The Golden Ring is a collection of historic Russian cities, northeast of Moscow and southeast of Saint Petersburg. They are close enough to each other to make travel easy and their architecture and traditional crafts make them popular for tourism and I was fortunate enough to experience this on my recent trip.
These ancient towns, which also played a significant role in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church, preserve the memory of the most important and significant events in Russian history. The towns have been called “open air museums” and feature unique monuments of Russian architecture of the 12th – 18th centuries, including kremlins, monasteries, cathedrals,and churches. These towns are among the most picturesque in Russia and prominently feature Russia’s famous onion domes. There were eight cities originally included into the tourist route of the Golden Ring, but many more are now associated with it; the six original cities are all highlighted within my journey.
We left our hotel in Moscow just after 8am. A 2-hour road trip took us to our first stop, Sergiyev Posad which dates back to the 14th-15th centuries. The very impressive Trinity Cathedral is the town’s landmark, and home to very famous icons paints by Andrea Rublev and Daniel Chorny. A local guide gave us a very informed tour.
We continued to Rostov (on the river) where we had a very large 3-course lunch (beautifully served in a private room – although a bit OTT for just the two of us and Alexandr our guide and driver, Igor!). The local guide didn’t join. We visited the barracks and gift shop before continuing to Yaroslavl – also on the river. By now it was snowing! And because time was running out, we didn’t tarry in what was the second largest city in Russia in the 16th century, but hurried along to the majestic town of Kostroma. Here we did a short walking tour and had a cup of tea with our guide in a local coffee shop. Kostroma is the birthplace of the Russian Snowmaiden (Snegurochka), and also the jewellery capital of Russia. We left as darkness was descending and an unseasonable snow storm was settling in.
We arrived in Suzdal after 11pm to find that the hotel had very kindly saved dinner for us – all 7 delicious dishes! The bedrooms are in separate villas with a large central entrance hall with dining table (where we had our meal). The bedrooms are seriously elaborate with heavy brocaded fabrics. The shower (although plastic) had all sorts of jacuzzi type sprays at all levels. A bit bizarre, but we think quite appealing to the Russian domestic market which is HUGE.
The next morning we woke to everything covered in snow, it looked spectacular. We had breakfast and set out to see the beautiful Kremlin in Suzdal. It’s easy to see why Suzdal is regarded as one the special Golden Ring towns: it is small, immaculately preserved (mainly from the 18th century), walkable and has a lovely ambience. It’s very peaceful with little lanes, cows and chickens grazing freely around the monasteries, churches and cathedrals. I would definitely liked to have spent longer here. Two nights would be ideal. But we had a lot to cover before nightfall. We trotted around the main sites, and then proceeded to one of the oldest cities in Russia, Vladimir – dating back to around 990. During more than two centuries Vladimir was a capital of ancient Russia (from 1157 to mid-1300’s). The city boasts three UNESC World Heritage Sites. We were fortunate to join part of a service at the Assumption and St Demetrius Cathedrals.
The final journey home was rather uninspiring, joining heavy traffic through the outskirts of Moscow, but that’s Moscow for you and all part of the overall experience.
This was a bespoke tour : mini-van with driver, guide (with additional guides in each town), all meals, accommodation in 4-star hotels.