Sochi stretches some 90 miles (145 kilometers) along the Black Sea, bordering Abkhazia and Georgia, in what is known as the Krasnodar Krai Region of Russia. There are several ways to fly to Sochi but generally you either fly via Moscow (Sochi is approximately a 2 hour flight south) or via Istanbul (approximately 2 hours north). Depending on the time of year, fog can be a problem and so are the lack of de-icing machines should they be needed (more in following posts).
If you’ve never heard of Abkhazia, you aren’t alone. Few nations, if any, recognize Abkhazia as a country and visas are required for non-Russians. This makes getting a visa a bit tricky. But if you want to visit the beautiful beaches, old resorts, fruit farms and the home of the FSB (formerly KGB) then local agents can furnish you with one. My theory on the heavy police presence: one never knows when the Georgians may want their beach back.
Abkhazia will also reportedly be the new home to 30,000 agents of the Olympic security force. Look for them in cars with subtly marked license plates: 046 FSB.
As for the region’s history, it’s rich and fascinating. Its reputation as a resort town dates back to 1909, when the first sanitarium (health resort or spa) was built, taking advantage of the ideal climate and sea air.
However, it was not until Stalin came to power and shepherded the development of the first Rheumatology Centre that Sochi became a fashionable beach resort. During Stalin’s reign, Sochi was the place of his favorite Dacha, giving the region cachet – and a neo classical style of buildings, exemplified by the opulent Rodina Sanitarium.
Rodina Sanitarium – now a 6 star boutique hotel
As the Soviet Union crumbled, so did many of Sochi’s architectural gems. However, when Putin came to power, the rebuild began. Old buildings have been left to decay, while new, modern structures dot the landscape. It’s like the city is getting a facelift, but they’ve forgotten to attend to the wrinkled neck.
It’s a shame that the once beautiful neo-classical sanitariums and resorts have been left to rot. Little or no investment has gone into the existing infrastructure. Whether this is a political calculation to distance the region from the past, a question of taste, or whether it’s simply a matter of practicality (a lack of skilled tradespeople to restore the buildings, perhaps?) is hard to say.
Bottom line is, the region is undergoing radical change – and growing pains are inevitable. A topic I’ll explore in my next post (on Friday).