Explore Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula

Listed by National Geographic as one of the ‘must-see’ places in 2013, the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine has justifiably been described as a paradise. It has also been called the ‘playground of the tsars’, and indeed the coastline was a favorite leisure destination among Russian nobility. Catherine the Great’s General Prince Grigory Potemkin noted in 1782 that “Russia needs its paradise” and he favored annexing Crimea as a Russian territory at the time. During Soviet rule, resorts along the Black Sea were frequently visited by Soviet officials, but when Soviet rule dissolved the Crimean Peninsula became a territory of the newly independent Ukraine.

Reminders of Cold War and Soviet history are found in some of the stark block-style architecture and in museums such as the once top-secret submarine base at Balaklava, which is now open to the public. But for many who visit this charming region of Ukraine, the real attraction of Crimea is in the seaside resorts, scenic hiking trails, therapeutic mud baths and the spectacular vineyards of Massandra. It is said that Joseph Stalin stored a sizable collection of wines that were confiscated from the tsars’ palaces in the vineyard’s cellars, many of which take pride of place in Massandra’s one million bottle collection. The temperate climate of Massandra, located near Yalta, is perfect for the cultivation of grapes and the winery was built in the late 19th century specifically to produce wine for the Tsar’s summer palace, which it did in abundance. As the oldest winery in Ukraine, Massandra continues to produce a range of internationally acclaimed wines.

During the summer months – May to October – minibuses travel throughout the Crimean region, with taxis being readily available and private and public bus and train routes connecting larger cities. Kiosks at the popular beaches, such as Sudak and Koktebel, serve up a variety of traditional Crimean Tatar treats, among which are plov, lagman, and chee-börek, and the atmosphere is relaxed and festive. The beach at Alupka is somewhat rocky, but the town is home to some beautiful dachas as well as the historic Vorontsov palace. Certainly, there is plenty to do and see in Ukraine’s ‘playground of the tsars’.