The breadbasket of Russia, the Krasnodar Krai is almost the size of Ireland. It's a region where the banks of the Kuban River gave a name (not to mention freedom) to the famous Kuban Cossacks; it is also a land where wheat fields and vineyards chase the horizon and the high Caucasus Mountains meet the sunlit shores of the Black Sea. The region became part of Russia in 1829. Sochi, often called the "Pearl of the Black Sea," includes four districts and stretches for about 90 miles along Russia's southern coast. This area enjoys the northernmost subtropical climate in the world. Nature has been generous to Sochi by creating a unique location where in 40 minutes you can travel between the sunny beaches of the Black Sea and the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains. Since Sochi is Russia's premier summer resort destination, the announcement that it would host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games was seen as ironic, but the winter sports in these parts are also legendary. Sochi is surrounded by striking natural beauty: the Caucasus Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; many caves, which were dwellings of prehistoric people; megalithic tombs (called dolmens); and curative mineral springs. And don't forget all those new luxury hotels and spa complexes underway, set to open in time for the Olympics. Sochi is a sightseer's dream—from monuments to natural attractions, you can spend weeks exploring the region. Top cultural attractions are mostly in central Sochi, while the other districts have more nature sights.
In the last decade Sochi's restaurant scene has exploded. You can find world-class restaurants with cuisines from all over the world as well as Soviet-style cafeterias with delicious Russian homestyle food. During the games, expect Moscow prices at most places. All Olympic venues, bars, restaurants will be smoke-free.
Located on Sunny Beach in Frunze Park, Sinee More is a beachfront restaurant that would be at home in Miami or St. Barths. The decor is modern white with beachclub-blue accents, and the menu features Mediterranean seafood dishes. Ingredients like crab, lobster, sea bass, and salmon are imported from Europe, and Black Sea fish varieties are among the local specialties. Be prepared to pay; this seaside luxury comes with a whale-sized price tag.
This moderately priced cafe is famous for its khinkali, or large Caucasian dumplings, with fillings like spiced meat, onions, and greens. Other Cacasian specialties include shashlyk, or grilled meat on a skewer, served with vegetables and lavash, an Armenian flat bread. Local wines and brandies are also served. The attentive staff is always a highlight.
The best khachapuri is to be had at Cafe Natasha. Here, the flaky Georgian pastries—usually made with cheese—can be ordered with or without an egg added in the middle. The cafe has a homey vibe and boasts a lengthy menu of snack foods like grilled sausages, chicken wings, fries shrimp and onion rings, cakes, and ice cream. It's best to go there hungry, as portions are large.
This restaurant gets a gold medal for its handmade pastas, Italian wines, and imported ingredients like mozzarella, parmesan, and hams from Bologna. The cozy decor features luxurious textiles and curtains made of string lights. Located in an elite building park called "Kings Park," the restaurant attracts a well-heeled clientele. Pasta is the highlight of the menu, but dishes include pizza, baked dorada fish, seafood, salads, grilled meats, and handmade chocolates. But be prepared for a bit of a drive as the restaurant is outside of the city center. Takeout and delivery are available.
This nautically-themed brasserie evokes the south of France with its Mediterranean menu, soft music, and floor-to-ceiling windows facing the sea. It's no wonder, since head chef and owner Martial Simonneau hails from Nice, France. The cafe attracts a glamorous crowd and has hosted many famous visitors to Sochi, including former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Ordering seafood here is a must; top selections include raw oysters, boiled lobster, and sautéed scallops. Try to make your visit here before it gets dark so you can view the sunset over the sea.
Excellent food in an attractive setting (dim lights and modern decor) attract a trendy clientele to this high-end Japanese restaurant. The sceney restaurant serves an extensive menu of the usual Asian fare, including sushi rolls, sashimi, noodles, dumplings, teriyaki, and yakitori. The drink menu includes wines, sake and whiskey from Japan and other countries, as well as Cognac, rum, tequila, and vodka. Expect large crowds at nights and on weekends; be sure to book a table in advance.
To feast on deliciously prepared local food, stop into this homestyle restaurant. Specialties include fresh Black Sea fish, quail, lamb, and other grilled meats. Soft light and mellow live music add to the Mediterranean ambiance. This is a perfect place for a romantic dinner or an intimate conversation with a close friend.
Located in the historic Sochi Seaport terminal building, this upscale eatery serves European and Russian dishes. Specialties include a variety of grilled local fish, risottos, and pastas, plus candy and ice-cream made on the premises. Take in the seaport views on the outdoor veranda during warmer months and watch boats arrive and depart.
Syndicate is the city's only American-style steakhouse. It has an extensive menu of steaks, burgers, and barbecue platters. Fresh meat is delivered from America cooled (not frozen), then cooked in a high-temperature oven, which is the restaurant's calling card. There is also a variety of fish steaks and vegetarian dishes. The steaks are excellent, there is a wide alcohol selection, and the service is good, but be prepared to pay: this place is not cheap.
With its international cuisine, attentive service, and live music and shows, this 5-story restaurant mall is somewhat of an outlier among Adler restaurants, most of which are cheap cafeterias. Forward Tower features Caucasian (shashlyk kebabs), European, and Japanese (sushi) concepts. The restaurant complex also provides takeout and includes a trendy bar with a veranda. Its status as the only "European" level dining experience in the neighborhood makes it a popular place for dates. Its location near the Olympic Park makes it a convenient spot for dinner during the Olympic Games. It is best to reserve a table in advance, especially during the Olympic Games, as the restaurant tends to get crowded, particularly on weekends.
This trendy chain is famous for its tasty and cheap Asian fusion food. This central Ris restaurant is located right behind the Singing Fountains and is open 24 hours a day. The crowd is young and trendy, befitting the restaurant's clubby ambiance, with glass walls that light up in different colors. The menu includes Italian, French, Japanese, and Russian dishes. There are five other Ris restaurants in Sochi, so check the website for the address nearest you.
If you are in the mood for something a little exotic—say, Russian food with a hunting lodge flair—this is the place for you. Bear ragout, deer zharkoe (meat and potato stew), boar ribs, and grilled quail are just some of the wild dishes on this upscale restaurant's menu. Vodolei, made to look like a cave, is part of the Fort Evrika hotel complex in the Krasnaya Polyana Ski Resort.
If you walk a winding path up from the Seaport, you end up in this restaurant, whose name means Eastern Quarter. It is decorated with tile mosaics on a hillside terrace. The menu is Uzbek-Korean, with mostly Uzbek staples of pilaf, lagman (meaty noodle soup), samosas, and flatbreads. Korean-marinated, barbecued meat is also a popular option. Windows offer sea views and Eastern-themed live music is usually on tap in the evenings.
During Soviet times, this cafe (the name means "Lazy" in Russian) served as the set for the famous restaurant scene in the Russian classic Diamond Arm, where the drunk hero performs a song about rabbits. Today it is a hangout for local elites, as well as hip young people with MacBooks. Waiters dressed in silk pajamas serve Russian and international dishes such as blinis, barbecued meats, risottos, sandwiches, and burgers. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day.
As part of the largest private museum of Caucasian artifacts and history, the restaurant at the Amshensky Dvor Ethnographic Complex serves some of the most authentic Caucasian dishes around. Here you can watch your meal getting prepared. Lavash, an Armenian flatbread, bakes in a wood-fired oven as meats and cheeses are smoked and stews are prepared in clay pots. The museum features over 2,000 artifacts that were collected over several years by local ethnic Armenian historian Eduard Kolodjian.
Sochi has been a resort town since the USSR. Now many Soviet-era hotels are getting makeovers and new luxury hotels are popping up all over the region. Hotels range from world-famous luxury brands like the Radisson to run-down, Soviet-era hovels. The government has promised that hotel prices won't skyrocket during the games, capping them off at $450. But if you want to spend more, you will have no problem finding hotels well above that price.
Shopping is one of the favorite pastimes of locals who like to visit the many malls, along with one of the most famous retail therapy sites in Sochi: the Trade Gallery.
Stroll this tree-lined street filled with posh boutiques, hair salons, and restaurants for a taste of upper-crust Sochi. This is the spot to find high-end designer clothes, wine for your hotel room, souvenir books and trinkets, and tea and coffee for an afternoon break.
Local produce, honey, meat, cheese, and other delicacies are sold here. Be sure to try the churchkhela, a sweet, southern Russian snack made of walnut halves on a string covered by flour-thickened grape juice, which is sun-dried. When bargaining for goods, be sure to head to the inner rows to get a better price. The market is connected to the Alexandria Mall, where you can shop for international brands such as Levi's and Guess. Much like everything else in the city, the market (which has been around since the 1930s) is undergoing renovations before the Olympics. Once the construction is finished, Central Market will be housed in a modern five-story building.
Art & Cool
Sochi has a large artist community and numerous art shops, such as this one, where you can purchase moderately priced original paintings on canvas by local artists, along with local handicrafts like painted dolls. And, if you are feeling inspired by the beautiful scenery, art supplies here are much cheaper than in the U.S.
Sochi Trade Gallery
This centrally located maze of stores has everything you might need on the shopping front, from high-end designer suits to Chinese-made patent-leather stilletos. In the market for diamonds and gold? Souvenirs and toys? Local booze or camera batteries? Find whatever you need here.
You can buy everything you need at this large Western-style chain supermarket, including fruit, vegetables, and other staples; local specialties such as baked goods and honey; and essentials such as toiletries. The supermarket is centrally located and conveniently open 24 hours a day.
This is the poshest bar in Sochi, attracting a glam crowd of local businessmen and foreigners. The venue is outfitted with plush leather seats, marble tabletops, mirror ceilings, bookcases filled with Faulkner novels, and artful black and white photographs commemorating visits from the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adam Levine. Located on the second floor of what used to be the Hotel London, which was famous with the Russian boho crowd of the early 20th century, London is Sochi's hotspot for live music, and locally loved karaoke. The bar has the biggest booze selection in town, featuring a long list of wines, Cognacs, brandys, whiskeys, vodkas, and beers, plus a highly praised kitchen. Bar London gets crowded on weekends, so call ahead to reserve a table. Then again, it's open around the clock, so you can drop in whenever you feel like a drink.
Built in the late 1930s, the Winter Theater is all about Stalinist grandeur, with 38 grand columns and sculptures by the great Soviet sculptress Vera Mukhina gracing its facade. A striking crystal chandelier with more than 300 branches hangs inside. Sochi doesn't have its own theater troupe, but the venue is always busy with shows from visiting performers, often from prestigious theaters from Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Top music acts from Russia and the world perform in this open-air concert hall, located right on the boardwalk near the Seaport. Opened in 1979, the Festival Hall is your best bet to catch major music festivals, ballet performances, philharmonic and jazz orchestras, bands and singers from Russia and abroad. From your seat you not only see the stage, but the sea as well. Be sure to check the website for the upcoming performance schedule.
Caesar's Palace Casino
Guests in the mood to gamble in a lively environment should visit the Ceasear's Palace Casino at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel. The casino offers familiar games like blackjack, poker, and American roulette (though not Russian roulette). Players can take advantage of a free bar with an extensive menu of drinks and snacks. A lottery is played daily and every month players have a chance to win a car. This casino is the most popular in Sochi and is known to get a little crowded.
Shum Karaoke Bar
Sing your heart out at this VIP karaoke bar that's a favorite with locals and foreigners. The bar boasts an extensive liquor selection and a catalog with over 40,000 songs (Russian country ballads alongside Pat Benatar). There is also a dance floor for when the party really gets going, and soft couches for your eventual collapse.
Painted green for camouflage, the building that was once Stalin's favorite summer residence is not terribly inviting, with its dark interiors, heavy curtains, and scant lighting. However, the dark redwood furniture and personal belongings of the owner—all still as they were when Stalin came here— make quite an impression. There is a rumor among locals that Stalin's ghost is haunts the place, but you'll have to visit and decide for yourself.
Sochi National Park
For those who have had enough of the beach and sea views and want to retreat into forested groves, this is the place to visit. Here, the winding paths of the park, lined with yew and box trees, offer a literal breath of fresh air. The grove is part of Sochi National Park and the only place in Europe where box and yew trees grow over a vast territory. The park is also known as the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve.
Perched at the apex of the 2,100 foot high Mount Akhun, the mountain's observation tower has become a popular tourist attraction in its own right. Built in 1936 of limestone in the Romanesque style, the 100 foot high tower offers the best panoramic views of Sochi. Ascending 200 steps to the top of the tower, you'll find the most common Caucasus fauna on display at a small exhibit and will be rewarded with beautiful views of the Black Sea, the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains, and the city of Sochi spread out along the sea's banks.
Long before Vladimir Putin made Krasnaya Polyana a pet project—that of turning a dilapidated Soviet resort into a world-class ski destination—Czar Nicholas II used the hillside village as his getaway hunting ground. The snowy mountains, located a short drive from the beaches of Sochi, are home to three ski resorts, including the new Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, where the Olympic alpine skiing and snowboarding competition will take place. The mountains, which reach over 6,000 feet in some places, provides up to 140 days of skiing per year and other activities such as mountain biking, rafting, and hiking. Many luxury hotels and restaurants are under construction here in preparation for the Olympics.
Dagomys Tea Plantation
For Russian tea drinkers, Sochi is well-known as the only place in the country that produces tea (the most famous local brand is Krasnodarskyi). Unique climatic conditions mean that Sochi's tea plantations are the northernmost in the world. A trip to this tea-growing farm includes a field lecture on the peculiarities and history of tea in Russia and a tea-party in a Russian wooden izba (country log home), along with a performance by a folklore group singing traditional Russian songs and engaging in lively accordion music. You will drink tea in a traditional Russian way—from the samovar—as well as sampling teas paired with Russian breads, nuts, and locally baked pies. The izba is located on top of a mountain and offers unforgettable views. One side looks out toward the sea and the other faces the snow-covered Caucasus Mountains.
Dendrary Botanical Garden
Also known as the Dendrarium, a Greek word meaning collection of trees, Sochi's Botanical Garden, a once-private collection of exotic plants, is now a renowned collection of more than 1,800 species of trees and bushes, which are divided into sections representing virtually every continent of the world. Locals like to say that it's a museum of nature that offers you a trip around the world in one hour. The park is divided into two parts. The upper Dendrarium is on a hill and has a layout of a classical Italianate park with decorative fountains, rotundas, and sculptures that dot the landscape. The lower Dendrarium has a pond with swans and pelicans. If you choose, a cable-car ($) will take you to the top of the hill, where you can soak up the picture-perfect panorama of the park and the deep-blue Black Sea below. A visit to the park does require climbing stairs.
The curative springs of Matsesta, meaning "fire water," were first discovered by ancient Greek and Venetian merchants during their intensive exploration of these shores. The sulphurous springs are responsible for Sochi's existence as a health resort since in the early 1900s. Visit the contemporary bath complex for a soak; the facility still serves up to 2,000 patients per day.
Without exaggeration, this is Sochi's most popular public park for both locals and visitors. It is a public park in a true sense of the word. Visitors will find exhibitions of arts and crafts (it's a great place to purchase souvenirs); a "Glade of Friendship" with magnolia trees planted by honorary guests of Sochi, including a tree planted by the Soyuz-Apollo astronauts; statues of famous Russian writers; amusement park rides for kids; several cafés; and the tennis courts of Y. Kafelnikov Tennis School, where Maria Sharapova began her professional career. A free shuttle bus runs to the park from the cruise port.
If you are in the mood for a long stroll, go down to the Sochi Seaport, which is filled with shops and restaurants, vacationers and fishermen. Some of Sochi's most famous landmarks are here, including the Soviet-era Seaport Terminal building, the Olympic Countdown clock, the Festival Hall, and the Mayak Aquapark. The port is undergoing a major expansion as part of the Olympic reconstruction of the city.
Sochi Art Museum
This grand example of classical architecture is one of the largest museums on the Black Sea coast. The halls exhibit artifacts and paintings from the times of antiquity to the present, though the main emphasis is on Russian and Soviet painters, especially the evolution of Russian academic painting of 19th and 20th centuries. The museum takes pride not only in some paintings of the Russian masters known all over the world but also in a historic collection of Russian graphics covering a span of 150 years.