An Author's Country Retreat

For someone who wrote so caustically about Russia's bourgeois country inhabitants, the little estate of Melikhovo should have been a dreary hole. But contemporaries all point out that Anton Chekhov was happiest at this modest abode in the southern part of the Moscow region.

Chekhov bought Melikhovo in 1892. The family was so fed up with renting dachas that they made the purchase without even taking a look at the property. The estate consisted of an unkempt house, an overgrown garden and large patches of land with nothing on them. The family transformed it into a getaway that overflowed with guests who made the long journey from Moscow.

Today, Chekhov's estate museum consists of several buildings that don't look very different from the izbas of the surrounding village of Melikhovo. The main one-story house was the permanent residence of Chekhov's parents and sister Maria, who took care of the household. Anton took frequent trips to Moscow but took up gardening, called Melikhovo his "cherry orchard" and gave his sister pruning advice by correspondence.

The main house had to be reconstructed from rubble in 1950. Contrary to popular belief, the damage to the building was not caused by World War II bombing raids but something quite mundane: The roof fell in when local officials decided to convert it into a village club and took out some weight-bearing walls to free space for a dance floor. Fortunately, Maria was still alive and consulted on the rebuilding efforts.

Although the house is not original, most of the articles really belonged to the Chekhov family. Chekhov's father's coat and walking stick are hanging by the door. There are family pictures in the hallway and personal belongings arranged in the bedrooms.

Maria Antonova / MT
The buildings on Chekhov's estate are not that different from others in the village.

Contemporaries who visited Chekhov remarked on the remoteness of the estate: At the time, the trip from the train station took several hours by carriage. Most of the visitors dined with the family, talked literature and then piled into the banya building for the night.

"The road here is terrible, the carriage bounces with excruciating pain and loses wheels one by one. When I was last riding in it from the train station, my heart jumped out of my chest, and I can no longer love," Chekhov wrote jokingly in a letter to a friend. That didn't keep his many actor friends away, though. On days when the family ran out of lodging spots, Chekhov fled to a tiny outbuilding with one room that barely had enough space for his desk. This is where he wrote "The Seagull." Today the journey is still annoyingly long and inconvenient.

In 2006, the museum opened a real medical dispensary, staffed by a medical attendant who commutes from the town of Chekhov, the regional center. When he lived in Melikhovo, Chekhov was more famous for his medical expertise than his writing -- he received patients from neighboring villages, went out on night calls and was in charge of a cholera prevention program in 25 villages, four factories and a monastery.

The main building, kitchen, bathhouse and the "Chaika" summer cabin are open to visitors, although at the moment the cabin is under renovation. There are also tours to the nearby town of Talezh and the Davidova Pustyn monastery.

Chekhov's friends have written that the years at Melikhovo were some of the best of the author's life. It was the first real home for his family, and he was still in decent health and at the peak of activity. In 1898, tuberculosis forced him to move to the milder climate of Yalta.

Maria Antonova / MT
While the house itself is not original, most of the furniture belonged to the family.

How to Get There:

By car: Take the M2 highway and turn off at the 72nd kilometer toward Melikhovo, another 12 kilometers away.

By bus: Take bus #365 to Chekhov from Yuzhnaya metro station, then marshrutka #25 to Melikhovo. The trip takes a little over one hour and costs 85 rubles.

By train: Trains for Chekhov depart from Kursky Station. You can take trains destined for Tula and Serpukhov as well. The trip takes about 1 1/2 hours and costs 95 rubles.

What to See:

Chekhov Estate Museum

Admission is 50 rubles. Tours of the grounds and to other nearby locations are offered.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed the last Friday of the month.

Chekhov region, Melikhovo, (496) 722-3610,