Steep mountain peaks serve as a lovely backdrop for Yalta, the jewel of the Crimean peninsula and our favorite Ukrainian city. We're not surprised that the writer Anton Chekhov would choose to live in this seaside resort—it seems to be a combination of Carmel, California, the French Riviera and Greece. Picturesque Yalta, once playground of the czars and home to Chekhov and Tolstoy, has exemplary resorts, Mediterranean-style architecture, museums, rugged beaches and a mountainous backdrop.
Be sure to see the impressive Livadia Palace, the former Romanov vacation home used for the World War II conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt in 1945. Adjacent to the palace is the Tsarsky Trapa, a 3 mi/5 km walking trail that winds along the coast. Chekhov's former residence has been turned into a museum. Inside the house, you'll find the writer's medical bag (from his days as a doctor) and the piano Rachmaninoff played when he visited; outside his home are some lovely gardens.
Also visit the 1902-built Massandra Palace, originally Alexander III's summer home. Allow at least two (but preferably three) nights for a relaxed stay in Yalta.
Yalta is by no means the only place worth visiting in Crimea. There are countless pretty towns and villages, historical attractions and lovely scenery. Just outside Yalta, set on a hilltop beside the ocean, are the Nikitsky Botanical Gardens, which boast 1,600 varieties of roses and a very good restaurant and club.
Not too far from the gardens is Massandra Palace, an old wine estate, one of many such estates in Crimea (most of Crimea's wines are dessert wines). Don't miss the Swallow's Nest, a fantastic castle perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea (the castle was, in fact, designed for a German businessman by a U.S. architect). Literary tourists will want to visit Alexander Pushkin's cottage and museum in Gurzuf, 12 mi/18 km northeast of Yalta.
Try to take the refreshing ferry or hydrofoil ride between the resort towns along the Crimean coast. Alupka, from which you can take a cable car to Mount Ai-Petri for fabulous views, and Miskhor, with a beautiful beach, are our favorite resorts.
The architecturally ambivalent Vorontsov Palace at Alupka, designed by British architect Edward Blore and completed in 1846, is especially interesting: Approached by land, it appears to be a Scottish castle, but its seaside facade is distinctly Ottoman. A three-hour boat ride east of Yalta is Sudak, a quaint town on the original Silk Road that harbors the well-preserved remains of a 14th-century Genoese fortress. The century-old Novi Svet champagne factory is also nearby.
Another possibility is Bakhchisarai, a city of minarets and mosques—it was once the capital of the Crimean Khanate. While there, see the magnificent palace of Khan Mengli-Girel and the Fountain of Tears, which inspired Pushkin to write the poem "The Fountain of Bakhchisarai."
Hikers may want to head for Chufut Kale or Mangup Kale, small cave towns built into the side of a mountain—the views are spectacular and the local Crimean Tatar cuisine is both inexpensive and delicious.
There's no airport in Yalta; you fly to the regional capital of Simferopol, set among beautiful vineyards and orchards, then take a car into the city (about a 90-minute drive). Alternatively, you could take a train from Odessa (12 hours) or Kiev (18 hours).
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