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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding a Rural Retreat From Moscow's Heat

Looking for an escape from the foul air, the sweat and grit that are hallmarks of summers in Moscow? A dacha is a solution, but unless you have money to burn, set your sights on something less grand than the large, new Western-style dream houses.

Although dachas are being built all around Moscow, those with all the amenities -- telephone, running water and indoor toilets -- are still in short supply.

Dachas range from $100 a month for a run-down shanty with an outhouse in an outlying region to a $20,000-a-month, three-story house equipped with sauna, tennis court, two garages and a swimming pool.

"One mistake all foreigners make is underestimating the cost of a nice dacha," said Olga, a dacha broker for four years with the Aktiv Estate agency.

For example, she said, some American clients offered $1,000 a month for a spacious brick "cottage" in a guarded settlement within 10 kilometers of the city -- a house that would cost no less than $5,000.

"It's like trying to find a Mercedes 600 for $1,000," she said.

There are, of course, country homes around Moscow that rent for $1,000. These are typically houses that once belonged to Soviet intelligentsia and high-ranking officials, given to them by the state. The word "dacha" itself comes from davat or darit, which means to give. They also embody the idea of a classical dacha that most people have in mind when looking for a summer retreat in Russia.

These wooden houses built from the 1930s through the 1950s are modeled on the traditions of pleasant country living described by Anton Chekhov and romanticized by director Nikita Mikhalkov in films such as "Burnt by the Sun" and "Unfinished Piece for a Player Piano."

Such places can be found in former artists' and writers' settlements such as Peredelkino to the southwest along the Minskoye highway, in Valentinovka and Zagoryanka to the northeast along the Yaroslavskoye highway. Former generals' dachas lie in Trudovaya Severnaya, to the north.

With rents at $800 to $2,000 a month, these two-story houses typically have gone unrenovated for many years but have indoor toilets, Moscow telephone numbers and are located at a convenient driving distance from the city.

Dachas along Rublyovo Uspenskoye and Minskoye highways, to the west of Moscow, are the most sought after -- and therefore the most expensive.

Finding a cottage within an hour from the city can be a problem without a rental agent. But bypassing a broker could save a month's rent in commissions. Beware: Agencies often advertise in the Iz Ruk v Ruki (From Hand to Hand) listings pretending to be private dacha owners.

One American who has been looking for a dacha for more than a month has almost lost her patience. Sarah Brown, 26, complained that most brokers don't have cars. To see a dacha, she had to pick up the agent and drive to the house -- a frustrating daylong exercise, especially when she turned down the dacha.

"I almost don't want a dacha anymore," she said.

For those seeking something less than an ostentatious New Russian brick mansion or a nostalgic intelligentsia summer house, there are two other options.

First, there are "proletarian dachas," a Soviet version of British allotments consisting of a small patch of land in a dacha cooperative. People had to build houses themselves, first uprooting the stumps, then building a shed called khozblok to store tools. They often stayed in a tent while a banya was put up, and then moved there for the few months -- or years -- it took to build the house.

The houses, built with the help of friends or a couple of hired workers, are called kuryatniki, or chicken coops, because they are narrow and tall, to save space for raising livestock. Toilets are often outdoors, and water often comes from a pipe or a well. Rent starts at $300.

Second, one can find a house in a village far from Moscow. Rents can be as low as $100 a month. To track down such a house, people go to a picturesque village and ask around. Porcelain toilets and jacuzzis are rare, but houses often are within walking distance of a bus or commuter train stop.