snowboard, alpine and cross-country) and sliding (bobsleigh, luge and skeleton) events. Krasnaya Polyana will also be linked via the light-rail system. There will be an Olympic Sub-village in the area and there are many hotels. The downhill skiing and snowboarding events will be held at Rosa Khutor Ski Resort. Cross-country skiing events will be held at Gazprom Laura. Ski Jumping at Carousel.

Sochi is located near Russia’s border with Abkhazia. Abkhazia is recognised as a republic by Russia, although the majority of nations consider this area to be part of Georgia. Sochi is also located reasonably close to zones of recent conflict such as South Ossetia and Chechnya. This has raised some security concerns with regards to the Olympic Games. However the resort of Sochi is frequented by Russian tourist and members of government such as Vladimir Putin which indicates that the security situation in the city is quite stable.

Getting To and Around Sochi

Sochi is a very popular destination for Russian tourists so the city is well served by transport options. Trains run daily from Sochi Station to Moscow.

Sochi International Airport is located in the Adler. Sochi is served directly by a number of Russian airlines and some international airlines. The other major airport in the Krasnodar Krai is Krasnodar Airport.

The Sochi light metro is due to be completed in 2013. It will provide light rail services within Sochi city, the airport and Olympic venues. It will also service the nearby ski resort towns of Krasnaya Polyana and Esto-Sadok.

Krasnodar Krai