Kamenka river and Phophet Elijah church in Suzdal, Russia

Having never visited Russia before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With political tensions running high, I was met with apprehension from friends and family. I cannot reiterate enough how unfounded this was. The country is full of character, undeniably beautiful and what made the trip so special was the Russian people. Typically depicted as tough and abrupt, they were warm, welcoming and made me feel completely comfortable.

Despite spending my first two days in Moscow and seeing the world-renowned Red Square and St Basil Cathedral, it was my day in the small town of Suzdal which made me truly fall in love with Russia.

Upon arriving into Suzdal, I was not able to appreciate my surroundings as the evening had drawn in and darkness had fallen on this little town. We arrived at Nikolaevsky Posad, a beautiful, boutique property styled on a traditional merchant’s estate. This would be our home for the new few days.

My first taste of the real Russia came when we entered a local tavern for dinner; the walls were decorated with bare wood and an array of taxidermy. The food was simple yet delicious with huge, hearty portions served in big ceramic pots. Across the restaurant, a large family was out for their little girl’s birthday and it was my first glimpse of what a normal life here looked like. It was lovely to see them all so happy and brought a smile to my face. 

Suzdal, Russia. Temples of the ancient city of Suzdal at night.

The next morning I had woken up in a fairy-tale. Snow had fallen and covered everything in sight; a truly magical experience. As I wandered over to the restaurant for breakfast, I witnessed children having snowball fights and playing in the cold. It was a welcome change from seeing a phone in everyone’s hand and took me back to a simpler time. The breakfast was delicious, traditional cuisine and warmed me up perfectly for my day ahead.

Walking through this charming town in the daylight, I was able to appreciate just how beautiful this region is. No high rise buildings, no traffic, no big corporations. This was exactly what I had wanted to experience; the local way of life at a much slower pace than the big cities. 

My first stop was the Museum of Wooden Architecture. It looked completely unique and beautiful in the fresh snow. Originally founded in 1968, this open-air museum had structures from all over the Vladimir region, showcasing how people lived in the 18th century. I was instantly intrigued by the churches and how they were constructed with something as primitive as an axe. As I wandered deeper into the museum, I found it fascinating how different levels of poverty allowed such substantial changes to their homes. There were two peasant homes next to each other, one large with a workshop and multiple rooms and the other around half the size with limited space. I could have spent hours here but as I had a full day ahead of me, I moved on to the Suzdal Kremlin.

From the museum, I quickly visited a busy, local market to source a warm hat as the temperature had dropped significantly. Then the tour of the Kremlin began. Prior to my trip, I thought that the Kremlin was a government building however, from my time in Moscow I learnt that it actually means a ‘walled city’. I paid a visit to the blue-domed cathedral of nativity, which was home to frescoes of the 13th century. The interior was impressive with gold scattered throughout the walls, making it one of the great icons of this small town. My desire to gain a further insight into Russian history was the biggest draw of this tour. Our guide was very informative and took me on a journey through time, bringing the landmarks to life and allowing me to truly understand the significance of the region.

Inside the blue-domed cathedral of nativity

Russia is a spectacular country and should be visited at any opportunity. Not just because of the main sights in Moscow and St Petersburg, but the small towns of the Golden Ring. There is not only an abundance of history in the region but a genuine insight into the lives of the local people, which I feel grateful to have experienced.