Suzdal

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Suzdal

Population: 10,535

Main industries: Tourism, Medovukha production

Mayor: Olga Guseva

Founded in 999

Interesting fact No. 1: Suzdal is the birthplace of Peter the Great’s first wife and last Russian tsaritsa, Eudoxia Lopukhina, and the prominent Bolshevik revolutionary Alexei Gastev.
Interesting fact No. 2: Suzdal has almost 300 landmarks and at one point boasted a ratio of one church to every 10 families.

Sister cities: Klec, Czech Republic; Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany; Évora, Portugal; Windham, New Hampshire, U.S.

Helpful contacts:
Mayor Olga Guseva (+7 49231-2-11-14; gorodsuzdal.ru);
Lidiya Evseyeva, head of tourism and culture department (+7 49231-2-12-78; gorodsuzdal.ru);
Suzdal tourist bureau (12/1 Torgovaya Ploshchad Ulitsa; +7 49231-2-00-29; suzdaltur.narod.ru)

SUZDAL, Vladimir Region — Dating back more than 1,000 years, Suzdal is one of Russia's oldest settlements and a place almost completely untouched by the pace of change that has transformed the architecture of the country's major cities into one of aesthetic extremes.

Regarded by many Russians as the "jewel" of Moscow's Golden Ring, the town is located a mere 200 kilometers northeast of the capital. Despite its proximity to the rapidly expanding Moscow region, it remains largely unaffected by modernization programs, something that has enabled it to preserve a traditional way of life and a timeless feel.

The system of mostly unpaved country lanes around which the local infrastructure is organized fulfills the commuting needs of the locals as well as their livestock, which graze freely in the shadow of ancient churches. The tranquil atmosphere and picturesque views serve as inspiration for amateur artists, who can be seen, bent over easels in wooded clearings, all year round. On summer evenings, the central square becomes a hub of activity, where the town's younger inhabitants gather, beer in hand, to update all present on what little can be said of the latest developments.

Major Business

Suzdal Mead Plant (13 Promyshlennaya Ulitsa; +7 49231-2-15-72; medovuha.ru) is one of the biggest producers of honey-based alcoholic beverages in Russia, with factories in Moscow and Suzdal. Production is based on traditional centuries-old Russian recipes and 17 types of medovukha are made, ranging from 5 to 8.5 percent in strength. The company employs more than 100 workers in the town and exports to over 400 outlets in Moscow, including major supermarket chains such as Dixy and Perekryostok, and across Russia.

Political and religious life in Suzdal — historically the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality (which also encompassed Moscow and Smolensk) and later one of the most important religious centers in Russia — has traditionally revolved around its kremlin, which is now included on UNESCO's World Heritage List, along with several monasteries in the area.

But in the 1960s the Soviet government decided to replace Suzdal's political and religious roles and, recognizing its tourist potential, turn it into a "museum town."

For MT

Olga Guseva,
Mayor

Q: How has Suzdal, known for its history and traditions, changed in recent years?
A: Modern, urban change in Suzdal, like any evolutionary process, has altered how the city looks in positive and negative ways. The city’s alienation from major transportation arteries has saved it from the arrival of large, industrial investors in the past, but this is not the case today.

Q: How does the city administration help investors?
A: Investment is a good and an evil for a historic city. Small investors try to profit by any means, ruthlessly exploiting and often destroying the natural and historical heritage of the city. For large investors, the number of tourists seems too small and the city too remote from the epicenters of intense urban growth — Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Tver. But investments are vital to Suzdal’s development. The Suzdal administration has formed a number of investment areas that are laid out in the city’s master plan. The administration signed an agreement with the Skolkovo innovation center in June 2012 for mutual cooperation in the development and installation of new information and energy-saving technologies in the existing city infrastructure.

Q: Which sectors of the city’s economy have the most investment potential?
A: Traditional sectors, the processing of agricultural products and arts and crafts, have the most potential for investment today. The niche for tourism services is still unfilled. Despite an abundance of hotels and food facilities, it is difficult to eat well in Suzdal. There is no gourmet cuisine, nor are there any culinary schools. There is little event-oriented tourism or ecotourism. The creation of a system of parking lots for tourist transportation is both a municipal problem and a potential area for investment.

— Lena Smirnova

Today, the local economy is centered on the tourist industry, which is beginning to revitalize itself after coming to a near standstill with the Soviet collapse, and laws restricting the construction of buildings above two stories date back to the Khrushchev era.

The many hotels recently springing up in the outskirts provide perhaps the first evidence of a changing landscape, while many locals have seized the opportunity for some extra income by turning their homes into bed and breakfast inns.

Although hospitality, catering and small-time souvenir production are the predominant driving forces for the economy, Suzdal is also one of the only places in Russia where medovukha, a mildly alcoholic honey drink similar to mead, is still made. The practice seems to be imprinted into the very fabric of Suzdalian life: Not only is there a local factory that exports across Russia, but many inhabitants run stalls in the market square where they sell their own homemade version to tourists. A bottle here can be bought for as little as 100 rubles, and most stalls let you taste the drink first, but you may have to chase a swarm of bees away before you get to it.

Suzdal is the setting for a number of annual festivals. Among them is the Open Russian Festival of Animated Film held in early spring and the equally prestigious (well, almost) Day of the Cucumber, a yearly celebration of all things cucumber-related and the highlight of the year for fans of the green vegetable across Russia, to which the town plays host on the second Saturday in July. Not to be outdone by rival events (of which, presumably, there are few), the festival includes a unique children's performance titled "Tales of Prince Cucumber and Princess Liana," which takes place in Suzdal's Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life and is thoroughly recommended by locals.

The museum itself is worth a separate visit; it comprises some of the most beautiful wooden churches built in Russia since the 16th century and a number of typical peasant cottages from the 18th, all moved to Suzdal during the Soviet campaign to promote the town as a tourist resort. The most visually impressive of the buildings is Preobrazhenskaya Church, a three-tier village church with a central structure composed of three octagons crowned by a spectacular onion dome.

What to see if you have two hours

The best way to get a true sense of the Suzdalian atmosphere, regardless of the amount of time you have available, is to take a walk through the town and visit its churches and monasteries. The priority for a short tour should be a trip to the kremlin (+7 49231-2-16-24; museum.vladimir.ru), which can be reached within minutes from the trading arcades via Kremlyovskaya Ulitsa. Specially preserved parts of the structure date back to the 10th century, and the Cathedral of the Nativity is one of the eight White Monuments of Suzdal and Vladimir, as well as a World Heritage site.

For MT

Sergei Gorovoi,
Financial director, Suzdal Mead Plant

Q: When did you first try mead?
A: It was in 1999. We came to Suzdal from Moscow and tried mead made by a private entrepreneur. Mead seemed to me to be a most unusual drink, and I thought it should be available in every store, if not in every house.

Q: Why is the plant located in Suzdal?
A: Traditionally, in the old times, the production of honey was concentrated in monasteries. Suzdal has a lot of them! Interest in national drinks peaked again in the 19th century, and a mead plant was built in Suzdal in 1851. That is where our roots are.

Q: What kind of help would you like to see from the city administration?
A: We would like the city to help us market our products — just like our products help to market the city. We also hope that Russian officials in general will be supportive of us and will reverse a decision to equate mead with alcoholic beverages, which requires retailers to get licenses to sell the drink.

Q: How will the the plant develop in the future?
A: We are expanding the assortment of drinks that we offer. The plant now supplies mead mostly to central Russia, but we are hoping to eventually reach even the farthest points of the country. There is interest in North America and Europe for exports of our products, so we are considering selling our products there as well.

— Lena Smirnova

When you leave the kremlin, cross the small bridge over the Kamenka River. At this point you should be facing the walls that form part of the outer perimeter of the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life, above which the onion domes of its two beautiful churches, Voskresenskaya and Preobrazhenskaya, are visible.

Head to the right and follow the course of the river. On your way, visit the Convent of the Intercession, a female monastery with a beautiful 16th-century cathedral within its walls and a restaurant where you can take a well-deserved break before you continue your tour.

Once you have refueled, continue along the riverbank until you see the huge red walls of the St. Euthymius Monastery, standing beside which you get a marvelous aerial view of the town. Cross the connecting bridge and follow the fortress perimeter to the right until you are on the main Ulitsa Lenina, from where you can take in the churches and cottages that line the roadside on your way back to the trading arcades in the center of town.

What to do if you have two days

A two-day trip to Suzdal can serve as a welcome escape from reality. Aside from the opportunity for long therapeutic walks in the surrounding countryside, it also provides a chance to explore in more depth the town's beautiful architecture and become acquainted with its cultural heritage.

A trip to the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life (Pushkarskaya Ulitsa; +7 49231-2-07-84; suzdal.org.ru/en/museums) can certainly help fulfill the aspiration for beautiful architecture. It's open daily between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., except Wednesdays.

Experiencing the local cultural heritage can be accomplished by visiting the kremlin museum, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Tuesdays. Of particular interest is the Cross Chamber, a 300-square-meter hall with a vaulted ceiling without, amazingly, a single pillar to support it. It was here that the tsar read out his decrees and high priests were ordained.

Allocate a separate day for a trip to the St. Euthymius Monastery (Ulitsa Lenina; +7 49231-2-07-46; museum.vladimir.ru), open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Mondays.

Within its mighty six-meter-thick walls is housed an 18th-century prison whose most famous inmate was Friedrich Paulus, the field marshal of Nazi Germany's Sixth Army, who was sent to serve his sentence in Suzdal after the failed siege of Stalingrad. During the Stalinist period, political prisoners were kept here, many of whom were later sent to their deaths in Siberian death camps. Today the prison has been turned into a museum of Suzdal's military history, although it also has on display a number of letters sent by prisoners and other memorabilia. The monastery complex contains several museums and churches, and money can be saved by buying one ticket for all the exhibitions, which costs 400 rubles.

­­­­Where to eat

For MT

Yevgenia Zelenskaya,
Director, Dymov Keramika, maker of ceramic souvenirs

Q: Why does a Dymov Ceramics craft make a good souvenir?
A: Because it is handmade in Russia, in Suzdal.

Q: How does your company pass the art of craftmaking to a new generation of masters?
A: We often invite amateur potters, artists and sculptors to work with us. Now, for example, we have working for us two students from the Obramtsevsky Ceramics School. They will work here for a whole month during their summer vacation. They live right by the factory. This is a great way to learn the basics of the ceramic business. We also employ people trained as woodcraft masters, and today, with our training, they are making plaster models.

Q: Which corporate clients have ordered your products?
A: We get quite a lot of orders. We can’t help it. Danone, Kaspersky Lab and others send us orders, particularly during the new year’s holidays. We make tree ornaments in the form of milk cartons, televisions and other items.

— Lena Smirnova

If you want to eat in style, stop in the Trapezhnaya restaurant located in the Bishop's Chambers of the Suzdal kremlin (20 Kremlyovskaya Ulitsa; +7 49231-2-17-63; trapeznaya.ru), whose visitors have included Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and retired cosmonaut Georgy Grechko. The menu offers traditional Russian food with a wide range of fruit desserts. It is also a great place to try quality locally produced medovukha. Expect to pay 700-800 rubles for a two-course meal without alcohol. The restaurant is open from noon to midnight.

For a cheap and cheerful meal in a great local atmosphere, try Servand (63 Lenina), a centrally located restaurant just opposite the Kazansky Church in the old trading arcades of the market square. The place is very popular with Suzdal's inhabitants and tourists alike, and a perfectly decent soup and main course will set you back only 300 rubles.

Where to stay

Hotels in Suzdal are being built at a remarkable pace, leaving visitors spoiled for choice. A popular option among Russian and foreign tourists is the four-star Pushkinskaya Sloboda (53 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 49231-2-33-03; pushkarka.ru), owing to its central location within walking distance from the town center and the beautiful grounds that surround it, complete with a children's playground and conference hall rented by Moscow companies for weekend management outings. Prices range from 3,200 rubles for a standard double to 10,900 for a luxury two-room apartment.

Another highly rated and affordable option is Sokol Hotel (2A Torgovaya Ploshchad; +7 49231-2-09-87; hotel-sokol.ru), located just opposite the trading arcades in the very center of town. Rooms start at 2,500 rubles for both single and double.

An increasing trend among Suzdal's citizens is to rent rooms in their cottages out to tourists. Look out for signs on your way into town reading "гостевой дом" (guest house) and expect to pay around 1,000 rubles per night for a double room.

Since 2009, a complex of 114 vacation cottages along the Kamenka River (main office: 11 Devicheskaya Ulitsa, Vladimir; +7 49223-7-38-30; domavsuzdale.ru) has been under construction on the outskirts of town. Although the project is not expected to be completed until at least 2015, homes are already available for sale and short-term rent.

How to get there

Perhaps life in Suzdal would have been closer to entering the 21st century if the town were easier to reach. With no train station or airport in the town, the quickest way to make the journey and the only viable option for Muscovites considering a quick day-trip to Suzdal is by car, on the M7 Moscow–Nizhny Novgorod route via Vladimir. It takes about three hours to cover the 210-kilometer distance.

Another popular option is to catch a train from Moscow's Kursky Station to Vladimir, where you can spend a few hours sight-seeing before jumping on a bus to Suzdal, which leaves Vladimir's train station every half hour.

A commuter train costs 340 rubles and runs twice daily at 8:12 a.m. and 2:23 p.m., reaching Vladimir in just over three hours. Alternatively, the standard train company operates a regular service until late in the evening — prices start from around 900 rubles for economy class and the journey takes an average of two and a half hours. If you're in a real hurry, you can get the express Sapsan service, but be warned: Tickets can easily be in excess of 3,000 rubles, and you'll only be cutting your traveling time by one hour.

A daily bus also runs from Moscow's Shchyolkovsky bus station. The set fare for a bus ticket, which cannot be bought in advance, is around 200 rubles; the bus leaves when the driver deems it to be sufficiently full, but usually the wait is no longer than 10 minutes. The journey time to Vladimir is around three and a half hours.

The bus station is located 2 kilometers outside Suzdal. For an extra 10 rubles, the driver will take you all the way, but if you have any energy left after the ride, take the 30-minute walk to the center and admire the traditional dachas on either side of the quiet street that leads to it.