Collectively known as the Golden Ring, some eight interesting cities and towns played an important role in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. Amongst them, the village of Suzdal holds a special position, so we decided to stop there on our way to Siberia. Its four large medieval monasteries are still in function today, including the 10th century Kremlin (older than the one in Moscow) and the massive 14th century Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius. The village itself is absolutely beautiful with the Kamenka River, small hills, numerous monasteries and charmingly decorated wooden houses scattered everywhere. Locals are friendly, food cheap and delicious, and village life calm and relaxing.
We also stopped by another Ring city, Vladimir, the former capital of medieval Russia. It didn’t disappoint us either. Its Golden Gate, Saint Demetrius’ Cathedral and the Assumption Cathedral are other outstanding examples of Russian medieval heritage. Our only regret? Not enough time. We could have easily spent 10 days chilling!
Though located not that far from Moscow, Suzdal is a small village that feels completely isolated. Hard to believe that in the 12th Century it was the capital of the principality, and Moscow one of its many ancillary settlements. Today, this open air museum is the smallest town in the Golden Ring. It’s clear that the village was somehow able to avoid soviet industrial planning. Likewise and fortunately for us, Suzdal is successfully avoiding the perils of capitalist industrial planning. Thank you guys!
That’s probably the thing we liked the most about Suzdal. Its heritage would be the highlight of any world capital, but there you are, in a very small town surrounded by endless fields. Even more, the absence of huge buildings or massive infrastructure allows you to completely lose yourself. Hence, you travel in time.
There you are in the 14th Century admiring the Saviour Monastery of St Euthymius, the Churches of St. Nicholas and St. John, and the Convents of St. Alexander and the Intercession. The latter are arguably the most impressive ones, but only a few of the 17 jewels that lie scattered all around Suzdal. UNESCO included six of these together with two located in Vladimir in its World Heritage List.
The weather was splendid so all we did was bike around town stopping to intake the views. Suzdal is also great for those of us in love with Russia’s wooden houses. Don’t worry about food. There are several places to grab a bite or indulge in the local cuisine. We had lunch and dinner at different places but all with fantastic views.
Our Svetliy Terem Hotel turned out to be a fantastic choice. Though basically a local house, it has all the comforts of plush modern facilities. Our room was warm and comfy and service very personal. They even have a sauna! We had tea, all sorts of cookies and delicious breakfast. On top of that, they have bicycles. We used them all day long and even at night!
Vladimir is a middle sized city, but after spending a couple of days in Suzdal it felt huge. The city is located on the banks of Klyazma River, so once again Russia’s incredible nature surrounds it all. However, unlike Suzdal, history did pass through Vladimir. A closer look at its buildings reveals quite interesting neo classical and soviet buildings.
A fantastic place is a park and a viewpoint next to the Assumption Cathedral, set on a hill so it offers great views of the ocean of trees. Spending some time in the park will relax you and give you a glimpse of local life. On the other hand, modern life in Vladimir is centered on Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, lined with several coffee shops and restaurants. However, we tried to avoid the avenue as much as we could due to its pollution. Search for restaurants around side streets and hidden corners.
The same can be said about our Monomakh Hotel; ideally located a few steps from the Golden Gate, but on a quiet street. We walked to both the Saint Demetrius’ Cathedral and the Assumption Cathedral! The hotel even has a fantastic terrace overlooking the river. We would begin our day having breakfast there and end it with a beer there too. I still remember that every time I ordered coffee, the lovely lady at the restaurant gave me heart shaped cookies saying “from Russia with love”.
Excursion to Bogolyubovo
One afternoon we took the twenty minute local bus to go to Bogolyubovo. Buses depart from Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, you can purchase the inexpensive ticket on board. Ask the driver exactly where to go down, it’s a 10 minute walk. The place is indeed worth the ride. Plus travelling by bus was so much fun, asking our way around in Russian! People were so friendly, though apparently I speak Russian as a kid! Good to know they think it’s only in Russian. Don’t forget to visit the world heritage Church of the Intercession on the Nerl. Take note that it is located in the outskirts of the village.
How to get to Vladimir and Suzdal
From Moscow we took a train to Vladimir. Remember that the city has several train stations. This one departs from Kursky vokzal, in eastern Moscow. It’s a 1,5 to 3 hour train through the city’s outskirts and then fields. Once in Vladimir we took a local bus to Suzdal. They depart from the bus station in front of the train station. You can pay directly to the driver. The ride is super nice.
We took the same bus to go back to Vladimir. Vladimir is a major train hub for all sorts of routes, including the Trans Siberian. After a couple of days in Vladimir, we took a 2 hour train to Nizhny Novgorod and had a fantastic time.