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A weekend in Sochi: 6 places for a sea of experiences - Yulia Raspopova

Sunny and warm Sochi is known above all as a great Russian resort city, an ideal place for a relaxing beach holiday. But what if you've got one weekend to spend instead of lounging on the beach, turning into a crayfish (sunbathing in the open sun between 11am and 4pm is extremely dangerous!), and you want to make it an eventful one?

How can you have a sea of experiences in Sochi without swimming in the sea? I suggest making an itinerary of a few must-see places if you want to explore the city from different angles.

On arrival early in the morning (preferably at 5:00) in Sochi, I suggest staying in one of the hotels in the year-round mountain resort of Rosa Khutor - "little Switzerland", as the locals call it. It's a great place to start your day: in winter people come here for the gorgeous slopes, convenient ski lifts with lift stations right outside the hotels and excellent ski service, while in summer travellers can enjoy hiking, horse-riding and cycling on the slopes, yoga over the clouds and plenty of cable car rides over the rugged and majestic slopes of the Caucasus mountains.

If you don't feel like getting too active to start the day (especially after a flight), you can have breakfast, grab a coffee and head along the Mzymta River, enjoying the views - Rosa Khutor's modern, beautiful embankment is designed for long walks. And then choose any of the above entertainment. Allocate half a day to a stay in a mountain resort.

I suggest spending the remaining half of the first day in the Olympic Park, a public area that has become one of the main attractions of Greater Sochi, a key venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics and one of the venues for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. You can get here from Rosa Khutor either by shuttle bus or by the comfortable train 'Lastochka'.

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There are also activities to suit all tastes - within the complex there is the "Sochi Park", a theme amusement park with rides for children and adults (the scariest being Quantum Leap, where the heart sinks into the heels); there are several rental areas for bicycles, electric scooters and other compact vehicles; access to the sea allows you to ride a "banana boat", a gyroscooter, a catamaran and even a sailing yacht; there are cafés and recreational areas on the seafront.

The heart of the Olympic Park is the Medal Square - you should definitely come here after dark - for the evening show of the singing fountains - a breathtaking sight! Water streams thrown up “dance” to the classical compositions of great composers, to world hits of all generations and Soviet songs familiar to everyone, and the whole show is accompanied by colourful lighting. That concludes the first day.

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The second day I suggest to start with a trip to central Sochi - the "Zhemchuzhina" (Pearl) Hotel - a favourite place of Russian film stars, who come to the Kinotavr festival every year (just a warning - Sochi is the second longest city in the world (155 kilometres!), so it will take a while, about 1.5-2 hours, to get from Rosa Khutor to this wonderful place). It attracts tourists because of its convenient location - the Winter Theatre, the main promenade, the "Festivalny" Concert Hall and many other popular venues are close by, but we'll leave those for the evening.

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First we head to the Arboretum - a unique collection of subtropical flora and fauna. It covers almost 50 hectares and contains over 2,000 exotic plants and trees from all over the world. And what animals and birds (!) are there - ostriches, raccoons, porcupines, numerous turtles, nutria, pelicans, decorative Bentham chickens running freely along the paths. A nice bonus is the 897-metre-long cable car, which can be taken to either the top or the bottom of the park, or even double back and forth. You can allocate 2-3 hours for a walk in the arboretum.

The next stop will be a visit to the Eagle Rocks, a natural attraction located in the Matsesta Forestry of the Sochi National Park. The Eagle Rocks can be reached from central Sochi by shuttle bus, the stop is "Staraya Matsesta". But to save time and energy, I'd advise taking a taxi instead of public transport, as buses don't go to the very beginning of the route and it's a long journey. The Eagle Rocks trail is 1,500 metres long and has an elevation difference of 340 metres.

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The journey is divided into 3 stages: approach to the cliff past the picturesque Agur waterfalls, the trail takes about 3 hours and the descent takes 40 minutes. The experience of this mini hike will be unforgettable! At the highest point of the trail (breathtaking!), there are views of the nearby green mountains and azure sea. You'll also find the stone-carved figure of Prometheus, according to local legend, it was to these rocks that the hero was chained, when he stole fire for humans against the will of the supreme god Zeus.

After this active part of the trip, I suggest visiting another iconic place nearby, which is associated with many legends. It is Akhun, Sochi's tallest mountain (663 metres) and the observation tower of the same name, it is from here that a magnificent panoramic view of the entire city and coast opens. It is 30 metres high and 700 metres above sea level.

The legend of the origin of the mountain's name says that once upon a time the god Akhyn, the patron of cattle breeding, lived on the summit, and people worshipped him and made sacrifices. And it was to him that Zeus tasked with looking after Prometheus, who, as a punishment for disobedience, was chained to the Eagle Rocks (yes, the very one whose sculpture now stands majestically on one of them).

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It is also said that Joseph Stalin himself was so fascinated by the wonderful views from Mount Akhun that he ordered an observation tower to be built there in 1936. Whether or not this is true is not known for certain, but one thing is clear - this unusual place is worth a visit, preferably during sunset. The drive to it, the climb up the tower (a couple of minutes and 10-15 minutes at the top), a possible lunch and the return journey will take about an hour and a half.

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Tired and happy, we return to the hotel, take a shower, change into smart clothes and go for a walk along the seafront towards the Seaport, Russia's largest harbour on the Black Sea coast. Along the way are the aforementioned Winter Theatre, the original exterior structure of the Pushkin Library, the Festivalny, and the beautiful Rotunda in M.V. Frunze Park. The highlight of the walk is the local seaport, a magical place at night thanks to the building's special illumination. Tourists are also attracted to it by the opportunity to see the yachts most diverse in size, design and cost, standing around the clock in the port. It was also where several scenes from the famous and much-loved Soviet film "The Diamond Arm" were filmed!

You can end your stroll there, or continue on to one of the city's main pedestrian streets, Navaginskaya, where you can have a nice meal or just take a pleasant walk. It will take about 3-4 hours to walk around the city centre, including dinner.

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So that's the end of the weekend in Sochi! A beach holiday is marvellous! But it is hoped that travellers will form an opinion of the city as a place with rich, varied nature and beautiful, old and modern architecture.

Yulia Raspopova, editor of the international network.

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