Samara

Click to view previous image Image 1 of 4 Click to view next image
Samara

Population: 1.16 million (sixth biggest city in Russia)

Main industries: space and aviation, metallurgy, oil refining, food processing

Founded: 1568

Interesting Fact 1: Samara’s metro, built in 1980, has only nine stations.

Interesting Fact 2: In June 1918, Samara was proclaimed capital of the Russian Republic by anti-Bolshevik forces but held the title for a mere three years. In 1935, it was rechristened Kuibyshev after prominent Bolshevik Valerian Kuibyshev. It kept that name until 1991.

Helpful contacts: Mayor Dmitry Azarov (+7 846-332-20-68).
Deputy Mayor Alexander Karpushkin, head of the economic development department (+7 846-332-65-48).

Sister cities: Vitebsk, Belarus; St. Louis, United States; Stuttgart, Germany; Stara Zagora, Bulgaria; Palermo, Italy.

Most Russians know Samara as the country's aeronautics manufacturing capital. Far fewer would think of it as the birthplace of the nation's beer industry — yet the local brand, whose history is a metaphor for the town as a whole, has become synonymous with beer itself.

At the height of its popularity, Zhigulyovskoye beer was produced by 735 factories across the Soviet Union. But the original, with its "inimitable taste," is only made at the 130-year-old facility in Samara, said brewery president Yury Saprunov.

It was a long road full of up and downs. Established in 1881 by Austrian businessman Alfred von Vacano, the facility was one of the first modern breweries in Europe at the time.

But Vacano was deported after Russian and Austrian soldiers found themselves in opposing foxholes during World War I, and in 1917, the Bolsheviks were quick to nationalize the brewery, along with the rest of the country's privately owned industrial enterprises.

The original recipe, renamed from the "bourgeois"-sounding Venskoye (referring to the city of Vienna) to Zhigulyovskoye (a local range of hills), still brings a nostalgic smile to the faces of those old enough to drink in Soviet times. But the beer, often consumed with vodka, is valued for its ubiquitousness and price, not taste.

Now Samara brewers are trying to revive Vacano's traditions, with their produce available for evaluation right next to the brewery at the Na Dne (On the Bottom) bar, where, according to former Deputy Mayor Mark Feigin, "you can feel the real spirit of Samara and hear the latest political gossip."

Major Businesses

Progress (18 Ulitsa Zemetsa +7 846-955-13-61, samspace.ru). The company manufactures satellites and Soyuz space rockets. It is also currently designing a new rocket to launch satellites from the Kuru launching pad in Guiana.

Samarsky metallurgical plant (29 Ulitsa Alma-Atinskaya, +7 846-958-94-82). The company, founded in mid-1940s, was one of the biggest aluminum makers in the Soviet Union. It became part of U.S.-based Alcoa in 2005. 

Samara Elektroshield (Krasnaya Gorka, +7 846-373-50-06, +7 846-276-28-08). The company, which produces electrical equipment products, has recently entered into a joint partnership with France’s Schneider Electric. The French company said the partnership would help Electroshield enter the global market while strengthening Schneider Electric’s position in Russia. 

Samara chocolate factory (257 Prospekt Kirova, +7 846-999-05-20). The factory, which produced some of Soviet-era best chocolate brands, was purchased by Nestle in 1994 and carries on the trade.

The story of Zhigulyovskoye's pedigree tells something about Samara in general. Born as a small frontier fort in 1586, the city grew into a transit center of national importance, did a brief stint as the country's capital (one of many) during the Revolution, and finally evolved into an industrial center — thanks to World War II.

You can still see it in the streets, where pre-revolutionary buildings crowd next to hallmarks of the Soviet Union's industrial might. It's not always good for sightseeing but definitely benefits the economy, which, unlike the situation in many other old industrial strongholds, is still in good shape.

The city hosts several leading space industry companies, including Progress, which manufactures the Soyuz rocket — the only way to reach the International Space Station, now that U.S. space shuttles have been retired. There is also Aviakor aviation plant, controlled by Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element, which once produced Il-2 fighters for the Red Army and now cranks out civilian Tu-154M jets.

"Samara was a city of merchants that was turned into an industrial center when factories were evacuated here during the World War II," local political analyst Dmitry Loboiko said. The Soviet government relocated several thousands of enterprises to the country's eastern regions to prevent Nazi Germany from capturing them in 1941.

The locals are still watchful of the city's heritage and how it is treated. When Samara authorities installed a hideous orange monument of an astronaut resembling a giant plastic toy downtown to mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight in April, it did not last a month before unidentified hooligans had a go at it. The sculpture was removed for repairs, and the perpetrators were never found.

What to do if you have two hours

For MT

Dmitry Azarov,
Samara mayor

Q: How is Samara attractive to foreign investors?
A: We’ve always had a strong economic position, both in the Volga Federal District and on a national level. Samara has a very convenient geographical location, significant scientific and technological potential, a developed market infrastructure and a lot of business activity.

We are currently drafting a strategic plan of city development through 2025, to be completed next year, and I believe this document will give a significant boost to the investment climate in Samara.

Our city is also competing to be a host city for matches of the 2018 football World Cup. If we make it, it would lead to drastic transformation of the city infrastructure, so we expect investors in various areas, including the hotel industry, transportation and real estate. Besides, we have big plans for preservation and renovation of the old part of the city with its unique architecture.

Q: How can Samara attract more tourists?
A: Admittedly, Samara throughout its history never was a tourist destination; it even was a “closed city” in Soviet times, due to space industry enterprises being located here. But our rocket industry is itself a hallmark of the city, and there are more. Samara has a rich past that gave us many things to be proud of: our Volga embankment, our beaches, our historical monuments and the annual Grushinsky festival of bard songs, which takes place near the city. We hope to promote these things to make the city more open and attractive to tourists.

— Alexander Bratersky

Take a walk on the five-kilometer-long Samara embankment, a prime spot for weekend strolls, full of cozy cafes and terraces and surrounded with greenery that gives it a park-like vibe. "Here you can find respite from the summer heat, spend an evening or promenade with your girlfriend," a local web site informs.

It was not always that way. The famous writer Maxim Gorky, who visited Samara as a newspaper reporter, was unimpressed: "A sign should be placed on Samara's embankment, and the sign should read: 'Anyone coming to Samara and hoping to find some culture, turn back, as the city is rude and poor.'"

But that was before the mid-1930s, when the modern embankment was built, so perhaps some time on a bench under a shady tree would have elicited a better write-up from him now.

No trip to Samara can be considered complete without a visit to the famous Iversky Convent. Built in 1850, it is an architectural treasure, with its fame further boosted by the nuns' sewing skills.

What to do if you have two days

Samara's Space Museum, named after Sergei Korolev, father of the Russian space program, is surely worth a visit. Exhibitions feature models of satellites and rockets, many produced at Samara's factories, along with rare documents on space history (21 Prospekt Lenina, +7 846-263-39-35, +7 846-263-39-36).

One unusual museum is the so-called Stalin's bunker — a larger-than-life piece of real estate located 37 meters below the ground. The bunker was built in 1942 as a reserve hideout for the Soviet leader in case the government will have to evacuate from Moscow, though Stalin never really stayed here. If he did, he could have enjoyed sitting at a mammoth table covered with green cloth or napped on his personal sofa, both relics of the Soviet bureaucracy's idea of comfort and prestige. (167 Ulitsa Frunze, +7 846-33-44-33, +7 846-33-49-68. Visits need to be booked in advance.)

Nightlife

LUST is Samara's premium nightclub, a popular getaway for the city's rich and famous. The club has a high-tech interior and live music (2 Dachnaya Ulitsa, +7 846-266-89-99).

Rock lovers are advised to descend into Podval (Cellar), which often hosts concerts of local and foreign rock bands (46 Galaktionovskaya Ulitsa, +7 846-332-92-83). If you want to both dine and dance, visit the Jam restaurant and dancing club (17 Ulitsa Bratyev Korostelyovykh, +7 846-247-62-00, jam-club.ru).

The Gorky Drama Theater is one of Russia's best. Company member Vera Yershova in 1995 became the first actress not from the twin capitals to receive the prestigious Golden Mask award (1 Chapayev Square, +7 846-333-33-48, dramtheatre.ru).

Where to eat

For MT

Natalya Mameishchikova,
head of Pan Marzipan, a specialty cake maker

Q: What business opportunities does Samara offer?
A: Samara can be a very lucrative place for small and midsized businesses if you can make yours truly client-oriented. Just take cues from global brands. They’ve got it all figured out — it’s not rocket science. I’ve often traveled to Europe, for example, and can say that our restaurants are still a far cry from European standards. There are many food establishments in Samara, but only a few really offer good food and service. You can wait forever for your drink, even though it isn’t that hard to serve a drink in two minutes.

Q: What prompted you to go into cake making?
A: The Samara chocolate industry is dominated by our chocolate factory, a monster with a long history that would be immensely hard to compete against. There are several local confectionery makers as well, but they all make pre-made products, and original cakes are an unoccupied market niche. Some people want a sweet masterpiece with their portrait or, say, something related to their hobbies, and serving them is only possible with an individual approach such as ours, where we cater to any quirk or whim of a client.

Q: What’s worth visiting in Samara?
A: There are a handful of true city landmarks, which I have actually toured with our foreign partners: Stalin’s bunker, of course, and the Vertolyotnaya observation platform, which provides a breathtaking view of the Volga River. Don’t forget to sample Zhigulyovskoye beer in Von Vacano, and if you’re up on your Soviet history, visit the Navek Rodnya (Forever Brethren) restaurant, where you can try cuisine from various ex-Soviet republics.

— Alexander Bratersky

The Yar restaurant, located inside a wooden building that also houses a hotel of the same name, offers a mix of European and traditional Russian dishes. It is popular with the local elite and celebrity guests coming to town, including pop star Vera Brezhneva, who praised the place. (23 Ulitsa Lesnaya, +7 846-277-90-09, +7 846-265-51-16, yar-samara.ru)

U Palycha, a chain spreading through the country, originated in Samara. It focuses on Russian cuisine so do not miss the trademark pelmeni and blini, made from handed-down recipes. The impressive list of patrons ranges from pop diva Alla Pugachyova to the British hard rock greats of old, Uriah Heep. (4 Proyezd Maltseva, +7 846 276-72-76, palich.ru).

If you like Georgian food, visit U Khanumi. A decent place with a cozy interior, it's deservedly popular with the locals. (7 Ulitsa Zoi Kosmodemyanskoi, +7 846-952-64-66).

Where to stay

Renaissance Samara-Mariott, the first international hotel in the Samara region, is situated in a strategic location downtown. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov stayed there during his first visit to Samara as an opposition politician. Prices do not depend on guests' political views, of course, and range from 5,000 to 22,000 rubles ($180 to $790), depending on the size and the class of the room, for the right, the left and the apolitical alike. (162 Ulitsa Bolshaya Novo-Sadovaya, +7 846-277-83-40, renaissancesamarahotel.ru).

If you want to stay away from the sacramental hustle and bustle of a big city, try the Troi residence hotel, a two-story building that also houses a restaurant with its own bakery. Prices range from 2,600 to 4,500 rubles ($93 to $160) per night. (17 Srednyaya Sadovaya Ulitsa, +7 846-997-08-08).

Conversation starters

Football is a good one, as the local Krylya Sovetov, who play in the Premier League, are a source of pride and joy for many Samara residents. Samara also made the shortlist of cities to host games of the 2018 football World Cup. But please don't mention the popular Russian folk song "Samara the little town" — here, it's a cliche and bad taste.

How to get there

Samara is an overnight destination, so you can take a regular train, running daily from Kazansky Station, for 3,400 rubles round trip. Samara's own railway station, built in 2001, looks very modern and adds to the city's pride by being the tallest railway station building in Europe.

Planes to Samara fly from Domodedovo. A round trip business-class ticket on Transaero costs 21,700 rubles, and the flight lasts some 90 minutes. Check the Domodedovo Airport web site, domodedovo.ru, for more information.