Valdai is a great destination for a weekend trip from Moscow and St Petersburg or a perfect place for a break on the road from Moscow to St Petersburg.
The highway between Moscow and St. Peterburg is just about cars and traffic jams. You do not drive it in order to see idyllic Russian landscapes and the inspiring architecture of the small towns but simply to get from Moscow to Petersburg or the other way around. We didn´t have high hopes of seeing something nice on the road between the two Russian Metropolia, so all the greater our surprise was when we discovered Valdai Reserve just off the highway between Moscow – St Petersburg.
Valdai National Park is a forested area with a number of lakes – a great opportunity for canoeing and trekking. Some of the 19th-century estates located on the territory of the national park are worth a visit: for example Gory, Ozerki, Peretno. The estates are mostly slowly falling apart, still, their remains may give you an idea of what the life of the Russian aristocracy before the Communist revolution was like. At least a dozen of the old village and estate churches of Valdai are being taken by nature as well. From these, the most scenic ones are in Turny, Russkiye Noviki and Lamerye. Also, the villages of Valdai are picturesque. The wooden houses may not be the most comfortable to live in, but they are definitely pleasing to look at.
Iversky Monastery is one of the most important sights of Valdai – and one of the important Orthodox shrines. Founded in the 17th century, it quickly became an important cultural and educational centre – some of the first books were apparently printed here. The icon of the Theotokos Iverskaya (arguably it had divine powers) used to gather many pilgrims in Valdai. However, it was lost in 1927 under the Communist rule.
After World War II, the place had a specific function, lesser known and remembered today. After the war, the streets were full of invalids: Many disabled former soldiers had no homes to return to or didn’t want to be a burden to their families. It was decided to hide them out of the sight of ‘normal’ Soviet citizens. Former monasteries like Iversky were often chosen to host them. Few people know that another important Orthodox shrine – Valaam Monastery in Karelia – was also used as a boarding home or a detention place for the invalids of war. In the 1970ies, a painter Gennady Dobrov made a series of sketches of the invalids and wrote down their stories. The project is similar in some way to “HONY”, isn’t it?
The Russian monasteries were not the only places used for purposes they were not initially designed for. Did you know that Versaille Palace used to be the hospital for the soldiers during the French Civil war?
There to stay?
It might be a great idea to pinch a tent on the premises of the reserve. There are two hotels in the villages Nikolskoye and Polnovo that normally don`t get full even during the high season. They are quite basic but their location makes up for everything the hotels might lack.
Website of the Russian Railways. Better book your tickets in advance!
Should you need a car for your weekend break from Moscow or St Petersburg, find the best deals at AUTO EUROPE. AUTO EUROPE compares the deals of car rentals e.g. Hetz, Sixt, Europecar, etc. so that you don’t have to do it yourself.
A travel guide we used on this trip: Lonely Planet Russia edition
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Vologda Region – Russia’s Hidden Gem
Eastern Karelia – in the Heart of Russian Wilderness
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Solovki: a Remote and Beautiful Archipelago, a Religious Shrine and the Place Where Gulag Originated