Travel to Russia in winter time. Amazing Karelia (Karjala)

There are a lot of stereotypes that some places it is worth to visit only in definite period of time. As for me, beautiful place is always beautiful, and amazing Russian Karelia only proves my opinion! In winter time, Karelia, like a bride, appears in a white dress, it becomes different, but still very beautiful!

About Karelia in winter time


Of course, basically Karelia is well known as the land of rivers, lakes and endless forests with a plenty of fish, mushrooms, berries and animals for hunting. And although in winter you can find mushrooms in pickled form and berries as a yummy jam, hunting and fishing remain to be the same, getting their special winter flavor.

But if you are not a fisherman or hunter, then you won’t be bored here anyway because winter brings such activities as snowmobiling, dog sledding trips, skiing and so one. And no one real Russian would refuse to go to banya (Russian sauna), prepared on firewood with diving into the snow or ice hole! Winter forest in Karelia is an individual story! The trees are looking like they covered with sparkly silver and it makes an impression that you are somewhere in a real winter Wonderland! That’s why we decided to celebrate New Year in the North – Karelia and in Murmansk region and I’d like to share with you my impressions about these wonderful places! After our trip, we made an inspiring video, which showed how awesome yu can spend your vacation in Russian North! You can watch it here: Winter holidays in Russia: Karelia and Murmansk region!

Sandarmokh and Belomorkanal


We’ve been in Karelia in January 2016, and, unfortunately, could spend there for only couple of days, because the most part of our vacation we’ve spent in Murmansk region, and on the way back we decided to travel to Karelia as well! By the way, the Northern part of our trip you can find in the post – Travel in Russia in winter. Murmansk region – severe and beautiful Russian North.

If you go to Karelia from the North, as we did, the first more or less big city that you will meet is Medvezhyegorsk (in fact in Russian it sounds like bears live there 🙂 but we didn’t see any of them). From this place people usually go further to Petrozavodsk, however, we decided to drive around Onega Lake from the right side and to visit 2 very significant historical sites – infamous Sandarmokh and Stalin’s Belomorkanal in small city Povenets.


Sandarmokh is a specific cemetery in the forest, one of the local guys told us about it, but did not go deep in details to explain what exactly was there… He said that this place is worth to visit and it’s a well-known historical place. For us it was enough to change a little our route and to visit this place. Besides, is was not too far from our planned route. That is why we didn’t realize how deep and important this place was… However, when we arrived and read the sign, we immediately felt the whole power of this place and sorrow… my wife started to cry… During Stalin’s repressions Sandarmokh was a place where different prisoners such as counter-revolutionaries, dissidents, intellectuals and prominent cultural figures, religious and other unwanted people were killed…


The Scale of these actions is terrible! More than 7,000 people found their eternal peace here in the period from 1934 to 1941. I couldn’t believe in the cruelty and fanaticism of those people who did it. One of the directives of the Commissioner of national security N. Yezhov was to shoot 1,200 prisoners of  Solovki forced labor camp, but the staff working day and night, managed to arrange the judgements “only” for 1116 prisoners. One of them died awaiting execution, and four other already had been sent to other labor camps. For 9 days from October 27’th till November 4’th of 1937, 1111 prisoners of the Solovki prison were shot here. Just imagine this number – 1111 innocent persons…


When you realize the scale of the tragedy that took place in Sandarmokh, you feel pain and sorrow in the heart… After a while it was impossible to understand where every man was killed and “buried”, so their families started to put pictures right on the trees. Looking at the photos and names of all these people, you realize that Sandarmokh is a monument of international tragedy. Russian, Ukrainians, Finns, Jews and many others are buried here together.


There is a chapel on this territory where you can go to pray for these people. Also there is a book inside with a list of all people, who died in Sandarmokh…


Belomorkanal is located near with Sandarmokh – this canal is an ambitious project of Stalin.


The length of Belomorkanal is 227 km and it connects the White Sea and Onega Lake, and it makes possible to get from Moscow to St. Petersburg by water. This is the first construction which was built by prisoners from beginning till the end, mostly from Solovki labor camp and Belbaltlag. Statistics at that time says that during it’s building, around 13000 people died here because of overworks, hunger and cold… so this canal is really built on the bones of its builders. It is terrible to realize that only 80 years ago the life of unwanted person in our country didn’t cost anything. Today there is an Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Povenets, near with Belomorkanal, where anyone can go to pray for themselves and for the victims of repression.


It is difficult to visit such places and sometimes we don’t want to do it, because next several hours you are immersed in your own thoughts. But if to think only about positive things, you can lose the sense of reality. Unfortunately, this is our history, and these events took place here with our compatriots. And thanks God, that it finished. That is why we must know about such events and places. After Belomorkanal, we moved to Petrozavodsk to stay there for a night. I want to tell a little about people of Karelia, and then I will continue the story of our journey.

People of  Karelia

Karels are indigenous people of Karelia, and they live in this area for many centuries. Ethnically, they are very close to Finns and have really similar language with them but, unfortunately, this language is almost lost now. When you travel in Karelia and read the names of the cities and villages, it seems that you are somewhere but not in Russia, for example in Finland, because the names are not typical for the Russian language – Ruttu, Lahdenpohja, Pitkyaranta, Sortavala, Suoyarvi and others. And it is not strange, because Karelia was always a part of Finland, Finland was a part of Karelia and Russia with Sweden always used to fight to own this land. This land is created for adventures, and this influences for all people, who live here! You can feel nature better here. There is not everywhere a good internet connection in Karelia, and not many people have new expensive gadgets, but they prefer to spend time in another way. I had a feeling, that every second man here is a fan of fishing or hunting, somebody enjoys collecting mushrooms and berries, many of them love to sail in Ladoga and Onega Lakes, underwater hunting, rafting in the rivers or driving by quad bikes, snowmobiles and 4×4 off-road cars in the forest.

A visit to Siberian Husky

Early in the morning we woke up in Petrozavodsk and after breakfast continued our way. There is Husky Park not far from the city in village which is called Chalna, where you can chat with the most friendly dogs in the world and to ride in a dog sled as well. And, what is funny, the real Karelian Santa – Talvi Ukko lives here!


What a New Year holidays without Santa Claus? 🙂 As for me, Talvi Ukko was too weak for the role of Santa Claus and looked more like the actor or student, hired just for the winter holidays 🙂


To be honest, our official Ded Moroz (Russian Santa Claus) who lives year-round in his own residence in Velikiy Ustug has much more natural look and behavior and it is really worth to visit him! So I advise you to visit him in Velikiy Ustug one day – you will get a lot of unforgettable emotions and Christmas mood 🙂

After having fun with Huskies, Malamutes and other dogs and taking photo with Talvi Ukko, we went further. We decided to skip dog sledding this time, because in the New Year’s holidays, there are too many people and they just “make money” – a three-minute circle of 700 meters with extremely high pricing. This is not our method, so we decided to postpone this activity for another time 🙂



After Chalna our way was to Sortavala, that is located on the shore of Ladoga Lake. Personally for us the city itself seems absolutely typical without super interesting places, but our target was marble quarry Ruskeala – the real treasure of Karelia!

Ruskeala – beautiful pearl in Karelian necklace


Actually, the idea to visit Karelia on the way back home came to me when I saw photos of Ruskeala somewhere in social networks. Before this trip I knew that Karelia is a very beautiful area and that it’s a land of rivers and lakes, but I had just a common submission on this point. But Ruskeala was a place I really wanted to see. Of course, Karelia is full of other interesting places, natural beauties, villages and monasteries that we visited in our summer trip, but for this time, Ruskeala became a target. This marble quarry has its own history, it was opened in 1765 and its mining was started immediately. Local marble was used to build Kazan and St. Isaac’s Cathedrals, the Marble Palace and Mikhailovsky castle in St. Petersburg, to decorate some rooms in Hermitage museum and some metro stations of St. Petersburg. So, Ruskeala has contributed its small part in majesty of the Northern Capital of Russia.


In 1990, the quarry was closed for 8 years, the mine was filled with rainwater and meltwater. But after that the quarry was taken under state protection as a cultural heritage site. Later it was decided to improve the area and to build Ruskeala Mountain Park – a place of indescribable beauty at any time of the year! In the evening they switch on colorful lights and Ruskeala appears in a new form 🙂


Nowadays it is a natural entertainment park! You can walk around, ride with zipline along the quarry at the height of 20 meters, or to try ropejumping – this is awesome feeling with a lot of adrenaline! And one more thing, in winter, when the lake is covered with solid ice, you can skate right of the lake or ride a dog sledding as well, in summer – to swim in the boat and to have fun in rope park.


On the way back you can also make a stop at Ruskeala waterfalls that are on the way from Sortavala to Ruskeala. Ruskeala – is an amazing place to spend the weekend actively and and get positive emotions 🙂


For us the trip to the North became some kind of escape from the rush of big city and a way to move in a real cold winter with tons of snow and real winter entertainments!

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Dmitry Doronin

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