Most Black Sea cruises begin and-or end in Istanbul and as the posts below attest, it is a fascinating place. However, beyond that the region has some stunning sights very different from the typical Med cruise. A large portion of the region has only become easily accessible in the past 2 decades with the fall of the Soviet Union and it’s satellite states. Below are the reasons you should consider a Black Sea cruise.
1) Nesebur’s Byzantine Churches – This tiny island off the coast of Bulgaria has dozens of small churches built between the 6th and 17th centuries in the ornate Byzantine style with its fancy brickwork and glazed decorative tiles. Some, like St. Spass, are modest and unassuming on the outside but reveal a profound Orthodox spirit within. The most stunning is the New Bishopric (St. Stephan) are not much larger, but house stunning treasures and wall paintings. (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
2) Odessa’s Uspensky Cathedral has five domes that filter indirect light onto the golden icons, relics and iconostatis. When we entered, there was a solo singer chanting hypnotically. The Odessa Cathedral (Church of Christ’s Transfiguration) holds up to 9000, was begun in the late 18th century, destroyed by Stalin and rebuilt in the early 21st century. It has a neo-classical exterior with a single dome and a massive bell tower. The Cathedral holds a singular place in Odessan history.
3) Odessa’s Opera and Ballet Theater (Opera House) was rebuilt in the last few years after decades of misuse by the communist regime. Originally built in 1887 in an ornate Viennese style, the theater hosted Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Isadore Duncan. You can see a performance in this stunning theater.
4) Sevastopol’s Balaklava Districthas been the location of several naval and land battles including the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade made famous by the Pope poem. This rugged coastline has been ruled by all the major cultures of the region and fought over by distant powers. A Genoese fortress towers over the fjord-like bay.
5) Yalta’s Palaces are evidence of its status as a winter home for wealthy Russian noblemen. Prince Michael Vorontsov, hero of the Napoleonic wars built his Alupka Palace with one side in the style of an English Manor and the other looking like an Ottoman palace. The Livadia Palace was built by the last Czar along the coast like an Italian villa and it later housed the famous conference with Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. The Massandra Palace was built by Vorontsov’s son and now is the center of a famous winery.
6) Sochi’s Olympic Preparations have begun for the scheduled 2014 Winter Games. Krasnaya Polyana is Putin’s favorite sky area and only a few miles away from the port. The city has committed to major development in preparations with the stadiums being built along the coast and Krasnaya Polyana serving for alpine events.
7) Trabzon’s Sumeli Monastery is hidden in a scenic valley 45 kilometers from the medieval capital of a silk-road empire. Begun as a hideaway for Orthodox monks in the 6th century AD it grew to it current impressive size by the 14th century. Built into the side of a cliff the monastery includes the Rock church, several chapels, an aqueduct and housing for students and monks. Views of the monastery from the valley below and of the valley from the monastery are priceless.