Friday, July 2, 2010


A popular city for summer tourism, Sochi, the Antalya of the Black Sea region, is getting ready to host the 2014 Winter Olympics

One of the biggest cities on the Russian Federation’s Black Sea coast, Sochi has been our northern neighbor’s most popular tourism destination since the Soviet era. Welcoming around three and a half million tourists every year with a summer population of over a million, Sochi, which is home to over a hundred different ethnic groups, is a typical Caucasian town in terms of its demographic structure.

Nestled in an emerald green environment, Greater Sochi is divided into four main regions, three on the coast and one inland. Lazerevskiy, the city’s western sector, is named for the Russian explorer and fleet commander, Admiral Lazarev. The middle sector, which also includes the city center, is called Hostinsky. The sector that extends to the Georgia autonomous region of Abkhazia is Adlerskiy, which also boasts the region’s only airport. And the mountainous inland sectors are known as Krasnaya Polyana (Beautiful Meadow).

Passing through Sochi before turning northwards, the coast road runs all the way to Moscow via Krasnodar. The city center is situated in the foothills of two mountains with a view of the Black Sea on either side of the Sochi River, which empties into the sea here. Its center as green as its environs, the city consists almost entirely of big hotels.

From Sanatoriums To Luxury Hotels

Touristic accommodations in the form of a sanatorium began to go up in the 1940’s on the southern shores of Sochi, which is protected from the harsh northern climate by the Caucasus mountains. Used as a hospital during the Second World War, the facilities later served for many years as a vacation spot for factory workers from the inland regions of the country until they were turned over to their managers and workers in 1991.

Dubbed the Riviera of the Black Sea or Russia’s Antalya, Sochi boasts hundreds of touristic facilities of every size along its 145-kilometer coast. The swimming season opens in May and continues through the end of October. The water is a little chilly at the beginning and end of the season, but that’s no problem for those who come from the country’s far colder inland areas. Temperatures approach 30 degrees Celsius in July and August, which means the coasts are always crowded and the hotels almost always full. Arabs head the list of foreigners who are attracted to Sochi. The luxury accommodations built here in this temperature climate and green environment are high priority with affluent Middle Easterners. But Sochi, no longer content with summer tourism alone, is getting ready now to make its name in winter tourism as well.

From The Olympics To Formula One

A coastal town might not seem conducive to the winter olympics. But the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, succeeded in persuading members of the International Olympic Committee during the negotiations for Sochi’s candidacy when he said, “It can be a lovely spring day on the seashore and winter up in the mountains! Real winter, I can guarantee you that.” And indeed Sochi’s geography, like that of Antalya, is eminently suitable for both summer and winter tourism.

Slated to take place in Sochi February 7-23, 2014, the 22nd Winter Olympics look poised to transform the city’s economic and social life completely. The budget for this big event, which Russia is hosting for the second time following the boycotted 22nd Summer Olympics held in 1980 (during the Soviet era), is gargantuan at 12 billion dollars U.S. This is merely the figure contracted to the International Olympic Committee during the candidacy phase. Several Turkish contracting and sub-contracting firms are among those that are building the sports and accommodations facilities, whose construction is proceeding apace.

At the same time, Sochi is also preparing to make its name heard in conjunction with another major sports event in the years ahead. According to Bernie Ecclestone, boss of the Formula 1 races known around the world as the Grand Prix, Sochi is one of the strongest candidates for replacing some of the European cities that are going to leave the organization next year when their contracts are up.

Putin’s Favorite

But Sochi’s goals are not limited to Formula 1 and the Olympics. Among the city’s near-term plans are to use the giant facilities being built for the Olympics as an international holiday and conference center, as in the Swiss city of Davos.

The fact is that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s choice of Sochi for a number of international talks during his term both as prime minister and as president ensured recognition of the city on a world scale. Not least thanks to the fact that Putin’s summer house, where he met twice with Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in July 2005 and May 2009, is in Sochi.

Neoclassical Architecture, Century-Old Parks

Among places to see in Sochi: The neoclassical style Art Gallery and Winter Theater buildings, the Railroad Station, and the Port building (known as the Sea Station), which is one of the city’s icons with its 74-meter-high tower. Those interested in religious architecture can visit the Cathedral of St. Michael. Dendari Park with its thousands of plant species on a hill overlooking the city is Russia’s largest botanical garden. Riviera Park, with a hundred-year history like Dendari Park, which was laid out in 1982, is another must-see sight in Sochi’s city center.

There is one more place you must not miss when you’ve come as far as Sochi: Mt. Aahun, 11 kilometers from the coast midway along the Adler-Sochi road, affords a splendid panorama of Adler, Sochi and the Caucasus Mountain Range from its 500-meter-high summit. The 1932-built viewing tower here has a number of cafes and gift shops.

Dining Caucasus-Style

You can’t go to the Caucasus without sitting down to a typical Caucasus meal, a feast that traditionally starts with three kinds of beurek. The ‘Tamada’ controls the table. There is no talking without his permission, and no being silent when he has given it. The speeches usually focus on the meaning and importance of that day’s meeting. The tamada gives the floor to the hosts and their guests. During the speech, everyone must stand up, and nothing offered by the speaker is ever turned down. Several other rituals are followed with exactly the same rigor. In short, if you’re invited to a Caucasus feast you must bow to tradition from the minute you sit down until you rise from the table. It is frowned upon, for example, for young people to sit at the head of the table, and no one can get up to leave without the tamada’s permission.

We learned all these rules from experience at a feast in the garden of the Zapolyarye Sanatorium, one of Sochi’s largest facilities, on a beautiful evening in spring. It was our last evening in Sochi and there was an indescribably beautiful sunset with the ships of the fleet waiting at the exact spot where the sun sank into the Black Sea. Perhaps Putin was in Sochi too… The season had just opened and the town was not yet overrun with tourists. The only thing missing was the proverbial ‘bird’s milk’ (spirits). We were sitting with the Russian, Turkish and Abkhazian guests. In short, everything to do with Sochi was at that table that evening. It was on such an evening that we bade farewell to Sochi, the Russian Federation’s leading touristic center and the one closest to Turkey. A landscape where we felt right at home because it reminded us of our own Black Sea coast, a city just over an hour from Istanbul, where we could make a close acquaintance with Russian and Caucasian cultures.

How To Get There

Turkish Airlines flies to Sochi

and back three days a week

on Tuesdays, Thursdays

and Sundays.

Where To Stay

There are many hotels of international standard in Sochi. And the sanatoriums built to meet the holiday needs of state enterprise personnel in the Soviet era are used today for tourists.

What To Eat

Besides traditional Russian dishes like Borscht, Chicken Kievsky and Shashlik, the

Black Sea’s tasty fish also

await you here.

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