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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Get Well Healed Next Holiday

Sanatoriums, those white-pillared islands of regulated health and leisure, were always a coveted getaway for Soviet people.

  When hotels were not an option, the only way to spend a few days by the sea was to hunt down a room once already there -- a stressful endeavor during high season -- or get a putyovka to a sanatorium. These all-inclusive vouchers to visit sea resorts were the dangling carrot for employees of various industries, especially those with health hazards. Developed as part of the healthcare system, sanatoriums provided clinical and preventative care in combination with diet and exercise in some of the country's most spectacular natural settings.

There are still plenty of sanatoriums open for business across the country, the most popular being in Sochi and around the natural springs in the Mineralniye Vody area of southern Russia. That's where the Russian spa tradition was born in the late 19th century, before expanding as part of the Soviet medical system.

"The Soviet Union had the most powerful and socially oriented system of sanatoriums, where 14 million people improved their health every summer," said Dr. Nikolai Storozhenko, president of the National Resort Association. This system was hard hit in the mid-'90s when it lost both funding and visitors, as people chose instead to explore foreign countries in their vacation time. Now sanatoriums are enjoying a revival, with almost 15 million visitors annually.

Sanatoriums often have pools, bars, movie theaters, tours to nearby sights and sparsely attended discos. But still, don't expect anything resembling a resort: Sanatoriums prioritize medical treatment. If reading a novel under a tree during the gaps between swimming and massage isn't your idea of fun, maybe you should go somewhere else this summer.

"I like going to sanatoriums to take a break from stress and finally get enough sleep," said Irina Galinina, who stayed at a Moscow region sanatorium last winter, "although two weeks of baths and long walks in an old estate park may sound boring to other people."

Sanatoriums don't have the star-rating system of hotels, so quality can be spotty, said Yelena Torova of KurortInfo, an agency that sells sanatorium packages.

"Sometimes a sanatorium oversells and boards people in a doctor's office or the billiard room, and other times a sanatorium pampers guests from head to toe and clients complain that they were given too much attention," she said.

Sanatoriums are divided into four categories: VIP, high, middle and low, where "low" applies to poorly run Soviet institutions, and "VIP" to top-notch resorts. Some places have specializations -- cardiology or the muscular-skeletal system, for example -- while others have a general profile.

Wherever you end up going, consult your doctor first and have your clinic prepare a "sanatorium card" for you: a special medical file that you bring for the sanatorium doctors to use. A sanatorium card contains results of blood and urine tests, an electrocardiogram and a spirogram. Some sanatoriums will perform the necessary tests to have a card made, while others don't require them at all, so it's recommended to find out the policy in advance from the tourist agency or directly from the sanatorium.

Grigory Sysoyev / ITAR-TASS
Sanatoriums prioritize medical treatment, and offer a whole arsenal of treatments ranging from natural to more high-tech.
In general, Russian health spas have better medical care than those in Europe, although the service component is still lagging, Storozhenko said. He named Altai's Belokurikha resort and the Zagorskiye Dali, Beliye Nochi and Ust-Kachka sanatoriums as some of the flagships of the re-emerging Russian health spa business.

Closer to Moscow, Marfinsky, a clinical sanatorium located 30 kilometers outside the capital in a former estate of the noble Golitsyn family, is still the property of the Defense Ministry. The majority of 530 available spots are still at the ministry's disposal, but 130 places are available for outside purchase. Every day, patients follow a diet recommended for their condition, and go through four to six types of treatment, including massages, baths and exercise classes, with their progress monitored by modern diagnostic tools, said Dr. Pyotr Kozyrev, assistant head of Marfinsky. People bring their chronic conditions there, and the average age of guests is 60. The recommended stay is 21 days for the best results.

The Federal Tax Service's Podmoskovye sanatorium doesn't stress the medical component as much but has doctors who provide treatments for an extra charge. The length of accommodation packages starts at 12 days, but there is also a possibility of weekend stays.


Beliye Nochi sanatorium, 38th kilometer of Primorskoye Shosse, Sestroretsk, St. Petersburg, (812) 437-3193,
2,385 rubles and up per person per night.

Belokurikha resort, Belokurikha, Altai region, (38577) 23-7-12,
20,640 rubles and up for 12 days per person.

Marfinsky sanatorium, Marfino, Mytishchinsky district, 577-9481,
1,918 rubles and up per person per night.

Podmoskovye sanatorium, Aksakovo village, Mytishchinsky district, 577-9500/50,
1,420 rubles and up per person per night.

The Moscow city government's Pushkino sanatorium (previously the Communist Party Central Committee's sanatorium), 28a Krasnoarmeiskoye Shosse, Pushkino, 993-3922/475,
1,750 rubles and up per person per night.

Ust-Kachka resort, Ust-Kachka, Perm region, (342) 295-2456,
1,500 rubles and up per person per night.

Zagorskiye Dali, Sergiyev Posad, 688-8283,
1,800 rubles and up per person per night.

Prices depend on type of room, season and length of stay.