Local Stonehenge, Old Volcano and mysterious boulders: why Karelia attracts Muscovites

The number of people wishing to visit Karelia is increasing every year. If in 2020 the democracy received 840,000 people, in 2021 the number increased to 957,000 people, Vedomosti reported. City “in the Tourism Department of the Republic of Karelia. Already in the first quarter of 2022, 190,000 people visited the area and this year the number of tourists is expected to reach 1 million.

Among tourists from Moscow, demand for Karelia has increased by 6% this year, said a spokesman for Anex Tour. In addition to the already recognizable Ruskeala Falls, Kizhi Island, Valaam Monastery and Lake Ladoga, Muscovites have been exploring new, little-known places in nature in recent years.

Ancient settlement and Ladoga

Local drivers note that there are places in Karelia that are not talked about on TV and are rarely covered by the media. For example, driver Vyacheslav Malkin takes tourists to Mount Paassonvuori, at the top of which was the ancient settlement of Paaso. During the excavations, fragments of pottery, arrows and a sword were found here, which archaeologists date back to the 12th-13th century, although the settlement may have existed even in the Viking Age. According to the guide, this place was hardly mentioned 2-3 years ago, but now it is gaining popularity. With a small charge of 150 rubles. People climb here for the sake of scenic views: the Helyulänjoki River flows down the mountain and Lake Karmalanjärvi with its rocky shores is located. Local names can be difficult to pronounce because they were formed when translated into Russian from the Sami, Karelian, and Vepsian languages.

Another mountain from the height of which you can enjoy the view of the taiga landscapes and the power of unspoiled nature is Hiidenvuori. Particular attention is paid to the hidden cave, which was built during the war. Tourists are also impressed by the small hydroelectric plants built by the Finns in the pre-war era. Karelia wildlife can be seen during a boat trip along the Ladoga boats – small fjord-like islets scattered in the waters of Sortavala, Pitkyaranta, Lahdenpokhya. The price of the ride is 2000 rubles. per person for 2 hours. “There is real silence on these islands and the unspoiled nature of Karelia and Ladoga,” says Malkin. “In the summer, visitors stay for weeks on these islands in tents.”

In Sortavala, guides suggest you visit the Kronid Gogolev Museum and see the sculptures on the tree. Some of the works are wall-sized, the images are made in the smallest detail, where rural life is most often proved. As a souvenir, in the museum’s souvenir shop you can buy, for example, Karelian birch sepals chess or berry sepals that help with coughs.

Old volcano and waterfalls

Recently, the 18-meter-high White Bridges Waterfall became popular with tourists, tour guides say. An amazing place in the depths of the forest is located 4 km from the highway, you can overcome it by car in the summer, says Alena Davydova, general manager of the travel company Runa-Land. In autumn and spring, only off-road vehicles will pass, while in winter you can reach the waterfall by snowmobile or ski.

A visit to the waterfall can be combined with a trip to the Ruskeala Mountain Park and a short trip with the Ruskeala Express, the only steam-powered passenger train in Russia. Smoke outside, friendly ducts in stylized uniforms, tsarist-era interiors in wagons – every detail of the train takes tourists back in time. Muscovites often take pictures on the train and in the wagon try kalitki – Karelian pies made from unleavened rye dough with various fillings.

Another little known place in Karelia is the inactive old volcano Girvas, which formed several billion years ago. In 1929 the Kondopoga hydroelectric power station was built here and later the Paleozerskaya hydroelectric power station, where the gates are opened periodically. “The place is unusual, as the old volcano is not always visible,” says Davydova. – In spring and summer an overflow appears which forms a large Girvas waterfall. “These days, the flow of water surpasses other famous Karelia waterfalls in power.” Excursion to Girvas worth 2400 rubles. usually complemented by a stop at Kivach Falls and the “Marcial Waters” hot springs.

Upside down trees and “ladder to paradise”

One of the most mystical parts of Karelia is Mount Vottovaara, 417 m high. Its slopes and the immediate surroundings of the mountain are considered a cultural and historical monument of democratic importance and at the same time a natural monument. The flat top of the mountain is covered with curved trees, which seem to have been deformed by an unknown force. Some look like they have been uprooted and stuck upside down. The atmosphere of mystery is supported by an artificial structure that looks like an amphitheater.

“The wide staircase, which is carved right into the rocks and has 13 steps, also looks mysterious,” says Davydova of Runa-Land. It is called “ladder to paradise”. It is impossible to understand its purpose, since the stairs lead nowhere “.

Vottovaara is also called Karelian Stonehenge, as the ancient Sami left the seids here – this is the name of the huge boulders that stand on small pebbles. It is difficult to understand how unstable structures could stand for thousands of years. According to the legend, those who dare and manage to bridge the narrow gap between the boulders in the “tunnel of rebirth” will have new, interesting events in their lives. Also, tourists are attracted by a deep rectangular slit in the rocks, which was called the “well”. It looks like someone carefully carved it on the hard rock with a huge knife. Tourists like to be photographed sitting on the edge with their feet down. A trip to Vottovaara in the agencies costs 5500 rubles. by a tourist.

Paanajärvi Park

This is the place for those who want to see untouched nature. According to Davydova, you will not find crowds of tourists, messy fires or scattered candy wrappers here. The park administration strictly limits the number of visitors. The park owes its melodic name to the unique Lake Paanajärvi, formed in the cracks of the rocky foundation. Here the mountain peaks are separated by deep gorges, numerous lakes, various swamps and turbulent rivers with noisy rushing waters and waterfalls. In the park you can rent a house with stove heating for 1500 rubles. per day per person and rent a motor boat for 1000 rubles. in time. Simple living conditions help to dissolve in the enchanting wilderness. Mount Kivakkatunturi, famous for its seids, awaits visitors in the park. Everyone can find “their” stone and make a wish. Also impressive is the Kivakkakoski waterfall with several waterfalls over a hundred meters long and Mount Nuorunen with a large worship seid, from where you can see Finland in good weather.

The cost of a vacation in Karelia will depend on the type of accommodation and the requests of the tourist for the comfort of movement in the area. According to the Tourism Administration of the Republic of Karelia, a standard program with accommodation in 3-star hotels, complex meals in a cafeteria and a minimum set of excursions will cost between 10,000 and 13,000 rubles. per person per day. Guide Malkin notes that a family trip to Karelia for a week last summer was comparable to a holiday in Turkey at an all-inclusive 4-star hotel.

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