This tour to Kalmykia, Astrakhan and Volgograd combines three fascinating places in South Russia in eight days. You will see the Eastern beauty of Kalmykia, Europe’s only Buddhist republic - datsans, Buddhist pagodas, prayer wheels with mantras, giant statues of the Buddha and stupas of enlightenment – you can be forgiven for thinking you must be somewhere in East Asia. In addition, the republic’s capital of Elista is famed for its connection with chess as Kalmykia's first president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is ex-head of the FIDE World Chess Federation, and during his term as president, Ilyumzhinov sought to turn the city into a centre for chess and oversaw the construction of the “chess city” in Elista.
Located on the delta of the biggest river in Europe, the Volga is the city of Astrakhan which is considered the fishing, caviar and watermelon capital of Russia. Russian sturgeon and beluga are caught here, and black caviar is produced. After its incorporation into Russia, Astrakhan served as a southern outpost complete with a magnificent kremlin. Astrakhan watermelons are sweet and tasty thanks to the local steppe climate.
Volgograd was originally known as Tsaritsyn, but it is still most famously known by its Soviet-era name of Stalingrad. It is a hero-city which saw one of the most devastating and crucial battles of WWII. The city was virtually wiped off the face of the earth and over two million people died here, but it was here that Hitler was broken. The city was rebuilt as a Soviet showcase city, and despite ditching its old name, Volgograd is still very proud of the sacrifices made here during the war and the role it played in the Soviet victory.
During the tour, you will not only learn about the history and culture of the area but also see some of the stunning natural sights here. You should note however that this tour includes a long trip in a car in the Republic of Kalmykia, where the railway infrastructure is poor.
WHY YOU WILL LOVE THIS TRIP
In one trip you will visit three completely different regions of Russia, two of which are located on Europe’s largest river - the mighty Volga.
You will go to two national parks where you will have a chance to see rare birds and animals.
You will experience the only Buddhist republic in Europe - Kalmykia.
You will see places that are rarely visited by foreign tourists as you will need to get special permission to visit.
Excursions in National parks lead by biologists, who will take you into the world of local flora and fauna.
Moscow → Volgograd → Elista → Astrakhan→ Moscow
1 DAY / VOLGOGRAD - MAMAEV KURGAN
Morning flight to Volgograd.
Upon arrival in Volgograd - transfer to the hotel.
Panoramic tour of Volgograd and Mamaev Kurgan Memorial Complex.
- Mamaev Kurgan Memorial Complex – this is Volgograd’s must-see sight and is home to one of the most spectacular monuments in the whole of Russia. The complex consists of several sculptures, each of which you will see on the tour walking up the central steps to the awe-inspiring Mother Russia Calls Monument. It is located on Height 102.0 (also known as Mamaev Kurgan), which was strategically important during the Battle of Stalingrad and from here the whole city and the Volga are visible. The battle for Mamaev Kurgan was the bloodiest battle of the whole war and most likely of all wars in history. It lasted for 135 days during the 200-day Battle of Stalingrad. More than 34,000 people who fell defining Stalingrad are buried here.
- The Mother Russia Calls Monument – this monument on Mamaev Kurgan is striking in its scale and is among the top ten of the tallest statues in the world. Including the sword (which itself is 33 metres), the statue stands at 85 metres high. It is hollow inside and equipped with a system of metal cables which stop it from collapsing.
Duration: 3 hours | Transportation: by a private car
Night in Volgograd.
2 DAY / BATTLE OF STALINGRAD
Walking tour around the city centre:
- The 62nd Army Central Embankment – this embankment was built in the classic Soviet-style in 1952. The white pillars on both sides of the steps serve as gates into the city from the Volga. There are 100 steps leading to the very edge of the water. The embankment is named in honour of the 62nd Army which defended the northern part of the city during the Battle of Stalingrad. It was opposite the central steps that the ferry across the Volga was located during the battle.
- Alley of Heroes – this was established in honour of the heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad. The Alley’s architectural ensemble is a clear example of the monumental architectural style known as the Stalinist empire.
- Fallen Warriors Square with Post Number One and the Eternal Flame - this is the largest square in the city, 274 metres by 90 metres. Like the Alley of Heroes, Fallen Warriors Square was created in the Stalinist Empire style.
- Pavlov's House – one of the most famous sights connected with the victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. In 1942, due to its strategic location and view over the Volga, the Pavlov House became the centre of a fierce battle. For 58 days, a garrison of 25 people were able to maintain their position. On his own map, General Paulus marked the house as a fortress. After the war, this was the first building in the city to be rebuilt.
- Battle of Stalingrad Museum-Panorama – the main museum in the city dedicated to the Battle of Stalingrad. Its main attraction is the biggest painting in Russia. It is 16 metres by 120 metres and depicts the concluding stage of the Battle of Stalingrad – the operation known as Kolsto (Ring).
Duration: 3-4 hours | Transportation: walking tour
Night in Volgograd.
3 DAY / VOLGOGRAD - ELISTA
Distance: 300km | Duration: 4- 5h
Night in Elista.
4 DAY / ELISTA
City tour of Elista - the highlights of this tour include:
- The Golden Abode of the Buddha Shakyamuni – this is the main Buddhist temple in the city. It was built on a site blessed by the 14th Dalai Lama when he visited Elista in 2004. Surrounding the temple are 108 pure–white stupas, 17 padogas with statues of Buddhist teachers and four prayer wheels. The 12-metre statue of the Buddha here is the tallest in Europe. Religious items were placed inside the statue, including mantras, incense, valuable, handfuls of land from around the republic, and plants and grains which grow in Kalmykia. It is coated in gold leaf and incrusted with diamonds.
- Golden Gates - traditional Buddhist style gates. The arch represents the main entrance and symbolises a holy threshold, kindness, wellbeing, a new beginning, strength and power. Walking through the Golden Gates and entering Elista is said to cleanse your soul and set you on a spiritual journey to purity and long life. People make wishes here to the sound of bells.
- Exodus and Return Monument – this monument is dedicated to the Kalmyks who were deported to Siberia en mass in 1946 and other victims of political repression. It is the work of sculptor Ernst Neizvestny and was unveiled in 1996.
- Chess City - it was the idea of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who was simultaneously the president of Kalmykia and FIDE, to create a centre of chess in Elista to hold the 33rd Chess Olympiad in 1998. The Olympiad took place at the Chess City which includes cottages, hotels and even a Chess Palace, all of which remain today.
- Khar-Buluksky Springs - Khar-Buluk translates at clean spring and is located close to a single poplar tree. One tree, one spring and the seemingly endless Kalmyk steppe. There is a legend that this tree was planted by the monk Purdash-bagshi who brought it back from his trip to visit the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Kalmyk Buddhists consider the poplar to be a holy tree and pray and meditate under it. It is thought to be over 100 years old and stands at around 35 metres. Each year you can observe how older people come to pray at the tree and ask it for protection, for rain, for a plentiful harvest, for a good year; they leave coins here, light lamps and tie ribbons to the tree's branches.
During the excursion you will try national Kalmyk cuisine - Kalmyk cuisine features meat (lamb is the meat of choice, but pork is also eaten), dough and dairy products. The Kalmyks especially favour fatty, high-calorific food as their ancestors required such food as nomads travelling around the steppe.
5 DAY / SAIGA SAFARI AND PINK LAKES
Pink Salt Lakes - this salt lake is pink due to the artemia salina brine shrimp that live here and leave a pink tint as they die. However, legend explains its colour by the Kalmyk warriors who would bathe here after the battle to heal their open wounds - their blood leaving the salt pink.
6 DAY / ASTRAKHAN
Tour of Astrakhan - the highlights of this tour include:
- Astrakhan Kremlin – an outstanding monument of ancient Russian architecture which was built and added to over four centuries. The construction of the stone Kremlin was began during the reign of Ivan the Terrible and continued under Boris Godunov. The project was overseen by masters from Moscow. It was specially built so that it was protected on all sides: in the north-west, there is the Volga, in the east the River Kutum and in the south, there were originally deep bogs. The relief determined the form of the kremlin and the position of its fortifications. The highest and strongest walls and towers were built at especially strategic points.
- Dormition Cathedral - this enormous cathedral rises above the whole city and is visible from many points. It was built in 1710 and is one of the best examples of the Moscow baroque style. In structure, it follows the traditional ancient-Russian style with a straight-edged cubic form. It is topped with five gold-coated domes with crosses standing on small dome drums.
- Tetyushinov House - this house, dating from 1872, is a unique example of Russian wooden architecture. The use of traditional forms of Russian architecture and elaborate wooden carvings have created a ‘terem’ building resembling something out of a Russian fairy tale.
- Gubin House – this is one of the best examples of a house belonging to the city's merchant class, it was once owned by the successful timber merchant Aleksandr Gubin. It was built in an eclectic style (partly baroque) and its modern-style facade features sculptures and repoussage.
- Exchange Built – this excellent building was built at the beginning of the 20th century in the modern style with elements of constructivism.
- Astrakhan Embankment – this embankment runs for 3km along the Volga. It is a favourite place for strolling along for both locals and visitors. On the route there are several fountains and the most popular is the Petrovsky Fountain which is named in honour of Peter the Great and where a musical display is held each evening.
- Selenskie Isady Fish Market – this is one of the many centres for the trade-in locally caught fish. You can find here all delicacies which the area is famous for: sturgeon, sterlet, beluga, catfish, pike, roach and sablefish. Of course, you can also buy black caviar here, but remember to keep the receipt to be able to confirm at customs that you have bought it legally.
Duration: 3h | Transportation: by a private car
Transfer to the Sturgeon Farm.
Guided tour around the Sturgeon farm.
Sturgeon is considered a royal fish and are extremely valuable. Sturgeon caviar is indeed worth its weight in gold. At present practically all forms of industrial fishing of wild sturgeon, including for caviar, has been banned. Helping the population of sturgeons to recover are specialised farms which breed Russian and beluga sturgeons and produce caviar. Today the Astrakhan Region is one of the world’s leaders in farming sturgeons. Annually the farms in the region release millions of sturgeon fry, bred in captivity, into the Caspian. On this excursion, you will learn about the fish and gain an insight into the unique methods of breeding and raising them and see for yourself live sturgeons and beluga.
Duration: 3-4 h | Transportation: by private car
Night in Astrakhan.
7 DAY / VOLGA DELTA
Transfer to the Volga Delta.
Excursion around Volga Delta by boat.
Volga Delta – is the largest delta by area in Europe; it begins 45km from Astrakhan and consists of over 500 branches and streams. In the last few centuries, the delta has increased in size. It is an unbelievably beautiful place with its mix of meadows, deserts, forests, reeds, lotuses, lakes, islands and sand dunes. The wildlife found here is just as varied – pink and Dalmatian pelicans, cormorants, pheasants, swans, Caspian seals, wild boar, antelopes and saiga, plus an addition 280 species of birds.
In the waters of the delta, there are over 70 species of fish, including famous species of sturgeon – Russian, sterlet, starry (sevruga) and beluga sturgeons. Anglers from all over Russia come to Astrakhan and the Volga Delta, which for centuries has been considered the fishing capital of the country.
Duration: 8h Transportation: by private car and boat
Night in Astrakhan.
8 DAY / RETURN TO MOSCOW
Flight to Moscow.
Upon arrival a transfer to the hotel.
- This tour can be organised from April to November.
- For a few days at the end of April the steppe is cover with wild tulips and a tulip festival is held. The date changes year to year but you can check with us before booking.
- Saiga gives birth in May. The excursion in May will be replaced with a tour the lake part of the reserve to Lake Manych Gudilo where there are special hideouts for watching birds who make a stop on the lake during their migration.
- Lotuses blossom in Astrakhan from the end of July to the beginning of September.
- In June it is gnat season in the Astrakhan Region so you may wish to avoid this period.
- Optional excursions should be booked before the start of the tour to schedule the itinerary.
- The tour is available in English - other languages upon request.
• CANCELLATION POLICY •
DATE OF CANCELLATION
|FROM 60 TO 45 DAYS BEFORE THE DEPARTURE||10%|
|FROM 44 TO 15 DAYS BEFORE THE DEPARTURE||30%|
|FROM 14 TO 7 DAYS BEFORE THE DEPARTURE||50%|
|LESS THAN 7 DAYS BEFORE THE DEPARTURE||100%|