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Crimea–the Beautiful Gem You’d Want to Visit Some Day

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Crimea has always been a very special place for me and my family. We used to go to the southern coast of Crimea for summer vacation pretty much every year since I was 3 years old. Crimea is true gem which has many gorgeous beaches and tall mountains, a rich history, beautiful weather, lovely hotels, and hospitable people.

When I think about the Crimean beaches, a lot of images come to mind–the high blue sky, the golden sun reflecting in the clear water, the frothy waves of the Black Sea gently crawling to the shore, and the smiley children running around happily. In Crimea you can find both pebble beaches (Yalta, Gurzuf etc.) and sandy beaches (Sudak, Yevpatoria etc.) There is something for every taste.

Sudak Beach

During our family vacations, we usually stayed in Gurzuf, a picturesque small town on the southern coast of Crimea. It offered great accommodation and ample hiking and swimming opportunities. During some years we rented an apartment, during others we stayed at a hotel.

Gurzuf view

Crimean attractions

From Gurzuf, we often took day trips to various places on the Crimean peninsula. Many attractions were just a couple of hours away or less.

We frequently visited Yalta, a larger resort city just a short bus/cab ride away from Gurzuf. Yalta boasted a beautiful promenade, upscale hotels (Oreanda being the top hotel in the city), many cafes and restaurants, a concert hall where we could see many famous singers, and a cable car, among other things. We preferred swimming and sunbathing in Gurzuf, as beaches there were less crowded than those in Yalta, but Yalta offered more entertainment opportunities. It was perfect for spending the evening.

The Yalta promenade

We also visited the many attractions of Crimea — the Ai-Petri mountain, the Bakhchysarai town where the beautiful palace of the Crimean Khans is located, the world famous Marble Caves, the historic Vorontsov Palace in Alupka, the port of Sevastopol, the Nikitin Botanical Gardens, the Valley of Ghosts in the Demerdzhi mountain, and, of course, the Swallows Nest–a castle in Gaspra and one of the important Crimean symbols.

The Swallow’s Nest Castle

At first, I went to Crimea with my parents and various friends and relatives. Later, when I got married, my husband Bill, who is American, also joined us on these annual trips. He fell in love with Crimea very quickly.

Not surprisingly, our living room is full of beautiful paintings we bought in Crimea. In the middle is a large picture of Yalta on a rainy day, which my Dad and I bought about 15 years ago during our trip to Crimea in October. We also have two paintings of the Gurzuf view and the picture of Adalar rocks.

Weather in Crimea

The climate in Crimea is mild. Summers are dry and hot–perfect for going to the beach. It gets colder in the fall and spring, but still there are quite a few warm days. Winters are generally mild.

In the summer, one can expect warm and sunny days with the temperature of 25-30C. Sometimes it would go up to 35C so, but one doesn’t feel the heat as much in the vast parks and in the mountains. The cool breeze from the Black sea also helps. The water in the sea is quite cool but warms up to 24-25C during the peak season. Rains in the summer are rare. We’d have one or two rainstorms during our vacation, that was it.

The weather in the fall and spring can be quite nice, depending on the year. September/October and May are usually great months to go to Crimea. There are fewer tourists, while the weather is quite warm and one can do a lot of hiking and sunbathing.

How Russian annexation of Crimea changed everything

We thought we’d be spending our summers in this wonderful area for many years to come.

Then, one day, it was all over. Just like that. Puff, gone!

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

That year, Russia held a referendum in Crimea and declared that 95.5% of voters supported joining Russia.

The results of the referendum were clearly rigged. While ethnic Russians formed a large share of the population there, a lot of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars also lived in Crimea. They were expected to vote in favor of staying with Ukraine.

According to BBC, many Crimean residents loyal to Ukraine simply boycotted the referendum. In the end, the referendum results were considered illegal by the EU and the US, but Russia annexed the territories regardless of public opinion. The situation repeated in 2022, when Russia held new referendums, this time in Eastern Ukraine (Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia), which were also plagued by similar problems, and annexed these regions despite the global condemnation.

Our family could not visit Crimea since the annexation.

Being a Ukrainian national, I could have possibly gone to Crimea, but it would be a very difficult journey (the train no longer goes all the way, and people have to find other arrangements once the reach the final stop). And most importantly, any trips to Crimea were out of the question for my husband and daughter, who are Americans. Foreigners could only go to Crimea through Russia now, but this would essentially mean endorsing the annexation. Such tourists would not be allowed into Ukraine in future.

My favorite things about Gurzuf

The view of Gurzuf, the Bear Mountain and the Adalar Rocks

Gurzuf is a small town, sleepy during most of the year. But in summer, it comes alive and blossoms like a gorgeous flower.

What comes to mind when I think about our past trips to Gurzuf?

Many  different things.

First, delicious fresh fruit–every morning I used to stop by the market and buy the sweetest and juiciest of peaches, plums, figs and grapes. In the evening, we would savor a melon or watermelon, they were simply delicious.

Second, stunning surroundings–tall cypresses, gorgeous acacias, palm-trees, pine-trees, tall mountains, beautiful pebble beaches, and the gorgeous Black Sea. A great advantage of Gurzuf is that it has many great beaches. If you stay at a hotel or resort which has a beach, you’d usually go to that beach. If you stay at an apartment, you have several options (either go to a public beach, or pay a fee to enter one of the private beaches).

Third, the great people I met and made friends with. Every summer, we saw pretty much the same families on the beach and got to know a lot of them. There were all kinds of interesting characters. For example, we called one guy at the beach a “Plastic Man.” He always packed all his things in several large plastic bags, and within those bags he always had some more smaller plastic bags. He was very organized, no question about it. I wonder what this Plastic Man’s been up to in the years we haven’t seen him…

We used to hang out a lot in our favorite café called “Tarelka” (“Plate” or “Saucer”). Another favorite restaurant of ours was Kozachok, it had excellent Ukrainian food. Since I played a lot of tennis during my vacation, I got to know all the tennis players in the area.

Dinner at the Tarelka Cafe, Gurzuf

The Bear Mountain

One of the main attractions of Gurzuf is the Bear Mountain, or Ayu-Dag. It looks exactly like a bear drinking out of the water.

Hiking up the Bear Mountain is a great activity, we tired it several times. Once you get up to the top, you can see a beautiful view of the area down below. This is not a very difficult hike and people with various abilities can do it. I also recommend hiking up the Demerdzhi mountain which is a bit further away, but that hike is more challenging and it’s better to go with a tour group.

View from Bear Mountain

Crimea has a ton of legends of all kinds. Not surprisingly, there are several legends about the Bear mountain.

The one I like goes as follows.

Many years ago, a pack of giant bears settled on the shores of the Black Sea. They had a strong and vicious leader. One day, they saw the ship wreck and found a little girl who by some miracle got rescued and washed on to the shore. The bears started taking care of their guest.

Years went by, and the little girl grew into a beautiful young woman. A terrible storm happened, and the girl saw a handsome young man in a small boat trying to get rescued from the storm. Eventually, he reached the shore. The young woman found him and helped treat his wounds. Eventually, they fell in love and tried to escape together in the boat.

The leader of the bears didn’t like it at all–he tried to stop the couple and started drinking water from the sea to create the strong current and pull the boat back to the shore. The young woman started singing and melted the heart of the bear. He stopped pulling the boat back, but continued laying on the shore for many years, until his whole body petrified and his fur turned into a forest. Eventually, he became a big mountain.

When can we go back?

Although Crimea has been out of our reach for many years, we still hope that things will change and we’ll be able to visit it again–together with many other foreign tourists who would love to see and explore this beautiful region. It is my greatest desire for my daughter to finally travel to Crimea. She hears us talk so much about this region, but she’s never had a chance to see it for herself.

It’s a long and thorny road ahead, but Ukraine might be one step closer to claiming Crimea now.

In February of 2022, Russia started the full blown war in Ukraine, turning the life of Ukrainians into hell. But with the Western support, Ukraine has been fighting back very well and gradually taking back territories occupied by Russia. I hope we can get all of our occupied territories, including Crimea, back when we win the war.

It’s going to take a major fight to win Crimea back, no question about it. Russian leaders are jealously protecting this land, partly due to its incredible beauty and personal attachment, partly because of its strategic importance–Crimea’s city Sevastopol hosts Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Sevastopol is Russia’s only deep-water port on the Black Sea. Some months ago Russia’s Medvedev stated that any outside attack on Crimea would prompt a “Judgment Day”.

In addition, Crimea holds important “spiritual” value for Russia, as announced by Vladimir Putin after the annexation of 2014. Annexation of Crimea is an important part of Putin’s strategy to restore the past Russian glory. Soon after the annexation, Putin built the 12-mile Kerch bridge which connects the occupied peninsula with the mainland. For anybody else, a bridge would be just a bridge. But not for Putin. It’s an important symbol of Putin’s Russia and Russian occupation. Putin personally inaugurated it in 2018.

I hope that one day soon, all symbols of Russian occupation will vanish into thin air, as if they never existed, and Ukraine will reclaim its territories.

For me, returning to Gurzuf–and Crimea–after all these years would be a dream come true.

I can’t wait for that moment.

I hope it comes very, very soon.

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2 thoughts on “Crimea–the Beautiful Gem You’d Want to Visit Some Day”

  1. Gurzuf and Balaklava were some of my favorite places in Crimea. The last time I visited both was back in 2011, right before moving to Spain for my studies. Back then I never thought returning would be out of my reach for such a long while… I also hope to show Crimea to my kids one day!

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