Sochi, known as the Russian Riviera, is the popular black sea resort where the 2014 Olympics will be held. There will be two clusters for the games one on the coast and and one in the mountains. Sochi will also be the host for the 2014 Formula One Grand Prix. It is about 1000 miles south of Moscow and serviced by Siberian Airways. This domestic Russian airline flies between Moscow and Sochi Adler airport, and travel time is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. On both trips the ground staff collecting boarding passes said, as I entered the jetway, “Good Luck”. Fortunately the flight was lucky and landed safely in this sub tropical city which shares a similar latitude with the French Cote d’Azur. With palm trees and waters warm enough to swim in through October, Sochi is at first glance not somewhere one would associate with winter Olympic competitions.
From the airport to central Sochi can take 45 minutes depending on traffic. The Chebotarev Hotel is a four-star property and has 70 rooms, many with views of the city and the Black Sea. Furnishings are classically Russian with some wall tapestries and generous space for sofa and chairs. Interesting features includes motion sensors that turns lights on and off as one walks through the hallways. Depending on how fast or slow one strolls — it can leave you in the dark. A light buffet breakfast is served in the hotel’s restaurant, “Alexander”.
Along the boardwalk is the leading seafood restaurant, Blue Sea. It is tastefully decorated with a modern, comfortable environment, excellent service and good food. Fresh fish and crab with asparagus, beef, black sea flat fish, and pasta with crab are just some of the dishes.
The Sochi boardwalk extends for several kilometers along the beach and is peppered with many cafes, restaurants and shops. Musicians perform along the beachfront and small shops have interesting attractions from feel cleaning Thai fish to fruit drinks and shooting galleries. For the serious shopper, Sochi has several large shopping malls.
The Olymp is currently Sochi’s largest mall with over 70 shops, food court, restaurants, metroplex theater and a massive supermarket. Familiar products like Heinz ketchup are among less familiar items like fresh sturgeon caviar as well as mock caviar. One of the most popular fish egg products is the fresh salmon eggs — a far cry from fish bait — these eggs are beautiful in color, creamy in taste and delicious served with pancakes and creme fraiche.
Also creamy is the Russian ice cream with a spectrum of flavors. Some outstanding ones were the pistachio and dark, rich chocolate.
At the Rodina Grand Spa hotel which has stunning grounds reaching to the water’s edge is the Black Sea Beach Club. Here one can, in the season, lounge in the sun and raise a small flag in your hand when wishing a refill of your drink.
There is much to do in Sochi including the Dendrary Botanical Garden, the largest subtropical park in Russia.
But it was time to make the one-hour drive from Sochi to Krasnaya Polyana, home to the Rosa Khutor alpine ski resort. It is probably the world’s largest construction projects already topping 50 billion dollars. Besides the six new stadiums, there are new roads, high speed rail, bridges, tunnels, hotels, villages, a theme park and a new huge power grid to run it all.
The Western Caucasus mountains surrounding Polyana are breathtaking. The snow is remarkable, especially considering that one is near a seaside resort. From some of the runs one can, on a clear day observe the Black Sea. In the summer the temperatures in Sochi can rise above 100 degrees with abundant humidity. Skiing on North American-type snow with brilliant sunshine is unique for Europe. The downhill courses are challenging and the mountain is served by modern Poma gondolas and chairlifts. They worked well for the most part except one day when a power outage kept skiers waiting for about 45 minutes.
The weather above Sochi is very unpredictable. Exactly one year before the Sochi games are to begin there was no snow.
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President Putin loves Sochi and goes to his dacha there as often as he can. It is where he gave Gerard Depardieu his Russian passport. But Putin wasn’t happy about the building of the Gorki ski jump which has already cost an estimated $265 million and still not finished … so some heads rolled. In Russia the ruling powers can move heaven and earth to get things done and at Sochi, that seems to be happening right now.