Crimea, together with Russia and Ukraine was completely absent from the attention of the media up until the recent conflict. Recently, it has appeared in western news but, unfortunately, only for the wrong reasons. It's always gloomy and grey with the post-communist, heavy architecture. However, the truth is that looking at the beautiful coast surrounded by golden cliffs and blue waters of the Black Sea, you might get the feeling that you're somewhere in the Mediterranean. For sure not how you would have imagined it! The beaches in Yalta are full of sun seekers, the town itself is so vibrant and colorful and the situation at the peninsula is stable and safe now. Not too mention its greatest attraction - the Swallow's Nest Castle.
So close and so far
It might be a bit tricky to travel in Crimea for an English speaker. The whole experience of visiting that off the beaten path, forgotten place in Europe might give you the impression that you are somewhere far, farther than you would have thought. It's pretty exotic, very attractive, however literally none of westerners ever make it there. I understand that nowadays Crimea and Ukraine are all over the media for all the wrong reasons but when you decide to go out of your comfort zone you'll be awarded with an amazing feeling of discovering something new and unknown. And, how breathtakingly beautiful! People think that for great adventure you must go all the way to South-East Asia! You don't - adventure awaits you so much closer, however it's not what's considered "trendy" in the western world. It's not important that it's stunning and exciting. It's not featured in colorful magazines and people won't go there (or even know it exists!). Yes, you'll see an article about Bangkok in Cosmopolitan but about Crimea? Never. But it doesn't mean it's any less attractive!
Regarding the conflict - I don't want to get involved in politics here - ordinary people are all the same after all - I want to present this part of the world the way it really deserves to be presented - to show its true beauty which you won't find on BBC or CNN.
WARNING! The current political situation may have caused public transport disruptions and you must carry out some research before traveling to Crimea and especially Eastern Ukraine. It's not as easy as before to get to Crimea as the authorities require Russian visa to enter the peninsula. However, Crimea remains safe for tourists unlike Eastern Ukraine.
How to get to Swallow's Nest Castle
I reached The Swallow's Nest castle from the amazing mountain Ai-Petri (don't miss it - I described it here). Note that you don't have to go down by cable car to the village of Alupka and then struggle to catch a marshrutka (mini bus) to Yalta. On the top, there are some private taxis-marshurtkas that will take you straight to the castle for more or less the price of the cable car ride. This is what I did and it saved me a lot of time. I asked the driver to stop a bit before the castle to be able to see it from a distance with the sea in the background.
From Yalta, it's easy to get to Swallow's Nest either by boat (the boat route is very scenic) or bus. It's a very popular destination among tourists - but you'll see a different kind of tourists - from the East. It will be very rare to encounter anyone from Western Europe.
The castle was built in the beginning of the twentieth century on a beautiful cliff called Aurora for the German millionaire Baron von Steingel. It undoubtedly the most popular sight in Crimea. The whole construction is pretty small, only about 20 meters high and I heard some opinions from people who were disappointed with the size. For me, it looked magical, literally as if it were taken out of a fairy tale - with the clear blue waters and whitish rocks.
While visiting the castle, be aware of local coin artists who use animals, especially birds like eagles (they treat them really badly) and put them forcibly on people's backs, take photos and want ridiculous money for it, like 30 USD for a couple of photos! I was asked that ridiculous amount but I left saying I have no money on me. Don't stop around them, just keep on going.
From Swallow's Nest Castle, you can take a ferry either to Yalta or Alupka. So there are many ways or getting around in the area. If you have more time and you want to see the coast better, take a ferry. A ticket to Yalta costs only about 50 UAH (3 EUR, 4 USD)!
I came to Yalta flying from Kiev with Ukrainian Airlines to Sevastopol. I think it would be easier to take a train or bus, however. The airport is literally in the middle of nowhere and it's unclear if commercial airlines still land there. It was an adventure to get from and to the airport! You can read about it here.
Yalta, as most of the towns in southern Crimea is located on the site of ancient Greek colonies. The name also comes from Greek (yalos) meaning a safe shore. Yalta is a small town and it's easy to walk around. It has a spectacularly beautiful sea front (Lenin's Embankment) although the beaches, in my opinion were damaged unfortunately by yet another amazing communist idea - really ugly concrete walls separating one beach from another and, some of the beaches themselves had been laid with concrete!
In the summer, Yalta is really crowded, mainly by the tourists from former Soviet Union countries. In the twentieth century it served as the most important resort town in the region.
You can easily find many superb quality restaurants everywhere, although be careful, although the staff claims they know English, communication may be quite difficult and you may end up being a victim to another scam by paying a really high check. Right at the promenade, there's an amazing restaurant shaped like a viking's boat - with a little viewing platform. It's possible to go up there free of charge.
In the center of the city, there is a cable car that goes onto a hill above the town that offers beautiful view Yalta and the Black Sea. Also visit Alexander Nevsky Church which has a beautiful design full of remarkable details.
If you still have more time, you should travel around and visit Livadia Palace, 3 kilometers from Yalta. The famous Yalta Conference in 1945 took place there.
Yalta and the surroundings resemble a bit of the Black Sea coast in Georgia, Batumi - I've described it here. However, Batumi seems to have more "liberal" and "crazy" architecture to that of Yalta. Visit both places so you can compare!
Near Yalta, while visiting Crimea don't miss the aforementioned Ai-Petri Mountain and Sevastopol with the ancient ruins of Chersonesus!
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