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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sweet Wine and Sour Water

In the underbelly of the country, wine flows freely, kebabs glisten and tourists saunter through mineral water pavilions.

Set up as a resort by the Russian army and Cossacks who kept an eye on the Caucasus range, the greater area of Mineralniye Vody, or Mineral Waters, is a vacation haven.

Kislovodsk, or sour waters, is a southern town with a mild climate and chestnut-lined, hilly streets. It is rumored to be the sunniest city in the country, but because of the slight increase in altitude, it does not get unbearably hot. The residents are open and warm and play backgammon when not trying to sell souvenirs to tourists.

Unlike elsewhere in the country where the proliferation of tourism usually detracts from the original character, Kislovodsk has always been disarmingly cliched. Apart from the war years, it remained a nonintellectual haven for vacation romance and blissfully lazy walks in one of the largest parks in Europe.

The streets leading to the train station, Kurortny Bulvar and Ulitsa Karla Marksa, basically comprise the town center, where many smaller roads climb the various hills to the residential districts and gated sanatoriums.

Many nearby landmarks, large and small, are steeped in mythology. Legend has it that the Tambukan Lake got its curing mud when Sosruko pushed a man-eating giant, Tengren, into it. The Castle of Vice and Love is a rock formation where princess Dauta jumped to her death together with her love, a sheepherder.

Nathan Toohey / MT
The pedestrian streets in the center of Kislovodsk are pleasant for a leisurely stroll.
Mikhail Lermontov was exiled to Kislovodsk and set his most famous prose there, before his untimely death in a duel in nearby Pyatigorsk.

The city park is the pride of locals, who sneer at vacationers opting for different Mineral Waters towns. Its total area of 1,340 hectares spreads from the city center up to the mountains. The lower level is full of cafes, rose beds and sculptures with corny names like "A Woman's Caprice" or "Oxygen Temple." As you ascend, whether by foot or by cable car, the surroundings change to a more rugged terrain covered with pine trees and sub-alpine meadows and breathtaking views both of the city and the peaks of Elbrus.

How to Get There

By train: The No. 3 is the fastest train that departs from Kazansky Station every morning and takes 26 hours. The No. 27 departs from Kursky Station nightly and goes through Ukraine and takes 36 hours.

By car: Take the M4, or the Don highway, past Rostov-on-Don, and then switch to the M29, or the Kavkaz highway, to Mineralniye Vody, the unremarkable capital of the region. From there, it's about 50 kilometers to Kislovodsk.

By air: Aeroflot, S7 and Kavminvodyavia will fly you to Mineralniye Vody. Taxi drivers will take you hostage as soon as you debark -- you can try to negotiate with them, or shake them off and make your way to the bus station (walk ahead and to the left from the airport) for public transport.

What to See

Kislovodsk Park
The largest man-made park in Europe is a perfect place to both people-watch and go into hiding with a book. The "terrencour" is a network of pathways -- there are six routes for different fitness levels, including a 10-kilometer hiking trail through the wilder parts. The squirrels, trained by generations of tourists, have lost all fear and will eat from your hands. The main entrances are from Kurortny Bulvar and Prospekt Dzerzhinskogo.

Kislovodsk Museum
A modest museum documenting the history of the area with photography, letters and various objects, housed in a former fortress, an ancestor to the town of Kislovodsk. 11 Ul. Mira, 3-50-39/49.

Nathan Toohey / MT
One of Kurortny Park's many squirrels.
Narzan Gallery
Located right next to the park entrance, this pavilion has taps with four kinds of mineral water. You can either come with your own cup (bottles are not allowed), or buy a plastic one for 2 rubles. The slightly stinky water is free to drink, but don't overdo it, caution the posters on the walls and the white-robed attendants.

Shalyapin's Dacha
An interesting 1903 house near the train station, this is where the country's most well-known pre-Revolutionary opera singer, Fyodor Shalyapin, lived and gave public solos from the comforts of the balcony. During the war it was home to the Nazi garrison headquarters, and now it is a museum. 1 Ul. Shalyapina, 6-75-60/33.

Around Kislovodsk
Taxi drivers and tour guides at the train station square will be happy to take you as far as the coast of the Black Sea. It's also possible to go to the mountains -- both Dombai and Arkhyz passes are within a 200-kilometer range.

More proximate sights are the various smaller peaks, natural wonders like the "Ring Mountain," and places bearing Lermontov mythology. Pyatigorsk with its pretty architecture and "Proval" is about 40 minutes away -- this is where Ostap Bender from "12 Chairs," the satirical novel by Ilf and Petrov, famously sold tickets to let tourists look at a natural underground mineral lake.

Where to Stay

Kislovodsk was and is primarily a health resort and most people come here on a sanatorium package deal. Many of these are still run-down Soviet buildings with cafeteria food and undersized beds. If you decide to stay at a sanatorium, opt for a ***lyuks*** room in a remodeled building. Plaza, Dolina Narzanov and Villa Arnest have a good reputation.

Kurortinfo is a tour operator that specializes in mineral waters resorts and has up to date information about most sanatoriums, (495) 643-32-97 in Moscow, (87937) 9-81-79 in Kislovodsk.

Grand-Hotel (4 stars) freshly built, if a little tacky, and located in the town center. Rooms from 1,820 rubles per night. 14 Kurortny Bulvar, (87937) 5-02-48.

Lyuks Hotel (3 stars) a mini-hotel to the west of the center, built in 2006. Prices start at 2600 rubles for a standard room. 61A Ul. Chkalova, (87937) 2-78-39.

Where to Eat

Central bakery at the beginning of Ulitsa Karla Marksa (across from the resort library) has the biggest assortment of pastries at modest prices, along with coffee and fresh-squeezed juice for 30 rubles a glass.

Chainy Domik – located in the park, near trail No. 2, the cafe has dozens of different kinds of tea and coffee, mulled wine in colder months, and the ubiquitous shashlik with various side dishes.

Stary Baku – plov, shashlik and various Azeri dishes.
20 Ul. Karla Marksa, (87937) 3-67-80.

Vina Praskoveya
The local Praskoveya wines are low-priced and decent.
21 Azerbaijanskaya Ul., (87937) 7-15-45,