by Victoria Varvariv Markowicz
Once in May, my family and I decided to travel to Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine. After about a one hour flight from Kyiv, we arrived early on a Friday morning in Symferopol, where we had reserved a rental car at the local airport.
It then took us almost two hours to drive to Yalta, a Crimean “hot spot” on the Black Sea Coast. The area adjacent to Yalta is covered with cypress and juniper trees, and vineyards. There are very high silvery blue cliffs rising behind this lovely coastline. Although we chose to hire a car so that we could explore quite a lot on our own, there is a minibus (marshrutka) or taxi available to travel from the airport to Yalta.
We had reserved an apartment in downtown Yalta which was a five-minute walk to the Embankment or Esplanade (beachfront promenade). This is Yalta’s main street. From here you can see cruise liners in the seaport, an ancient lighthouse and various private yachts. There are ferries that you can take on various excursions.
It was from here that we took such a boat to visit the Swallow’s Nest. Although it looks medieval in style, this beautiful miniature castle was built in 1912 for German oil magnate Baron Steingel as a present to his mistress. This tiny “castle”, which now houses a restaurant, is perched on a steep cliff 10 kilometers west on Yalta.
In the evening we had dinner at Khutorok La Mer. We ate on the seaside back terrace – a lovely, although very windy, spot that evening. This restaurant is designed to look like the interior of a ship.
On Saturday, we drove to Livadia – the site of the 1945 Conference, where Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josep Stalin carved up post-war Europe. Historians have said that in Levadia’s enormous White Hall, the “Big Three” and their staff met and gave the USSR the biggest influence in Eastern Europe. The documents, which also divided Germany and ceded parts of Poland to the USSR, were signed on the February 11 in the English billiard room.
Livadia Palace, built in 1911 in the Italian Renaissance style , was a summer residence of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family.
Livadia’s coastal gardens are very beautiful and a seven-kilometer path (Sunny Path – Soniachna Stezhka) leads to the lovely Swallow’s Nest castle mentioned above. Immediately to the right on the beginning on this path is the Romanov family chapel. On the day of our visit, there were several christenings being performed. After a delicious lunch at an outdoor terrace garden caf?, we drove on to another palace in Alupka.
The palace in Alupka was designed by English architects for the English-educated Count Mikhail Vorontsov. It is an unusual combination of a Scottish castle and an Arabic/Asian/Indian fantasy. Vorontsov built this palace and park in 1828-1846, and a century later Churchill stayed there during the 1945 Yalta Conference. In this palace is an imitation Wedgewood “blue room”, an English-style dining room, and an indoor conservatory with a lot of tropical plants.
There is a wine tasting center nearby (Massandra). Crimean wines are famous for being somewhat sweet, as dessert wines.
That evening when we returned to the center of Yalta, we dined in the Yalta Bay on the Golden Fleece Restaurant – it looks like a large ship on pedestals. We had a nice outdoor table with live music playing throughout the time of our dinner.
On our last full day (Sunday) in Yalta, we started off with a brisk stroll through the Nikitsky Botanic Gardens, which houses up to 28,000 species including an olive tree grove, roses, cacti and temporary exhibits. We were lucky enough to see dozens of various irises in full boom.
Next we went to the charming seaside town of Gurzuf where we visited Chekhov’s dacha, which is now a museum sitting on a steep cliff. We launched at a wonderful Crimean Tatar restaurant called Meraba. The view was breathtaking, and the food excellent.
After lunch, we visited the lovely park Polyana Kazok (Field of Tales). It is full of fantastic, hand-carved wooden figures from folk tales. Both Ukrainian/Russian and European language guides are available for guided tours. We visited on our own. Next door to this park (same parking lot) is the Crimean Zoo. We were surprised to see a large panel of photos at its entrance showing those animal friends who “have left us” (died).
We did not visit the zoo. It was time to go back to our apartment and enjoy our last dinner on the Embankment. We chose a local caf?, eating delicious kebabs and watching people stroll by. Beginning on Friday evening and lasting throughout the weekend, including this Sunday evening, we noted that there was live music being played at the widest pert of the Embankment. Here couples of all ages danced to the music as if they were visisting a large dance hall. It was very entertaining to watch.
Early Monday morning we admired the sunrise as we drove our rental carback to Symferopol and returned to Kyiv. Again with Wizz Air. No sooner than we were in the air, I was already looking forward to our next trip to Crimea.