One of the world’s natural wonders is situated in the very south of Ukraine: Crimea, where there is a subtropical climate, mountains, salt lakes, caves, natural springs, breath-taking views and stunning palaces. While its mountains are covered with snow in winter, the Crimean Peninsula’s subtropical south coast flourishes with exotic plants. There, the mellow soil gives birth to sweet vineyards and brings pleasure to all connoisseurs of fine wine. The Greek ruins of Chersonese Taurica on the outskirts of Sevastopol attract those who are fond of ancient history, and the romantic Swallow’s Nest Castle, near Yalta, inspires those who are in love.
The history of the peninsula is extremely rich and dramatic. Thanks to its unique strategic location and natural beauty, the Crimea has always attracted adventurers and conquerors. Herodotus (484-425 BC), the ‘father of history’, famously travelled to these shores. Near Kerch (then Pantikapaion), Mithridates VI of Pontus battled against the Roman Empire during the first century BC. Some 400 years later, Christianity spread throughout the Crimea. Under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565 AD), numerous fortresses were built. The year 988 was marked by a crucial event in Ukrainian history: Prince Volodymyr of Kiev captured Chersonese (now Sevastopol) and signed an agreement with Byzantium which introduced Christianity throughout Kyivan Rus.
In the thirteenth century, the Venetians and Genoese colonised the Crimean coast, the latter building a majestic fortress at Sudak which to this day towers over the sea rocks. In 1443, Hacı Devlet Giray founded the Crimean Khanate, an independent state with its capital at Bakhchisaray (where the sixteenth-century Khan’s palace is currently being considered for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list). During the late eighteenth century, on the waters of the Black Sea, the Ukrainian Cossack commander Sydir Bilyi fought alongside John Paul Jones, the United States’ first great naval commander, against the fleet of the Ottoman Empire. It is well known that the conference between the ‘Big Three’ leaders – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin – took place in the city of Yalta in 1945. This event defined the shape of the post-war world.
The Crimean coastline has numerous coves and bays which have sheltered lost adventurers in the past, and some have even become strategic navy bases. Many chapters of world military history have taken place here, with Britain’s being no exception. Naturally, the battles of Alma and Balaklava and Florence Nightingale stir every English heart; but let us not forget Dr Clarke and Dr Lyall, who were among the first European scientists to sing the praises of Crimea and make it known to their countrymen. An English engineer, William Upton, constructed the admiralty docks and aqueducts in Sevastopol, and the architect Edward Blore designed the palace in Alupka, giving its northern facade a distinctly Tudor look.
But Crimea offers British travellers more than just tours based on culture and history; modern day pursuits of bird watching, mountain biking, scuba diving, hiking and climbing can all be enjoyed there throughout almost the entire year. Furthermore, Crimea’s climate and endowment of health-giving resources – 517 kilometres of beaches; 14 deposits of therapeutic mud with total reserves of around 25 million cubic metres; 100 separate springs producing water of a unique mineral composition – have meant it has evolved as a climatic health resort over the past 200 years. During this time, natural resources have been supplemented with clinical therapeutic techniques and sanatorium facilities. As a result, the modern-day Crimean resort is no longer just about recreation and tourism but also embraces a holistic approach to health. With over 600 health centers, resorts and other health-improvement institutions, along with more than 2,000 hotels and smaller boarding houses, there are plenty of holidays to choose from in Crimea.