Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Country Roads Revisited

If you've always wanted to visit the town square where Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was hanged, or the spot where Panfuty founded his monastery, look no farther.

With the new Moscow Region Country Road Book, in its fourth, "revised and much enlarged" edition, information maven Jennifer Louis has compiled a delightful, sometimes quaintly written and exhaustively researched volume on the 18 shosse or highways, that lead out of Moscow and into a web of historic towns, villages and estates that offer intrepid travelers a rich taste of the Russia beyond its capital's frenetic core.

Want to visit Zakharovo, Alexander Pushkin's beloved estate? See a hospital where Anton Chekhov practiced medicine? A house where Lev Tolstoy worked on "War and Peace"? In this 400-page tome, Louis -- who, with her late husband, Viktor, for years published the expatriates' bible "Information Moscow" -- can take you there.

In a country where maps were often regarded as classified information and streets continue to shed their communist-era names, putting together a travel guide can be a bit daunting. But Louis circumvents possible difficulties by frequently using landmarks instead of street names in her directions to the traveler: "Turn left at the second traffic lights by the cafe and tank monument."

The results, though often amusing in print, could prove complicated for travelers heading, say, to Koralovo from Yershovo: "A little further along the road, turn left onto a road running westwards and over two peaceful level crossings into Koralovo." The pitfalls are obvious: first, one must identify which direction is west; second, just what are "two peaceful level crossings"?

But if the point is the journey rather than the destination, readers of Louis' latest volume will be entertained by the author's liberal portions of historical background on hundreds of sites scattered around Moscow's outer ring road. In addition to the nitty-gritty on which churches are made of brick or limestone -- and what happened to the belfry -- Louis gives colorful details on the fate of dilapidated convents, crumbling monasteries and the myriad overgrown estates of Russia's once-powerful noble families.

Louis's book often makes Russia's historic trajectory come alive, as in her description of St. Catherine's Cloister for Men, in between Sukhanovo and Vidnoye, off the Simferopolskoye Shosse. Closed after the revolution, the monastery was given to the Union of Architects for holiday accommodations, then used as a children's reform school. In 1937, the onetime cloister was converted into the infamous Sukhanovka prison for political offenders, where executions were carried out in the bell tower of St. Dmitri's Church, which at night also served as a crematorium.

And in one of her many quaint asides, Louis offers valuable advice to the traveler intent on successfully exploring the far-flung pockets of the Moscow region: "In general it is advisable to wander quietly and unobtrusively into the grounds of old estates that are now used as hospitals and sanatoria. Should you ask permission on the spot, it will probably not be granted, but without such an approach you may safely enjoy the parks that surround the buildings."

"Moscow Region Country Road Book," Samizdat, 400 pages, $25 at Shakespeare and Company.