15km (9 1/3 miles) SE of Moscow
This tranquil "writers' colony" contrasts with the religious ornamentation of the Golden Ring towns and the romantic pomp of the aristocratic estates in and around Moscow. Peredelkino appeals to a different state of mind. It is the place to go for a glimpse at more human-sized architecture in a picturesque wood, and for a lesson in 20th-century Russian literature and a reminder of what it meant to be a dissident in a totalitarian state. Before the Revolution, the village was part of the Kolychev family estate, but it was taken over by the Soviet government in the 1930s to house members of the influential Writers' Union. Its residents -- including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak -- often fell victim to shifts in Communist Party policy and ideology. The village still feels artsy despite its official beginnings and its carefully planned layout (and the bankers who have since moved into several of the homes). In Soviet times, officially sanctioned writers got the best dachas, but censors were such fickle beasts that the fear of arrest or exile hung over many who wrote here. Peredelkino has lost some of its intellectual verve but is still a sacred spot for many Russian and visiting foreign writers.
Some tour packages offer trips here, but they're not all that common. Patriarshy Dom Tours arranges a worthwhile trip (tel. 495/795-0927; www.russiatravel-pdtours.netfirms.com). Many Moscow hotels can arrange an individual car with driver and/or English-speaking guide. A guide is highly recommended, since unless you've done extensive background reading, you'll miss much of the village's history. The cost of an individual tour will vary depending on how upscale your hotel is. You'll find it worthwhile to shop around at other hotels to see if they can arrange something cheaper. Expect to spend at least 1,200 rubles per car for the day plus 250 rubles per hour for a guide. The trip should take about an hour one-way from central Moscow if you avoid rush hours (8-10am and 5-8pm).
Otherwise, the trip is a fairly easy 30 minutes on the elektrichka, or commuter train, from Kievsky Station in Moscow. After you exit, you either must walk 15 to 20 minutes along a wooded path by the train tracks until you reach the dachas of Peredelkino, or take bus no. 47 and go three stops to the end of Ulitsa Pavlenko. This street is the best place to begin.
What To See & Do
The best place to start is at the Pasternak House Museum (Ulitsa Pavlenko; tel. 495/934-5175), a tribute to Boris Pasternak's life and work and the saga surrounding Doctor Zhivago. Museum employees (there are only a few) are a good source of tips on what else to see in town. Pasternak's life reflected those of many Russian writers struggling to publish and stay in their homeland without offending the Soviet censors. The fate of his novel Doctor Zhivago was almost as tumultuous as the story itself. Pasternak wrote the novel (which is about the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war) during Stalin's rule but kept it under wraps. Encouraged by signs of thaw under Nikita Khrushchev, Pasternak brought the novel out into the open -- only to be expelled from the Writers' Union and to see the book banned by Soviet authorities. The book was eventually published abroad and earned a Nobel Prize, but Pasternak was forced by Soviet leaders to turn down the honor. The writer died of lung cancer in this house in 1960. The book wasn't published in Russia until a generation later, in 1986. The modest dacha includes some paintings by Pasternak's father and fragments from the writer's other works. Pasternak is best known to most Russians as a prolific poet, and many of his poems are on display here, though in Russian only, as are his translations of Shakespeare (translations were a safer path for writers of Stalin's era than original works). Note also the painting of Leo Tolstoy, a longtime Pasternak family friend. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm (closed the last day of the month); admission is 250 rubles.
The Church of the Transfiguration and the cemetery behind it are also worth visiting, if only to see Pasternak's grave. Once a sacred site of pilgrimage for members of Moscow's intelligentsia and dissident community, it is still often heaped with fresh flowers. The church itself, located near the train station, originally dated from the 15th century, and was closed for much of the Soviet era. Today it's worth a visit to see how much more modest and intimate rural Russian churches are when compared with the magnificent cathedrals of Moscow and the Golden Ring.
The best way to appreciate Peredelkino is to wander the streets of wooden homes and imagine the intellectual activity and often surreptitious creativity the village engendered. If you're lucky, one of the residents tending a garden may point out a particular writer's house or unusual sight. Solzhenitsyn, who won a Nobel Prize for his brutal account of Soviet labor camps in the Gulag Archipelago, stayed in Peredelkino before his exile in 1974, diligently continuing to chronicle Soviet abuses in tiny, easy-to-hide notebooks. In a sign of changing times, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, has a dacha here.
Where To Stay & Dine
There's only one official place in town to eat or sleep, unless you have friends in Peredelkino. Villa Peredelkino (2a Pervaya Chobotovskaya Alleya; tel. 495/435-1478; call for current rates), near the train station, was the official resort of the Young Communists' League (Komsomol) in its younger days. It has since been taken over by an Italian family, who renovated the pleasant rooms, added a sauna, and rent cross-country skis in winter. The English-speaking staff is usually quite helpful. The restaurant offers good Italian cooking, including melon with prosciutto and excellent veal, but at prices closer to Moscow standards than rural ones.
Another pleasant option is to rent a room or house for the weekend from one of the residents, who often post ads on the website www.expat.ru. These accommodations are reasonably priced and can offer such bonuses as a steam in a wooden bathhouse, a home-cooked meal, or the inside scoop on Peredelkino history from a longtime resident.
For day visitors, try lunch in the Writers' House, at Children of the Sun (Deti Solntsa; 4 Pogodina Ulitsa; tel. 495/731-2216; www.detisolntsa.ru), with a lovely summer veranda overlooking the pine forest. Prices are high, with a full meal at least 1,500 rubles, and service slow, but the surroundings are exceptional. And anyone hankering for 24-hour sushi can try nearby Tanuki (31 Borovskoye Shosse; tel. 495/733-0100; www.tanuki.ru).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.