Before booking a cheap hotel in Yalta or the Black Sea cruise holiday, here is the perfect way to travel back in time to the old world charm of Yalta – the top resort city of Crimea.
This small town on the south-eastern coast on the Crimean peninsula, part of the Ukraine region, is now the centre of the Crimea’s holiday resort area, with the attractions of a mild climate and the waters of the Black Sea set off by the rising mountains behind. In Russian minds its name is inextricably linked with the writer Anton Chekhov, who came to live here in the late 1890s.
There have been settlements in Yalta since time immemorial. In the fifth century B.C., when Pericles ruled Athens, the Greeks established a small colony here caked Yalita and variations of the name were used by those who came later. When the Crusaders marched on the Oruent in the Middle Ages, the place came into the hands of the Genoese, who built a small fortress called Gialita, later captured by the Turks and named Jalita. In 1783 Russia won the Crimea from Turks and the name Yalta appeared for the first time on maps of the Russian Empire. At that time there were only eighteen houses there.
Half a century later, in 1838, the Governor-General of the Ukraine and Moldovia, Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, granted Yalta its town charter. Prince Mikhail was an exceptional figure: he had been educated in London, where his father was the Russian ambassador, and had joined the Russian army in 1803, winning renown for his bravery and military leadership during the 1812 war against Napoleon. As Governor-General of southern Russia he did much to revive vine-growing and wine-making that had thrived there under the Greeks.
When the royal family appropriated a large tract of land to the west of the town, about 740acres, Yalta immediately became popular. The mild climate, light rainfall and abundance of sunshine particularly attracted the sick and convalescent, and towards the end of the nineteenth century Yalta had about 10.000 permanent residents, while at least twice that number of people came each year simply to enjoy themselves. Chekhov pointed, not without irony, to the “two most noticeable featured of the smart Yalta crowd: middle-aged ladies dressed like young women, and a great many generals…”
The writer himself moved into town in 1989 and wrote there his plays The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904) and the several famous short stories. The Yalta suffered from a terrible earthquake in June 1927, followed by the destruction of the Second World War when Soviet troops retreated from the Crimea in 19941 and recaptured the peninsula in spring 1944. Along the coast to the west of the town centre is Livadia, the royal enclave that helped make Yalta so popular in the last century. Here Alexsander III had a summer palace built for him, designed by Monighetti, where he died in 1894. The present white palace, standing in a magnificent park famous for its 1000 year old oak, is a rebuilding by Krasnov for Nikolai II in 1910 – 1911. This was where the Yalta Conference of the Big Three was held in February 1945, when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin discussed the future of Europe after Germany’s imminent defeat and reached agreement on setting the United Nations. The palace now is a museum and in the spacious hall is still the round table at which the Allied leaders convened. Eastwards along the coast is the wine-making centre of Massandra, famous for its port wine. Established for over 150 years, it relies both on time-proven, traditional methods as well as the latest scientific techniques – it has its own research centre – to produce its fine fortified wines. Also not far from the town centre are the medieval Armenian church and the palace of the Emir of Bukhara, built in 1903 in Moorish style.
Moving further from Yalta, there are the beautiful mountains and valleys of the Crimea to be explored. The road to the airport passes the Uchan-su waterfall, an almost 100-metre (300 feet) drop and awesome after heavy rains, while further on, the north-eastern fringe of the Ai-Petri plateau is dotted with numerous caves, some of them believed to be as deep as 400 metres (1280feet). Most beautiful of all is the route through the Belbek valley, where traces of Mesolithic settlements dot the steep mountains slopes, and overhanging rocks line the narrow gorge called the The Belbek Gate. About 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the north lies Bakhchisarai, the City of Gardens, which for many centuries was the capital of the Crimean; here are old monasteries and temples, and the palace, now a museum, once praised by poets.
The modern Yalta – holiday resort – has a population of 140.000. The number swelled four times over in the summer when visitors come to stay in the 11 fashionable hotels and 144 sanatoriums for people with certain diseases of the lungs. Two beaches in Yalta are awarded a Blue Flag in May 2010 by Commonwealth of Independent States. Most of tourists here are ex-Soviet citizens and foreigners are mostly from Europe and United States. In the evenings the overcrowded seaboard promenade, stretching for several kilometres either side of the town, serves as a place to gather and talk, to see and be seen. The town has a cinema, drama theatre, plenty of restaurants, an open seven-day market and Chekhov museum.