If you've seen most of what Moscow has to offer and seek something else, you can easily experience a very different Russia without spending money on air tickets or making long journeys on trains. The area outside the capital has many interesting historical and cultural places.
1. Abramtsevo Estate and Sergiev Posad
Konstantin Kokoshkin/Global Look Press
The Abramtsevo Estate (60 km from Moscow) is a must-see for anyone interested in Russian art. Thanks to industrialist Savva Mamontov, an artistic circle of the finest painters and architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered and coalesced here. Views of the estate are depicted in the paintings of many artists and they are familiar to every Russian since childhood. For the painting, "The Girl with Peaches", the daughter of the estate owner posed for Valentin Serov in the dining room. Vasily Polenov painted the Abramtsevo pond many times, and Viktor Vasnetsov even depicted the Abramtsevo landscape for "Bogatyrs". The same artists also took part in the decoration of the estate's Art Nouveau church.
The Assumption Cathedral in Holy Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius
After driving half an hour from Abramtsevo, you'll reach Sergiev Posad, the most 'Orthodox' town in Russia. Here, you can visit many museums, walk along the old streets, and have a Russian meal in one of the restaurants. Of course, the main site to see is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Take a tour or explore the monastery churches and museums on your own. (Note: on major religious holidays, the Lavra is very crowded). Read more about what to see in Sergiev Posad here.
2. Kolomna and Konstantinovo village
Kolomna kremlin aerial view
The charming merchant town of Kolomna is about 100 kilometers from Moscow. The massive walls of the medieval kremlin have been preserved, as well as the ancient cathedrals and monasteries. Walking around Kolomna, you should definitely sample the traditional Russian street food - kalach - prepared according to ancient recipes; (read here why in the olden days it wasn't customary to eat the "handle" of kalach). Another gastronomic trademark of Kolomna is apple 'pastila', also made according to ancient recipes. Visit the Kolomna Pastila Museum, taste several kinds and buy them for all your friends - it's the best souvenir to take home!
Watch our video about a day trip to Kolomna here.
Another 30 minutes drive from Kolomna is the village of Konstantinovo, birthplace of the poet Sergei Yesenin. When you admire the views that open from the window of his village house, you'll understand why he became a poet! The church with its golden domes, the turn of the Oka River and the endless Russian countryside scenery with golden rye fields and green patches of forests.
Konstantinovo, the birthplace of poet Sergey Yesenin
The beauty is breathtaking! The local museum tells about the mystery of the poet's death, and tries to answer the main question - whether he took his own life, or if someone "helped" him.
3. Serpukhov and Polenovo Estate
Ancient churches of Serpukhov
There is another ancient town about 30-minutes drive from Moscow, where another ancient kremlin fortress once stood. Today, only fragments of its walls remain, as well as the Sobornaya Hill on which Trinity Cathedral, built in the 16th century (and rebuilt in the 19th century in the neo-Classicist style), stands preserved. In recent years, the downtown of Serpukhov has been restored and transformed, complete with a modern urban space, pedestrian zones and cozy restaurants for all tastes.
Vasily Polenov's studio in Polenovo estate
About 40 minutes from Serpukhov is another picturesque country estate - Polenovo, named after its owner, artist Vasily Polenov. The house was built in the late 19th century by his own design, and every detail bears the imprint of the artist's hand - tiles, mosaics, stained glass and even furniture. The house was often visited by famous artists and writers, and there was even a home theater.
Check out more pics from Polenovo estate here.
By the way, the house in Polenovo offers a magnificent view of the Oka River. You can reach the estate another way - by boat from the town of Tarusa (a single ticket includes the cost of the round-trip, as well as a house tour). At the same time, you can walk around Tarusa and learn how it's connected with the writers Marina Tsvetaeva and Konstantin Paustovsky.
4. Mozhaysk and Borodino Field
The field where the Battle of Borodino took place in 1812
The great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov once wrote in 1837 that all Russians remember the days of the Borodino Battle. Actually the battle that happened during the War of 1812 with Napoleonic France is still "remembered" by all of Russia today, as well as Lermontov's poem. So you are welcome to drive 100 km, which takes about 30 minutes along the high-speed Minsk Highway, and find yourself on the very field where this decisive battle took place. Once a year in early September, Borodino hosts a large-scale and spectacular reconstruction of the battle. Many people attend and so parking may be a problem, but it's worth it. You can also visit on an ordinary day, see the museum and stand where Kutuzov used to view his troops and the course of the battle.
Luzhetsky Monastery in Mozhaysk
On the way back, don't hesitate to stop in Mozhaysk, which was founded in the 13th century! This town with a beautiful hilly landscape also once had a kremlin, but now the gates and the Gothic St. Nicholas Cathedral are the only remnants of its former grandeur. Another must-see in Mozhaisk is the Luzhetsky Monastery on the banks of the Moskva River. What a gorgeous view here!
Zakharovo estate of Alexander Pushkin's grandmother
If you have time and energy, on the way back take the old Mozhaisk Highway and visit the Zakharovo Estate where the young poet Alexander Pushkin stayed with his grandmother, and the palace of Princes Golitsyn in Bolshiye Vyazemy, where they say that Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov spent the night, only to be followed the next day by Napoleon himself.
5. New Jerusalem
New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery
A trip by car to Jerusalem from Moscow is quite possible! This is a miniature version of the holy city in the Moscow Region, just 50 km from the capital, in the town of Istra. The main tourist attraction is of course the New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery built in the 17th century by Patriarch Nikon. The hill on which the monastery stands was renamed Zion, and the Istra River - Jordan. The main cathedral was built in the image and likeness of the temple of the Holy Sepulcher.
New Jerusalem museum of history and art
After visiting the monastery, be sure to visit the History and Art Museum on the other side of the river - it has a collection of Russian church and secular art, as well as large-scale exhibitions of famous artists.
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