advertisement

 The specific promotions described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.

 


A truly authentic Russian vacation should be taken in the winter -- after all, the cold and snow is the normal image that springs to mind when you think of Russia, not to mention the opportunity to sip chilled vodka by an open fire, sweat it out in a traditional Russian Banya (sauna) or take a sled ride in a traditional Troika with a fur rug to keep you warm. Despite the chilly temperatures, there definitely a certain romance to everything being covered in white and you can relive a Dr. Zhivago moment or daydream that you are a character in a great 19th century Russian novel. Ultimately, travel to Russia in winter is cheaper, both in terms of airfare and accommodation options -- so if sub-zero temperatures invigorate you, rug up for an adventure.

Eastern Tours Consolidated (tel. 800/339-6967; www.traveltorussia.com) features a selection of short Russian vacation packages and discounted airfares. Its "Land of the Tzars" tour includes round-trip airfare from New York to Helsinki (Thursday evening departures), flights to St Petersburg from Helsinki and from Moscow to Helsinki, airport transfers, five nights' hotel accommodations (at the three-star Hotel Okhtinskays or Neptun in St. Petersburg and the three-star Hotel Alpha in Moscow), overnight train ride to Moscow, a brief sightseeing tour of Helsinki and extensive tours in St Petersburg and Moscow. Travel between November 1 and December 30, 2006 and pay only $999 per person as compared to the $1,499 price for the same tour between September 15 and October 31, 2006. Departures from other U.S. cities are available at additional cost. Taxes and visa charges are additional. As with a majority of Russian tours, these costs can be considerable. In this case $395 in departure taxes, visa fees of $145 and other per segment fees and taxes. The website currently lists round-trip airfares valid for travel from September 15, 2005, including New York to Moscow from $510 plus taxes or New York to St Petersburg from $530 plus taxes. Other services offered by the company include private guides in major Russian cities or professional translators from $25 per hour and private cars with chauffeurs from $15 per hour.

Russia on the Go (tel. 877/541-0882; www.russiaonthego.com) has tours with catchy names like "Russian Revolution," "Back in the USSR," "Vodka on Ice" and "Vodka Shot". The nine-day "Vodka on Ice" tour starts in St Petersburg and ends in Moscow. It features group airport transfers, seven nights' accommodations in three-star hotels (three in St Petersburg, two in Pskov and two in Moscow), one-night on a sleeper train, eight breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, sightseeing, a professional English-speaking tour guide and activities like a traditional Russian Banya (sauna) and ice-skating on an outdoor lake or cross country skiing. Enjoy a guided visit to the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Petrogradskaya Side, St Isaac's Cathedral, Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, a guided tour and lunch at the Vodka Museum (tastings included), Pechory Monastery, the ruins of the fortress at ancient Izborsk, Red Square and the Kremlin. The tour is priced at $779 per person based on double occupancy with a $125 single supplement. Winter trip departures are on December 2, 2006, January 20 and February 17, 2007. Pre and post tour accommodations are available from $69 per night.

The 13-day "Back in the USSR" tour is priced at $1,269 per person with a $369 single supplement. The itinerary is the same as "Vodka on Ice" for the first eight-days, but then the tour heads back to St Petersburg before spending two nights across the border in Tallinn, Estonia. Departure dates are therefore the same as the previous tour. Included are 11 breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner, 11 nights' accommodations in three-star hotels plus one-night on a bus to Tallinn. The aptly named "Christmas, Caviar and Kopeks" tour begins in St Petersburg on December 20, 2006. The nine-day tour includes airport transfers, seven nights' accommodations in three-star hotels and one on an overnight train, eight breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner. Visit historic Vladimir and Moscow with sightseeing throughout led by an English-speaking guide. This trip is priced at $839 per person with a $215 single supplement. They also offer other Christmas and New Year packages.

For an equine adventure the Czars would have been proud of, Riding Holidays (tel. 888/299-5102; www.ridingholidays.com) offers a nine-day (eight-night) "Russian Winter Ride/Troika and/or Horseback" trip that includes six riding days traveling almost 100 miles in a region north of Moscow. Journey through the land of Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy by horse or ride a three horse led carriage-sled (Troika) or a combination of both. Riders need to be aware that the accommodations are quite rudimentary, staying in peasant cottages, enjoying basic facilities but always with some heating and indoor bathroom facilities of sorts. Weather in the winter in this region is cold and dry with temperatures varying from 14° to 22°F. The tour's theme is to immerse participants in an authentic Russian historical experience. Visual highlights include Kirillo Belozerski and St. Ferapont Monastery, a tour of Moscow, tour of St Petersburg and of course riding through old Russia on horses perfectly adapted for the region. Airport transfers in Moscow (arrival) and St. Petersburg (departure) are included, as is an overnight sleeper train to St Petersburg. Departure dates for the rough and rugged journey are February 3, 10 and 17, 2007 and the trip is priced at $2,035 per person.

I felt the need to include this next trip option, although I imagine it may only appeal to a handful of game Frommer's readers. For extreme tourism at its best, the "Russia Maritime Ice Diving" tour available through Interactive Russia (tel. 866/680-1373; www.winter.in-russia.com) is just the thing for adrenaline junkies with full dry suit diving certification. The dive site is located three miles from the Arctic Circle, on the shores of the White Sea, named for the ice covering it for a full six-months of a year. This unique frigid location offers the severe weather of the Russian north, thick ice, rich sea life, and fantastic underwater visibility with unparalleled opportunities for ice diving. All dives are made in accordance with PADI standards under the guidance of qualified PADI instructors. Divers are delivered to the sites by snowmobiles and an ice camp with different mobile lodges including a heated toilet is set up at each site. An experienced medical attendant is always present during diving and you'll be pleased to know that the water temperature is a mild 30° to 28°F. Included in the price, starting from $1,795 per person is airport transfers, a round-trip train ticket from Moscow to Chupa, five nights' accommodations in the dive center, five-days of diving, full board (all meals, snacks and beverages - vodka and beer - daily), and importantly, insurance. Accommodation is in traditional Russian wooden houses with heating, music, karaoke, television, English-language films and a Russian banya/sauna. International airfare, domestic airfare if required, and personal diving equipment (which can be rented in Moscow) are additional.

If you happen to be in Russia over the Christmas period, you shouldn't miss the Russian Winter Festival (www.moscow-city.ru) held in Izmailovo Park in central Moscow from December 25, 2006 to January 5, 2007. The festival is free and offers visitors a chance to get acquainted with traditions of the New Year festivities in Russia, to hear live Russian folk music and see performances. Guests can participate in folk games, dance around the New Year tree, take sleigh rides through the winter forest, try Russian pancakes with caviar and indulge in many other Russian delicacies.

Round-trip airfares to Moscow during late fall and through the winter range in price from approximately $470 to $650 from the U.S. east coast. The cheapest airfare I found for November, December, 2006 or January, 2007 departures from New York was through airfare consolidator website Airfare.com (tel. 800/247-3273; www.airfare.com) with an available price of $469 plus taxes flying with Aeroflot. Flights to St Petersburg are slightly less expensive starting at $425 round-trip from New York during November and December, 2006 flying with Lufthansa via Frankfurt. 1800 Fly Europe (tel. 800/289-2725; www.1800flyeurope.com) currently has airfares starting from $512 for flights departing New York for Moscow from October 1 until December 24, 2006.