Sochi has been selected for the 2014 Winter Olympics. We visited there in 2006 and when the selection was made we were surprised. This is one of Russia’s premier beach resort areas with lots of palm trees. It is very close to the Georgian border. And it clearly had major transportation issues in the tourist center. Nonetheless, it was selected and undoubtedly the Russian Federation will make the changes necessary for an exciting event. According to news reports, construction of the sports facilities is ahead of schedule. The closer your cruise comes to the date of the Olympics the more likely you are to be able to visit the site of the preparations, including a sports complex (hockey arenas, speed and figure skating facilities and more) just to the southeast of the cruise port.
One of the challenges when visiting Russia while cruising is the visa requirements. For the most part, ship tours provide the necessary clearance. However, if you want to strike out on your own, you will need to go through a fairly complex process of finding a host agency or tour company and working with them to process the necessary paperwork. Since visits to Sochi are generally one day, these complications are not worthwhile. Your best choice is to take the ship tour. This means that you will not be able to wander the streets, select your own restaurant or select the shops you want to visit. Donna wanted to pick up some vodka while she was on shore, but she was only able to go into a shop next to the cruise terminal. She had limited time and grabbed what turned out to be German vodka! It had a bouquet of turpentine.
Sochi does have some interesting experiences to offer and it’s setting is dramatic with the Caucasus Mountains rising above the city. Most of the attractions are on the coastal road to the southeast. Here you will find the famous Matsesta Spa where you can tour and experience the “healing waters.” The facilities are typical of old world spas with white tiled sterile facilities, sulphurous water and gruff attendants. Part of the Spa tour is a visit to the local caves. Above the spa facility are the scenic Agura Falls.
On the the coastal road just beyond Matsesta Spa is the Box tree and Yew grove, a dark semi-tropical park popular for short walks. The Stalin Dacha has several rooms dedicated to its former resident including a model of the cruel dictator siting at his desk there. Many of the rooms of the dacha are rented to guests. Near the spa is the Sochi coastal path which is a lovely walk along the water popular with locals and tourists. For great views of the region there is the Akhun Observation Tower on Akhun Mountain.
The Botanical Gardens and the Tea Plantation are offered as tours by most ships. The Botanical Garden features many local and non-local plants including a big selection of palms. The Tea Plantation tours feature demonstrations of Russian tea culture.
There are two other attractions farther from the city which would be worth a visit if only there were tours offered. In my research, the lines do not seem to offer these places. First is Krasnaya Polyana, where the mountain events for the Olympics will occur. This is Vladimir Putin’s favorite ski resort. Though Black Sea cruises are summer events, I find that ski resorts are often stunning places in the summer months as well. Even more intriguing is the Caucasian State Biosphere Reserve which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its pristine and unique forest. Limited tours are available, but I found none offered by the Cruise Lines.
For more information about Sochi and its attractions visit: www.cruiseportatlas.com/Ports/SOC-port.htm