Nalchik

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Nalchik

Population: 300,400

Acting Mayor: Viktor Sorokin

Main industries: machinery manufacturing, health and wellness, food manufacturing, tourism

Founded in 1724, 1818 or 1822, depending on whom you believe.

Interesting fact: In 2002, the city's Atazhukinsky Park was named the best park in Russia. The park covers a quarter of the city's area, or more than 200 hectares. The main alley covers 1,340 meters.

Helpful contact:
the receptionist at the mayor's office, Nalchik City Hall (79 Ulitsa Keshokova; +7 8662-42-27-34; adm-nalchik.ru)

Sister cities: Amman, Jordan; Vladikavkaz, Russia; Kayseri, Turkey; Reno, Nevada, U.S.

NALCHIK —  Everyone knows that a horseshoe brings good luck. So maybe it's no coincidence that Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic, means "little horseshoe" in the local Kabardian and Balkar languages.

Several versions are floating around about the origins of Nalchik's name. Some say the Nalchik River makes a horseshoe-shaped curve in this city. Others say Duke Atazhukin, an 18th-century warrior and politician who played a major role in the history of the Kabardians, lost a horseshoe nearby, while a third version has it that a lot of people lost their horseshoes in the area around the time when Nalchik was established. The most probable explanation, however, is that Nalchik is surrounded by U-shaped mountains.

Nalchik received the status of a city in September 1921 but was almost completely destroyed after being occupied by Nazi forces from Oct. 28, 1942, to Jan. 3, 1943. An eternal flame burns in the city park in honor of those who fell in battle. Other reminders of World War II also remain — tank and artillery monuments and two soldiers' graves on the grounds of School No. 9.

Major Businesses

Nalchik Machine-building Factory (4 Ulitsa Malbakhova; +7 8662-44-38-95, mashzav7.narod.ru) is one of the country's largest makers of facilities and repair parts for oil and gas production.

Nalchik Khalva Factory (6 Ulitsa Zavodskaya; +7 8662 77-23-20; halvichny.ru/smi.html) is a large factory producing khalva and other confectionery, beer, nonalcoholic beverages and vegetable oil.

Reconstruction of Nalchik began as soon as the Nazi forces left, but the effort was overshadowed by the forced deportation of the Balkar people. On Josef Stalin's orders, the first of 14 military trains crowded with emigres was dispatched from the Nalchik train station on March 8, 1944, and the people were sent into exile in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The rebuilt city came with its advantages. Nalchik has an orderly network of streets with mostly multistory residential and administrative buildings from 1950 to 1970. In the late 1960s, the Politburo in Moscow declared the city a resort town and gave it another facelift.

For MT

Marvin Steinfort
U.S. business consultant for APEX, a Nalchik-based business that develops local businesses and educational institutions in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Q: Why did you decide to move to Nalchik?

A: When my wife and I finished our studies in China, we started thinking about what we wanted to do. An acquaintance said he knew a guy in Russia who does development work with students, and that's how it started. At first, we taught English at the Institute of Business in Nalchik because we didn't speak any Russian. We really liked the area and decided to stay.

It was worth our time to come here 2 1/2 years ago. There is a different mentality for how business is done here compared to the United States. I feel there is a lot of potential for this republic in several areas, like education and tourism.

There is a huge difference in how education functions here. It's frustrating to figure out how to motivate students and help them see the potential for their lives, their city and their republic.

We are also very interested in tourism. After the Soviet collapse, a lot of sanitariums fell into bad shape. But there are beautiful valleys and mountains here that are untouched for the most part. There is a history, a unique culture of music, dance and languages that fascinates me, and I think it would be fascinating for other Westerners, too.

Q: What makes your business successful?
A: To make it successful, you have to be willing to learn to make connections with people. If you come here thinking you know it all and you are just going to do it your way, you are not going to succeed. But if you come here, meet people and figure out how things function, then you have a chance. From my prospective, things are done here based on who you know, not how smart you are.

Q: What is your favorite part about living in Nalchik?
A: It's experiencing culture and the natural beauty of the landscapes. I feel that we are the lucky Westerners who are able to see and experience it all.

— Marina Marshenkulova

As a result of this reconstruction, one of the architectural peculiarities of the city is the fact that buried between the main streets and their multistory buildings are whole blocks of private houses, most of them built before the 1917 revolution. They seem to be hidden to avoid ruining the balance of the neatness of the main streets.   

These days, Nalchik tends to make the news only in connection with government-led crackdowns on Islamic militants. The city grabbed international headlines in October 2004 when dozens of militants tried to seize local law enforcement offices in a brazen raid that left 142 dead, including at least 14 civilians, according to official figures.

But violence, which is relatively uncommon, has a long history here. Some locals still remember mass rioting on July 13, 1968, after rumors started circulating that the police had killed someone in their office at the Central Bazaar for disturbing the peace. A crowd broke into the office and freed the detainees there. But the rumors kept spreading, and the crowd burst into the local police inspector's office, killing him. The turmoil ended only at the end of the day. Thirty people ended up in prison, including three sentenced to execution. That's what rumors can do.  

But the city also takes pride in its appearance. In 1997, a citywide effort was made to groom the parks, reconstruct decaying buildings and skillfully hide the losses of previous years in other ways. Later that year, Nalchik took third place in a national contest organized by the Federal Agency for Construction, Housing and Communal Services for "the most comfortable city in Russia." The next year, Nalchik won first place.

Nalchik added to its titles "city of military glory" under a decree signed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

Nalchik might be just a tiny, restive spot on the map of Russia for some people, but anyone in the North Caucasus will tell you that all roads lead here.  

What to see if you have two hours

Nalchik is a small city, and two hours might be just enough time to catch a glimpse of it. Start at the city's main Square of the 400th Union Anniversary, which locals refer to as "Maria's Square" because it is the site of the Forever With Russia monument, dedicated to Ivan the Terrible's wife, Maria, who was a native Kabardian.

Then take a walk up the main street, Prospekt Lenina, admiring the pristine sidewalks and abundance of shops and cafes. If you are interested in gold jewelry, this is the place to shop. You might not be able to bargain for gold pieces in Moscow, but here it is a must. Sellers walk back and forth on the street and might come up to you and ask if you are selling something. Yes, this is a place not only to buy but to sell gold and silver, if you have any.

Also drop by Atazhukinsky Park, the most popular spot in town. Since time is limited, go straight to the park's best-known eatery, the Kuanch cafe (Atazhukinsky Park; +7 8662 42-35-94), owned by Balkars who serve favorites like grilled shashlik, deep-fat-fried cheburek pastries stuffed with meat or cheese, khichin flatbread with cheese-potato filling soaked in butter and local beer. It's pretty cheap, about 50 rubles ($1.60) for a cheburek or khichin, and very tasty. You will sit at a wooden table overlooking Track Lake and mountains covered with woods. You might see chairlifts going up and down the mountain. But be forewarned: The parking lot at the back of the cafe is not free. That's how locals like to make some extra cash. One parking space costs 20 rubles (80 cents), but the good news is the car will be guarded, and you can park as long as you want.    

What to do if you have two days

For MT

Arsen Kanokov
President, Kabardino-Balkaria

Q: Why should foreign companies invest in Nalchik?
A: I majored in finance, and if I were a foreign investor, I would place a good portion of my active assets in Kabardino-Balkaria. Our republic is an agricultural region with a congenial climate where high profits are guaranteed. Besides, we have many recreational opportunities and a beautiful natural environment, which means big potential for tourism development. Of course, there are some risks involved due to the aftermath of the world financial crisis, but at the same time, the prospects for investment are huge. We are always open to mutually profitable partnerships, and we are ready to provide any needed cooperation for investors.

Q: What makes Nalchik stand out among other North Caucasus cities?
A: There is a Russian proverb that says, "It's better to see something once for yourself than to hear about it a hundred times." That's why I invite business representatives to come and personally look at all the beauty of our ancient part of Russia. The North Caucasus has many faces, and each part of it is unique due to its natural and ethnical diversity. For example, there are representatives of about 100 nationalities in Kabardino-Balkaria. Nalchik residents are hospitable people with beautiful customs and traditions. At the same time, Nalchik is quite a European city that is actively developing, and given its resort status, we don't build any industrial facilities in the center of the city; they are located on the outskirts.

Q: How do you see Nalchik developing in the next 10 years?
A: Not so long ago, Nalchik was considered to be a Russian-only resort city. It has dozens of health centers and sanatoriums, and many of them need reconstruction. I hope in the next 10 years to fix them all in order to return the former resort glory to the city.

Q: Which sectors are developing most rapidly?
A: We have a long-term strategy of republic development based on the cluster policy. The priorities, first of all, are industry, agriculture, tourism and recreation. For example, significant achievements have been made in the agricultural sector thanks to innovative technologies. Our republic produces high-quality foodstuffs that we proudly demonstrate at international exhibitions such as International Green Week in Germany.

— Marina Marshenkulova

"Don't even think of coming to Nalchik without climbing the 1,000 steps on Kizilovka Mountain," the locals will tell you. Health enthusiasts cut the steps — called "terrenkur," or path of health — out of Kizilovka Mountain deep in Atazhukinsky Park more than 30 years ago. As one of the builders, Ilya Khasyanov, said in an August interview with the local newspaper Nalchik, the task was tremendous because back in the 1970s there was no special lifting equipment, and all construction materials had to be carried by hand. The steps stretch 2,620 meters and reach a peak of 843.13 meters above sea level.

The steps are where you will find the first signs of life in the city in the morning, and here you can meet not only your neighbors going up and down but also senior officials from the regional president's administration. As the name suggests, people climb the path of health to stay fit. The four rules for climbing the stairs are simple: Breathe through your nose; try to restrain yourself from talking; don't smoke; and after completing the walk, sit down for at least half an hour.

Actually, there are not 1,000 but 839 stairs, to be exact, together with spots for resting and admiring the view. Stop at the sanatorium at the bottom of the stairs to sip cool carbonated mineral water for free at a drinking station. The water comes from wells at a depth of more than 1,000 meters. This water is used to treat stomach ulcers, chronic hepatitis and other illnesses. While drinking, you might want to check out the souvenir shop in the same spot.

The best time to climb the stairs is in late spring and early autumn. Watch out for rain. The stairs might become slippery, while the ground on the mountain dries very slowly due to the fact that it is covered with tall trees all the way to the top.

Instead of using the steps, you can go up Kizilovka Mountain in a chairlift and visit the mountaintop Restaurant Sosruko (25 Ulitsa Lermontova; +7 8662-42-64-53), named after a well-known bogatyr in local Nart Epos, which is to the North Caucasus what Greek mythology is to Western civilization. You see, the people of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic like to eat very much, and this place happens to be one of the main sights in Nalchik. Perched at 600 meters above sea level, it allows you to see almost from every spot in the city. The restaurant itself is an architectural beauty shaped like Sosruko's head and with his stretched hand holding a torch. It's also possible to travel here by car, but the chairlift ride with the lake below is an experience that you will not soon forget.

Atazhukinsky Park also offers places to sit and alleys to explore. Enjoy your time here in the park, the pride of Nalchik.

Nightlife

Nightlife and Nalchik don't get along very well. There are places to go and enjoy, but at night the city and its residents like to sleep. But if you happen to be suffering from insomnia, here are some ideas.  

The Palace of the Trade Unions (12 Prospekt Kuliyeva; +7 8662-47-71-42) is where most concerts and shows are held, especially during the winter. It is also a cinema. The city has two other cinemas as well: the State Concert Hall (28 Shogentsukova Prospekt; +7 8662-77-33-35) and Cinema East (37 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8662-42-10-80).

If you like to sing late into the night, a karaoke club called Adagio (129a Ulitsa Suvorova; +7 928-707-07-07) is open from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Every once in a while, it also holds themed parties.

For MT

Zaur Tutov,
former regional culture minister and a prominent singer

Q: What makes Nalchik special?
A: Nalchik is located in a very beautiful setting in the geographic center of the North Caucasus. It's clean, neat, cozy, and symmetrical, which is convenient for road traffic. It's also one of the best resorts in the area.

Q: What place would you recommend that a visitor see first?
A: Our amazing Atazhukinsky Park, anytime of the year.

Q: What are priority areas for investment?
A: In my opinion, the priorities should be the National Museum (62 Ulitsa Gorkogo; +7 8662-77-68-80), the resort concert hall in the park area, and the block from Keshokova to Nogmova streets. Of course, it's very hard to cover each and every area, but I believe that those are the priorities.

— Marina Marshenkulova

Nalchik boasts five theaters: the Russian Drama Theater (Square of 400th Union Anniversary; +7 8662-77-42-02), the Kabardian Drama Theater (2 Shogentsukova Prospekt; +7 8662-40-90-70), the Balkar Drama Theater (2 Ulitsa Balkarskaya; +7 8662-40-45-74), and the Free-for-all Theater of Mukhadin Nagoyev (2 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8662-40-70-13). The last theater is free, but it has a little box where you can leave as much money as you wish if you think that the play was worth your time. It's open every Saturday from 6 p.m.

During the summer months, some of the best concerts and festivals are staged at Zelyony, or the Green Theater, a magnificent triple-deck construction in the depth of Atazhukinsky Park.

Where to eat

The best places to eat are located in the park area of Nalchik. If you want to eat the best salmon on the grill, locals say Restaurant Dolinsk (2a Prospekt Shogentsukova; +7 8662-72-01-85) is the place to go. Dolinsk is also known for its shashlik and signature dish of chicken and beef tenderloin. It's not cheap: The average price for one person starts at 1,500 rubles ($50). But the food and company are worth it. Don't be surprised to see the president of Kabardino-Balkaria dining here. After all, it's one of the fanciest places in town, with a wine-beige and gold interior in an antique style. During the summer, visitors can eat outdoors in the grove. The restaurant holds up to 80 people and is open from noon to midnight daily.

If you'd prefer a more stately and formal place with pillars in the halls, make a beeline for the Restaurant Elbrus (Dolinsk, the City Park; +7 8662-42-19-37, +7 8662-42-01-96). The restaurant resembles a fancy music hall and is a favorite among the ruling elite and businessmen, who stop by to dine on barbecue ribs, seafood, and, of course, national cuisine. The average bill for one runs from 1,500 rubles ($45). The restaurant, open from 11 a.m. to midnight, seats 400 people on two floors, a banquet hall and two summer verandas, which overlook Track Lake and the Green Theater.    

Where to stay

Spa-Hotel Sindika (8 Ulitsa Pirogova; +7 8662-49-25-25, +7 8662-72-00-45; spahotelsindica.ru) is considered the best hotel in Nalchik, primarily because it's presidential material. Regional President Arsen Kanokov built it before being appointed to office. Located in the park area, the hotel offers spa and health services and is considered one of the best resorts in Russia. A standard single costs 2,400 rubles per night, and a double costs 2,800 rubles. A suite for two costs from 7,800 to 8,200 rubles ($245 to $260).

Hotel Grand Kavkaz (2 Ulitsa Tarchokova; +7 8662-47-72-66, +7 8662-40-00-87; grand-kavkaz.ru) is the second-best hotel and also located in the park area. Nevertheless, it's not far from the city center, which you can reach in 10 minutes by car. The hotel positions itself as an art hotel and from time to time holds exhibitions of well-known artists. The prices of the rooms range from 2,500 ($78) for a single to 7,500 rubles ($235) for a suite.

Hotel Russia (32 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8662-77-53-78; hotelrussia07.ru) is for those who literally like to be in the middle of the action. The hotel is located right in the center of Nalchik, opposite the Musical Theater and the Forever With Russia monument. A modern hotel with 150 rooms, it offers a range of services, including a restaurant with national, European and Latin cuisine, a bar, a hairdressing salon, a medical center, chain stores, an airline ticket office, a laundry room, computer and printing facilities and much more. Hotel staff are willing to arrange an excursion to Mount Elbrus and other sights in Kabardino-Balkaria. Room prices range from 800 rubles to 2,500 rubles ($25 to $80) per night.

Conversation starters

Locals like to talk about nature, especially about Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe. They strongly believe that they have the most beautiful landscapes in Russia, and a lot of visitors agree with them. Locals also like to complain about high prices in stores, low salaries, and the bills that pile up faster than the salaries can cover. Another favorite topic of conversation is marriage, which is still largely carried out according to the centuries-old custom of kidnapping. The details of who was kidnapped, when and how, and how old the bride is and what the groom does for a living are usually known to the public.

Culture tips

There are some cultural peculiarities that a visitor might want to consider when coming to Nalchik. Caucasus natives are taught from birth to respect the elderly. They prove it with actions, not words. For example, everyone gets up when an elderly person enters the room. Locals give up their seats to their elders on public transportation. The same goes for women. Men usually treat them with great respect.

Another thing to remember while in Nalchik is to always look to your right and left before crossing a road, even if there's a green light. Local drivers are very bold and daring at times.

How to get there

Kuban Airlines makes the 2-hour, 20-minute flight daily to Nalchik's international airport from Moscow's Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports. A round-trip, economy-class ticket costs about 14,000 rubles ($440).

For those who prefer to take a train, a one-way ticket on the 1,666-kilometer route costs about 3,000 rubles ($100). But it takes about 35 hours to arrive.