St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Golden Ring, 9 nights
Day 1 – Sunday or Monday: Saint-Petersburg (arrival)
Arrival to Saint-Petersburg
Transfer to the hotel
Day 2 – Monday or Tuesday: Saint-Petersburg
Breakfast at the hotel
Panoramic City Tour. A guided tour completely in English, this tour is ideal for getting the feel of the city, and in particular its historical center and major monuments. Participants will enjoy Nevsky Prospect along with its most prestigious buildings: the Anichkov, Stroganov, and Belozersky Palaces; Lutheran, Catholic, and Armenian churches; the orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, the Eliseev, Singer, and Mertens buildings, and many others. We will cross the Fontanka, the river that, along with the Moika River and Griboedov Canal, formed the border of the city center. The banks of Griboedov Canal are home to the well-known Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built in the so typically Russian style with its multicolored cupolas and gold onion domes. The former Winter Palace, once a residence of the tsars and now the Hermitage Museum, dominates the northern bank of the Neva River, while on the opposite bank the silhouette of the Peter and Paul Fortress and its high spire command the skyline. We will stop by the Aurora Cruiser, whose guns opened the Russian revolution, followed by the House of Peter the Great – it was from this modest residence that the Tsar personally kept an eye on the construction of “his” city between 1703 and 1708. On Vasilievsky Island we will see the Strelka, the Menchikov palace and a historical building which is part of the State University. We will pass by the Admiralty with its imposing gold broach, a symbol of the Russian navy on which Peter the Great wanted to base his empire. His equestrian statue is erected in front of the Senate building and St. Isaac’s Cathedral with its impressive columns made from Finnish red granite. Then there are the buildings of the Conservatory and Mariinsky Theatre on Theater Square, after which the tour will conclude with a visit to the St. Nicolas Naval Cathedral, surrounded by canals.
Short walk through the Dostoevsky quarter. The world-famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky was always deeply connected to St. Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire. He loved the city and lived in about 20 different apartments, most of them situated in the same part of the northern capital and near a church or cathedral, as he was a strong believer. We will visit one of his preferred areas, situated in the heart of St. Petersburg. Beyond the elegant facades, the interior of these houses reflect all the different classes represented in the city, from rich families to the middle and low classes, the ones that interested Dostoyevsky the most. He brilliantly depicted these characters and their daily life with the details he knew so well in many of his books, such as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and others. During our walking tour we will discover the cobbled streets where the writer lived, see the last home of Dostoyevsky, where his memorial is situated, and visit Vladimir Church, where he used to pray.
Visit to the Kuznechny food market. Situated in one of the oldest parts of the city, the so-called Dostoevsky quarter, it was built in the beginning of the 20th century and today is the most well-known market St. Petersburg, a favorite with the city’s citizens. It is not the cheapest place in the city, but is certainly the best-stocked of its markets. Since its opening only the best natural products have been gathered here from all of Russia and its regions: fruits, vegetables, and spices from the fertile oasis of Central Asia and the slopes of the Caucasian Mountains, along with milk fresh from the cow, home-made cheese, healthy dried fruits, forest mushrooms, fresh fish, and caviar. What is most amazing is that before you buy you can taste almost any product here – the best guarantee of quality! Once you have tried some honey or a slice of cheese you will not be able to leave without taking some of these delights with you.
Visit to Our Lady of Vladimir Church. Built originally out of wood in 1747, the actual stone building was inaugurated in 1768 and designed by the architect Pietro Antonio Trezzini with a surprising mix of the Baroque and Neoclassical styles. Situated in a densely populated area, this is one of the churches most often visited by the city’s inhabitants, and boasts five onion-shaped domes along with one separated belfry. During the communist rule in Russia it hosted an anti-religious library, though its religious functions were restored in 1989. One of its most famous visitors was Dostoyevsky, who frequently prayed at the church.
Exterior view of the cruiser Aurora. The Aurora is the ship of the Imperial Navy whose guns announced the beginning of the Russian Revolution on October 25, 1917 when its crew joined the Revolutionaries, neglecting an order to leave the city. Its sailors not only gave the signal for the assault on the Winter Palace, but even participated in it. Visitors will appreciate its historical guns and enjoy the beautiful view of the Neva and embankment.
Free time for lunch
Visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress. Located on a small island opposite the winter palace and dominating three branches of the Neva River, the Fortress was intended to protect the city from a naval assault. It was the city’s first building and is considered the foundation of St. Petersburg, while the tsars also used it as a political prison for their main opponents. Now it is a museum and one of the best spots in the city to enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the Neva’s southern bank. One of the guns on the top of its bulwarks is even fired every day at noon, and what was initially a small wooden church built inside the big fortress was eventually expanded and improved on, becoming the current cathedral, both hits with visiting tourists. There we will take in the graves of all the tsars of the Romanov dynasty and their families, including the grave of Peter the Great, founder of the city, and those of Nicholas II and his family, killed during the Bolshevik revolution of 1918. Their remains were buried in the cathedral in 1998.
Walking tour along Nevsky Prospect and through the Arts Quartier. Nevsky Prospect (avenue) is the main thoroughfare of St. Petersburg and the city’s most beautiful and important avenue. It is the commercial and social heart of the city; an animated place full of shops and cafes where the inhabitants of the city love to walk and have fun. We will admire some of its most important buildings, such as the Anichkov, Stroganov, and Belosselski-Belozerski palaces; the Gostiny Dvor Department Store; the Eliseev, Mertens, and Singer houses; and the Anichkov Bridge. Nevsky Prospect is also home to some of the most important churches in St. Petersburg: the Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Catholic Church of St. Catherine, the Armenian Church of St. Catherine, and the imposing neoclassical colonnade of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral. We will walk in front of the sumptuous Grand Hotel Europe on our way to discovering the “Arts Quartier,” and around the majestic Mikhailovsky Palace, which hosts the Russian Museum. Located in the same square are Mikhailovsky Theatre, the Theatre of Musical Comedy, the Philharmonic, and the imposing façade of the Ethnographic Museum. A short distance from Nevsky Prospect the multicolored onion domes of the Church of the Savior on Blood soar above Griboedov canal.
Visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. This cathedral is a real treasure of 19th century Russian architecture, built in 1800 by order of Paul I and based on the same model as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The plans were designed by Voronikhin, originally a serf of the Stroganov count before becoming professor of architecture at the Fine Arts Academy. Kutuzov, hero of the war against Napoleon, was buried here in 1813, and the epitaph on his tomb was later written by Pushkin. During the Communist period the cathedral was transformed into the Museum of Atheism. It reopened at the end of the Soviet regime as a place of worship and today is one of the city’s main orthodox churches.
Day 3 – Tuesday or Wednesday: Saint-Petersburg
Breakfast at the hotel
Short walk through the Pushkin quarter. Almost two centuries have passed already since the tragic death of the most famous and celebrated Russian poet, but Russians still remember and love his books and admire his attitude toward life. He was not only an extraordinarily talented writer, but an outstanding person who actively participated in the politic and social life of his time, defending the interests of the Russian people. Our visit will take us to the area of the city where he lived between his long and frequent trips. We will stroll along cobbled Millionnaya Street where we will admire the old palaces, the impressive Atlantes holding one of the Hermitage colonnades, and the romantic Winter Canal. By the Moika River we will discover the elegant facade of the house that Pushkin shared with his wife and where he died defending her honor after a duel with a French officer of the Tsar.
Visit to the Hermitage Museum. The magnificent Hermitage Museum is the most important sight in St. Petersburg, occupying the Winter Palace, former residence of the Russian tsars, and three more adjacent buildings overlooking the Neva River. The Hermitage is Russia’s biggest museum and one of the most important in the world. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and it grew richer through the centuries as tsars purchased entire art collections abroad. Today it is home to more than three million masterpieces and hosts invaluable collections of sculptures, pictorial art, crystals, porcelain, carpets, jewellery, engravings, antiques from the classical era, modern art, weapons, medals, coins, precious books, and many more. It is well known all over the world for its collections of Italian, Flemish, French, and Spanish pictorial art, and particularly for its paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Rembrandt; impressionists such as Gauguin, Matisse, and Van Gogh; and such geniuses of modern art as Picasso. Its sumptuous interiors, richly decorated by the most talented artists, are a marvellous frame for this unique collection.
Free time for lunch
Visit to Alexander Nevsky’s Monastery (Lavra). Built by Peter the Great in 1710 on the banks of the Neva as the end of Nevsky prospect, this monastery is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Initially it was devoted to preserving the burial place of Alexander Nevsky, the medieval Russian hero and Prince of Novgorod who saved the country from Swedish, Teutonic, and Tatar invaders. There are only two orthodox Lavras in Russia: the one in St. Petersburg and another in Serguiev Posad, near Moscow. Alexander Nevsky Lavra is composed of two churches built by Trezzini in the Baroque style, the majestic and Neoclassical Trinity Cathedral, and various cemeteries, all surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Visit to Tikhvinsky Cemetery by Nevsky Lavra. The cemetery of Our Lady of Tikhvin was founded in 1823 in St. Petersburg near Alexander Nevsky Lavra, with many figures from Russian art, artists, and famous writers buried here. Some of them are very well known, including the composers Tchaikovsky, Glinka, and Mussorgsky; the sculptor Klodt; the historian Karamzin; the fabulist Krilov; and the poet Zhukovsky. Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the most renowned Russian writers, is also buried here. The funerary monument was erected in 1883 by the architect Vassiliev and the sculptor Lavretzky.
Day 4 – Wednesday or Thursday: Saint-Petersburg
Breakfast at the hotel
Excursion to Pushkin and visit to Catherine’s Palace and its park. The small city of Pushkin, located 30 kilometers to the south of St. Petersburg, was named after the great Russian poet. In the past it was also called Tsarskoe Selo, meaning “Village of the Tsars”. Catherine Palace, named after Peter the Great’s wife, Catherine I, is one of the most beautiful residences of the Russian tsars. It was designed by the famous Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the designer of the most important monuments and palaces of the city, and was constructed in the 17th century, spanning the reigns of five tsars. Each of them altered the palace according to their own personal tastes and what was in vogue at the time, from the initial Rococo through to the later Neoclassic. It was a favorite of Catherine II, her incomparable heritage crowned by the Amber Room, covered from floor to ceiling with Baltic amber. The Amber Room was kept from the public for almost 100 years and opened only after a full renovation in 2003, on the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. We will also admire the beauty of the large ballroom known as the Grand Hall or the Hall of Paintings. The beautiful architecture of the palace is surrounded by the neighboring park, where you can walk among the birches, firs, lakes, ponds, streams, bridges, sculptures, and pavilions – unforgettable beauty that has been the subject of many poets and artists.
Free time for lunch
Excursion to Pavlovsk and visit to Paul’s Palace and its park. The palace at Pavlovsk was a present made by Catherine the Great to her son Pavel, future Tsar Paul I, in 1777. The place soon took the name of Pavlovsk and quickly acquired numerous masterpieces thanks to the tsar’s spouse, Maria Fedorovna, who was fond of art and a sponsor of many artists. We will appreciate the refinement of its salons, the harmony of its colors, the elegance of fireplaces made from Carrara marble, and an extensive collection of porcelain, paintings, and ivory articles. Its park, covering 600 hectares, was initially a game reserve for the tsar, and is considered a masterpiece of European landscape architecture.
Return to Saint-Petersburg
Visit to St. Nicolas Naval Cathedral. This beautiful Russian Baroque building is remarkable for its massive golden cupolas. It was built in an area where sailors had lived ever since the town was founded by Peter the Great due to the many canals crisscrossing the neighbourhood and the proximity of the port, and the Naval Regiment established its headquarters there. The cathedral itself was a gift from Prince Golitsin to Tsaritsa Elisaveta Petrovna for the feats of Russian fleet, as the temple of St. Nicholas the Miraculous, patron saint of sailors, with architect Chevalinsky managing construction from 1753 to 1762. The cathedral building is actually composed of two separated churches on different floors: Saint Nicholas Church on the lower one and Epiphany Church above it. Both are richly decorated with moulding and corinthian columns, the ensemble crowned by a beautiful freestanding bell tower.
Free time on Nevsky prospect
Transfer to railway station
Departure for Moscow
Night in train in quadruple compartments
Day 5 – Thursday or Friday: Moscow
Breakfast on board
Arrival to Moscow
Panoramic tour of Moscow: the ideal way to get in touch with the city, including its historical center and major monuments. We will stroll along the broad avenues, making our way though famous Tverskaya Street to the top of Sparrow Hills, under the imposing stare of Lomonossov University, one of the Stalin-era skyscrapers scattered throughout the city. From there we will admire an impressive panorama of the city, followed by a stop at Victory Park and another in front of Novodevichy Convent and its lake, the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. We will approach the historical center from the banks of the Moskva River, coming out near the White House, location of the siege of the Russian Government. We will also stop at Arbat Street, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare nicknamed the “Moscow Montmartre” because of the artist that used to live in the area and the painters that nowadays populate the street. We will pass in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the Parliament Building (Duma), Bolshoi Theatre, and the imposing facade of Lubyanka, headquarters of the KGB.
Exterior visit to Novodevichy Convent. Novodevichy Monastery, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful monasteries in all of Russia and is situated in the southwest of the capital on a meadow next to the Moskva River. It was founded as a fortified monastery by Vasili III in 1524 to commemorate a victory over the Polish and Lithuanian armies and the seizure of Smolensk. During the 16th and 17th centuries the great boyar families and even the tsar’s family sent their daughters there. The monastery is situated next to a small lake which served as the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s famous Swan Lake ballet, the exteriors of its five-domed cathedral and bell tower being stunningly beautiful.
Walking tour of the historical center. We will begin our tour on Manege Square, the site of the imperial stables as well as an ancient livestock fair. We will pass by Russia’s “Kilometer Zero” and continue our walk, admiring as we go the Art-Nouveau facades of the luxurious National and Metropol hotels as well as the Parliament Building (Duma). We will stroll through the alleyways of the ancient merchant district of Kitai-Gorod, home for numerous small churches, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and the Cathedral of the Epiphany. We will also stop at GUM, the famous historical galleries which have been transformed into a veritable temple of luxury, and afterwards continue our walk at Red Square, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world. It was named Red, or “Krasnaya” in Russian, which in Old Russian was a synonym of “beautiful.” Now the square is surrounded by the famous State Historical Museum, Kremlin, and St. Basil’s Cathedral with its fabulous onion domes, built by order of Ivan the Terrible. Red Square is also home to Lenin’s Mausoleum, and additionally features parades by the Russian Army on various holidays throughout the year. We will walk along the Kremlin walls, visiting Alexander Garden, the most ancient in Moscow and home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with its eternal flame.
Free time for lunch
Visit to Saint Basil’s Cathedral. This piece of architecture is considered one of the primary symbols of Moscow. The whole group is carefully laid out: it has the form of a Greek cross constituted by a central church and four chapels set at the four cardinal points, between which there are four other, smaller chapels. Its central church, which is 57 meters high, is surmounted by a tent-shaped roof, while the others brandish spectacular onion-shaped domes crowned by large gilded crosses. The Cathedral was constructed by order of Ivan the Terrible between 1555 and 1561 to memorialize his victories over the Golden Horde. The Tsar took possession of the town of Kazan after a long siege on October 1, 1552, after 300 years of occupation by the Tatars, on the same day as the orthodox celebration of Intercession. The name is therefore commemorative of this event: the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin, only changing to “Saint Basil’s” after the construction of a 10th chapel on the grave of Vasili (Basilius), an ordinary man made a saint in 1580. He dedicated his life to poor people and was very popular in Moscow, while also predicting Ivan the Terrible’s victory. The legend says that Ivan the Terrible was so impressed by the Cathedral that he command that the architect be blinded to ensure that he would not be able to rebuild it anywhere else.
Visit to the Moscow metro. Opened on May 15, 1935, by the Soviet government as a symbol of the technological and industrial prowess of the political system, the Moscow metro was considered to be the “People’s Palace.” The most important artists of the period took part in its decoration, and materials were brought from all corners of the country, representing the union of the Soviet people. The metro is still the city’s main transportation artery and even one of the most important in the world, with its 200 kilometers of railway lines and 145 stations. We will visit the most important stations decorated with luxurious materials: more than 20 types of marble, granite, and onyx, as well as paintings, majolica, glass, mural paintings, mosaics, etc.
Day 6 – Friday or Saturday: Moscow
Breakfast at the hotel
Visit to the Kremlin and its cathedrals. The word “Kremlin” in Russian means fortress, and in early Rus every important town had a fortress encircled by a wall where the main buildings, churches, and cathedrals were located and protected. The Moscow fortress, the cradle of the city, is the main fortress in the country and has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Built in the 12th century, it took the form we know today in the 15th century. It is an excellent reflection of the different stages of Russian art; a single monumental center of architecture, painting, and decorative and applied arts. The best craftsmen and artists worked on its churches, cathedrals, and palaces, bequeathing to us their priceless work framing the power and fame of Russia that is concentrated in its unforgettable alleyways and different sections. The Kremlin is even today the seat of some of the main political and religious government bodies: the President’s Palace, different administrative and military buildings such as the Senate and Armoury, and also numerous churches and cathedrals. Its walls, 19 meters high and 2235 meters long, tower above the Moskva River and Red Square and are made from eight kilogram bricks. We will visit the fortress, enjoying the view of the world’s biggest “tsar bell”, forged in 1733, and the “tsar cannon”, one of the biggest guns ever made in the entire world. Forged in 1586 by Andrew Chokhov, its purpose was to defend the gate of the Spasskaya tower, though it has never been used. The Cathedral Square is an architectural jewel, flanked by the Dormition Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, and the Cathedral of the Archangel.
Free time for lunch
Visit to the Tretyakov Gallery. This unrivalled gallery was named after its founder, the famous trader Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898), a major sponsor of 19th century Russian art. Tretyakov’s dream was to build a large museum open to everyone regardless of class or wealth, with a significant collection of exhibits designed to help people understand and admire the history of Russian art. The project materialized in 1881 with the inauguration of the gallery as Tretyakov donated more than 2000 exhibits to the gallery from his own collection in Moscow, beginning the history of what today is an impressive museum featuring more than 130000 works of art created by Russian artists, an overall historical narrative of Russian painting from the 11th century until the present. Its treasure is its collection of icons, while among its best known pieces are the Byzantine “Virgin of Vladimir”, attributed to St. Luke according to the legend, and the masterpiece of Andrei Roublev called the “Trinity”.
Visit to Zamoskvorechye. This charming corner of busy Moscow is hidden south of the Kremlin, across the Moskva River. It’s a quartier different from others in the city, one where we can still admire traditional Russian houses. Each street even has its own church, defying the communist regime, when most churches in Moscow were destroyed. On the other side of the river lived the authorities and nobility, while this was home for handcrafters and merchants beginning in the 18th century. During the 19th century, artists, architects, and writers travelled to Zamoskvorechye and this quartier to bask in its creativity and dynamism. We will appreciate the elegant facades, the little churches, and the beautiful palaces from the 18th and 19th centuries, all set in a calm, picturesque atmosphere.
Visit to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This imposing cathedral is quite simply the biggest Orthodox church ever built. A symbol of the Russian victory against Napoleon, its construction was finished in 1883, coinciding with the coronation of Alexander III. Its style tends toward the neo-classic side despite its neo-byzantine plans, with the interior decoration made mostly out of Carrara marble, displaying vivid paintings of the battles between Russian and Napoleonic troops. In 1931 Stalin ordered the cathedral blown up in order to build the largest sky-scraper in the world, the Soviet Palace, though the project was quickly abandoned because of flooding from the Moskva River, and so the largest swimming pool in the world was eventually constructed in the hole that was left. After the fall of the Communist regime, the Cathedral was rebuilt according to the original plans. Its inauguration took place in 2000, along with the canonization of the last tsar and its family, killed during the Bolshevik revolution.
Day 7 – Saturday or Sunday: Moscow – Sergiev Possad – Pereslavl Zalessky – Rostov – Yaroslavl
Breakfast at the hotel
Excursion to Sergiyev Posad and visit to its monastery. Located about 70 kilometers to the north from Moscow on the Imperial Road of the Golden Ring, Sergiev Posad (formerly known as Zagorsk) is one of the most important centers of Russian Orthodoxy. Its construction was begun by St. Sergius, who established a monastery-fortress there in 1340 that would over the course of the centuries become one of the most important spiritual centers in Russia. There you will see the characteristic elements of the military architecture of the 15th-18th centuries, the period of its development. Nowadays, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius is still operational and is home to a seminary, the Technological Institute, the Pilgrimage Centre, and the residence of His Holiness the Patriarch of All Russia, thanks to which the city picked up its nickname as the “Russian Vatican.” Among its numerous churches and cathedrals, the most notable and significant are the Cathedral of the Assumption with its blue domes and the Cathedral of Dormition. It houses the tomb of Boris Godunov and his family as well as a copy of Andrei Roublev’s famous icon of the Trinity, the original of which is in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow. Sergiev Posad has been designated by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Departure to Pereslavl-Zalessky
Panoramic tour of Pereslavl-Zalessky. This ancient city of the Golden Ring, located on the bank of Pleshcheyevo Lake between Moscow and Yaroslavl, was founded in 1152 by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky. This historical figure, also the founder of Moscow and other Golden Ring cities, moved the capital of Russia from Kiev to this region. The city soon grew in importance due to its strategic location and was a cradle to numerous key figures in Russian history, such as Alexander Nevsky, who was born in Pereslavl-Zalessky, and Peter the Great, who spent a large part of his childhood here. It was on Pleshcheyevo Lake where Peter the Great constructed a scale model of what would later become the first Russian fleet. The city is very impressive, both for its natural scenery and its architecture: beautiful wooden houses near the lake that attract numerous painters and artists, an ancient fortress located at the top of the hill, and numerous monasteries. We will admire the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour, established concurrently with the founding of the city, as well as some of the numerous monasteries dating back to the 11th century: the Troitse-Danilov, Nikitsky, Feodorovsky, and Goritsky monasteries.
Free time for lunch
Departure to Rostov Veliky
Panoramic tour of Rostov Veliky. Rostov, known as the “stone symphony”, is a charming medieval town whose countless domes are reflected in the water of Nero Lake. It is one of the most ancient Russian cities, having been founded by the Meryans, a Finnish tribe, and it reached its peak between the 11th and the 13th centuries as a main trade hub along the Volga basin. It is one of the cities of the Golden Ring and an official candidate for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage List thanks to its numerous and fascinating churches and monasteries, along with its fabulous kremlin, considered second only to the Moscow Kremlin in all of Russia. The city is a true architectural gem. In its center we will find the Zachatyevsky Cathedral, whose stunning interiors were decorated with frescoes by 17th century Yaroslavl masters, and the Church of St. Isidore the Blessed, built in 1565. The most important sights are situated next to beautiful Nero Lake, including the Spasso-Yakovlevsky Monastery, dated 1688; neoclassical Dmitriev Cathedral; and the nearby Church of Our Saviour on the Sands. At the city’s other extreme, though still on the banks of the lake, lies the Abraham Monastery, one of the oldest in Russia. It is home to the Epiphany Cathedral, built by Ivan the Terrible in 1553 to celebrate his victory over the Tartars in Kazan. Between the two monasteries stands the majestic Kremlin.
Visit to the Rostov Veliky Kremlin. Considered to be the most beautiful in Russia excepting only the Moscow Kremlin, it is protected by high walls and fortified with 11 towers. The kremlin is made up of three parts: Cathedral Square, the Bishop’s Court, and the Metropolitan Garden. In Cathedral Square we will bask in the imposing Cathedral of the Assumption, built between the 12th and the 16th centuries. Its steeple is the most famous in Russia, and each of its 15 bells boasts its own name. The biggest of them weighs 32 tons and required a second parallel tower to support it. Numerous unsurpassingly beautiful buildings stretch between the kremlin and the lake, among which the Church of Saint-Ioan the Theologian is particularly attention-grabbing. The kremlin of Rostov Veliky is a deserved candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Departure to Yaroslavl
Day 8 – Sunday or Monday: Yaroslavl – Kostroma – Plios – Suzdal
Breakfast at the hotel
Panoramic tour of Yaroslavl. We will see the city center laid out according to the urban plan and developed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries: here are the Gostinny Dvor main commercial galleries (1818), the Governmental Offices building (1785), Vakromeyev House, the State University – formerly the House of Charity (1786) – and the Fire Department, occupying a 1911 Jugendstil building. We will also encounter Volkov Theatre, the oldest founded in Russia (1750), though the actual building dates back only to 1911, along with many neoclassical private residences, administrative buildings, and the promenade by the Volga River. The kremlin was located at the fork where the Volga and Kotorosl rivers meet, called the Strelka, until it burned down in 1658. On its location, dominating both rivers, was erected the magnificent Dormition Cathedral, demolished by the Soviets in 1937 and restored and reopened in 2010 to celebrate the city’s millenary. The beautiful Epiphany Church with its 5 domes is also laid out nearby, an excellent example of a medieval Russian church. The Church of St. John the Baptist is one of the best models of a “Yaroslavl style” church, with its exterior coated in richly glazed tiles. We will then admire the main jewels of Yaroslavl: the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour and the Church of Elijah the Prophet.
Visit to the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour on the banks of the Volga, built as a kremlin, or fortress, to protect the city with its high white walls and towers. Within those walls is the remarkable Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (1516), the city’s most ancient building, along with other churches, belfries, and dungeons. From this monastery the Russian peasant armies marched out to liberate Moscow from the Polish armies and from here also in 1613 Mikhail I set off for Moscow to be crowned the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty.
Visit to the Church of Elijah the Prophet. The church presently standing was built in 1650. This characteristic muscovite-style church has a simple exterior, while visitors are immediately struck by its richness immediately after walking through its doors: its walls and ceilings are overlaid with the most magnificent frescoes in the Golden Ring, painted at the end of the 17th century by 15 Yaroslavl and Kostroma masters. They depict vivid scenes from the daily life of the time in addition to some Old Testament references.
Free time for lunch
Departure to Kostroma
Panoramic tour of Kostroma. We will discover Catherine the Great’s urban plan, one which, according to legend, mirrors the shape of a fan she threw on the city map in order to describe her idea of a radial design for its streets. The streets spread out from a hub on the banks of the Volga, or what is today Susanin Square. The square features some of the main city sights, such as the Fire Tower, built in 1827; the Guard House; the Palace of General Borshov (1824); the Drama Theatre (1863); and the Monument to Mikhail Romanov. The area is also home to the famous “Merchant Galleries”, or “Trade Rows”, their neoclassical style dating back to 1786. They were built to concentrate city trade, streamlining work for traders and simplifying life for tax collectors. Each was constructed with a ground floor for trading and an upper floor for storage, with each dedicated to a corporation or even specific product: the Flower Gallery, milk, tobacco, oil, fish, sweets, etc. The Epiphany Monastery, on the other hand, is a haven of peace, and behind its strong walls and massive towers monastic life continues even nowadays unperturbed. Inside its Epiphany Cathedral, the oldest stone building in Kostroma, is the 10th century byzantine icon of St. Theodora Virgin, believed to be miraculous. The Church of the Resurrection on the Forests (on Debre) served as a vegetable storage facility under the Soviet regime, though it was subsequently restored.
Departure to Plios
Panoramic walking tour around Plyos. This small, charming town is located in the so-called “Switzerland of the Volga.” Founded in the 12th century, its peaceful atmosphere, pretty landscapes, and the majestic Volga running between the hills have drawn numerous painters in search of inspiration, including Repin, Shaliapin, Vassiliev, and Savrassov. Undoubtedly, the town’s most devoted visitor was Levitan, whose best work was painted in his small house on the banks of the Volga. That house has been turned into a museum dedicated to his work here and, along with the many churches scattered around the town, can be easily discovered simply by strolling along the cobbled streets. During our short walk we will be able to see most of the main sights of this beautiful town on the Volga River, including some well-known architectural masterpieces such as the Church of the Resurrection of Christ (1817), Trinity Church (1808), Vedenskaya Church (1828), the charming wooden Resurrection Church (1699), and the main Assumption Cathedral (1699).
Departure to Suzdal
Day 9 – Monday or Tuesday: Suzdal – Vladimir – Moscow
Breakfast at the hotel
Panoramic tour of Suzdal. The town of Suzdal is unusual in its layout and urban plan: its buildings are scattered across a beautiful landscape of hills, fields, streams, and ponds, all along the Kamenka River. We will tour the town in an effort to grasp the full scope of its artistic heritage and take in its most significant sites: the kremlin, the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthimius, and the Convent of the Intercession. We will also see the intriguing architecture of the St. Alexander Convent (1240), and also the Trade Row, or Merchant’s Court, and the monasteries of St. Basil and the Deposition. One interesting feature we will notice throughout our tour is that most of Suzdal’s churches were built in pairs.
Visit to the Suzdal Kremlin. As is true of all Russian kremlins, this 11th century fortress was the religious, civil and military center of the town, the place where the most important buildings were built, and where they sheltered within the safety of its earthen walls. It is still the heart of the city and the place where most of its main monuments are located, perched at the top of a small hill from which we will enjoy a splendid view of Suzdal. Inside the kremlin the most prominent sight is the Cathedral of the Nativity, with its Golden Gates dating back to the 13th century, five beautiful domes, and stunningly beautiful wall frescoes. Next to it we will find the Archers Gallery and the Cross chamber, both in the 15th century Archbishop Palace. The small, elegant wooden Church of St. Nicholas, built in 1766 near Suzdal, was transferred here from its original location, and contrasting it with the neighboring, partially wooden Church of St. John the Baptist, built in 1720, yields an interesting study in architectural differences.
Departure to Kideksha
Visit to Kideksha. This little village is situated near Suzdal at the intersection of the Nerl and Kamenka rivers. Founded in the 12th century, it was a fortified town and an important trade junction until its destruction by the Mongols. Its Church of Boris and Gleb, erected by order of Yuri Dolgoruky in 1152, is the oldest built using white limestone in Russia and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. According to legend, the martyrs Boris and Gleb, the first saints of the Russian Orthodox Church, stopped here on their way to Kiev.
Departure to Bogolyubovo
Visit to Bogolyubovo. Situated on the outskirts of Vladimir, Bogolyubovo means “loved by God” in Russian. In 1158 Prince Bogolyubsky of Vladimir saw a vision of the Virgin Mary near the city of Vladimir at the mouth of the rivers Nerl and Klyazma. He immediately ordered the construction in that very place of the Church of the Intervention on the Nerl along with a small fortified city around it, the origin of the present village. Both were completed by 1165. We will be able to see the ruins of Prince Bogolyubsky’s castle with its Staircase Tower and Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, built in the 17th century. These monuments are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Free time for lunch
Departure to Vladimir
Panoramic tour of Vladimir. The cradle of Russia and, along with neighboring Suzdal, origin of its history, Vladimir boasts a rich architectural heritage. It has been inhabited since at least the Palaeolithic Age: the settlement of Sungir is 25000 years old. The present city of Vladimir was founded in 1108 by Prince Vladimir Monomachos of Kiev, but modern research dates its foundation back to 990, by Vladimir the Great, father of Russian Orthodoxy. Its significance peaked under Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky, who made Vladimir the capital of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality and therefore the most important city in Russia from 1157 until the Mongol invasion in 1238. From that point it began to slowly fade, relinquishing power to Moscow. Still, it remained the see of the Russian Orthodox Church until 1325, and until 1432 the grand princes of Russia were crowned in Vladimir. The city’s decline, on the other hand, has contributed to the preservation of its medieval monuments and, in part due to that fact, Vladimir, one of the cities of the Golden Ring, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Most of the main monuments in Vladimir were built by both Russian and foreign architects and masters during the city’s glory days. We will tour the center to discover its most interesting sites, including the Golden Gate. It was erected in 1158 as the main entrance to the city, forming part of its 12th century walls. The Gate was covered in gold plates, complete with a small church dedicated to the Deposition of the Holy Robe on its top.
Visit to the Cathedral of the Assumption (Dormition Cathedral), built by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky, who is buried here, in Vladimir’s former kremlin. It was intended to be the center of the Russian Church, and its paintings are among the finest in all of Russian art. After the original frescoes on its walls were destroyed by the Mongols in 1238, new ones were painted by the grand master Andrei Rublev in 1408, with a baroque iconostasis added in 1774. It is considered to be one of the most important monuments in Russia and inspired numerous churches and cathedrals throughout the whole country, primarily its namesake located in the Moscow Kremlin.
Visit to the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius. Built in 1194 as a royal church for Prince Vsevolod III, its biggest draws are the stone carvings on its façade dedicated to King David, Alexander the Great, and Samson; and the 12th century frescoes lining its interior and depicting scenes from the Last Judgment.
Departure to Moscow
Day 10 – Tuesday or Wednesday: Moscow (departure)
Breakfast at the hotel
Transfer to the airport
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- Pushkarskaya Sloboda – section 3*
4* Sup. centre
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