Imagine a place in the Russian hinterland which stays unchanged since the Soviet times, a place which has amazing nature for your perfect one-day getaway in Siberia. Let me introduce you to Port Baikal, a hidden gem just across the corner of the traditional Baikal destinations. Port Baikal, situated five kilometres from Listvyanka, is a town on Lake Baikal known to all tourists who travel to this Siberian region. There are not so many signs pointing the exact way to find this place, but you can see it from Listvyanka’s shore. Completely ignored by tourist guides, this place seems dormant, but it is worth a visit, being a perfect hidden gem of Lake Baikal and unchanged by time.
Port Baikal was first mentioned in the 19th century when the Circum-Baikal Railway Road was under construction. Pioneers and people who were sent to Siberia in exile helped to build the railroad. Some of them put down roots in this place on the lake, where winters brought winds and summers came with dry, sunny days. Back then, Port Baikal had rather turbulent life: twenty pairs of trains passed by this station, some stopped, others just swooshed away, leaving the station in clouds of steam. With more than 2000 people who inhabited this settlement, Port Baikal, for sure, was not just a spot on the map. It was a strategic point in the Siberian railway road.
Nowadays, Port Baikal lost its glory. It did not, however, lose its attractions, especially for those nature lovers who appreciate calm and peaceful places that drive them away from more crowded destinations. And also, the Siberian intelligentsia fell in love with this place and started building dachas (summer cottages where Russian people like spending their vacations). Now, it is a quiet and somewhat sleepy place which doesn't have many shops and not even one cafe, so bring something to have a bite during your one-day tour. Locals live from one ferry-ride to another. A ramshackle iron boat takes rare tourists and the intelligentsia going to their summer vacation, as well as cars with food, five times a day during the high season.
If you happen to take the ferry which travels only ten minutes from popular Listvyanka on Lake Baikal, make sure to visit the Baikal museum first, situated right on the threshold of the ferry station. The architecture of the museum is typically USSR-styled. Inside, you'll find very cute small-sized prototypes of the railroad and miniature trains. The museum premises have some dinner tables and a small grocery shop too, so one can buy something to eat there.
The most breath-taking view awaits you on top of the nearest hill. If you are not an experienced climber, try it anyway. It is steep, but the climb only takes fifteen minutes, and you'll have one of the greatest views of Lake Baikal. Stand on top of the highest rock there and see the bluest of waters and the clearest of skies and the surrounding mountains. You'll have the weirdest sensation of being somewhere in Europe. There is a really old lighthouse here, built 105 years ago, so pay a visit to it. After the contemplation of the lake from above, head to the forest and enjoy the unique flora of Baikal. The forest walk will soon take you to a small but very neat Orthodox church with a perfect yard for tired tourists. That is your place for a quick lunch break, where you can share your meals with the local cat.
After your lunch, enjoy the beach which is hidden just below. The water is pure, and the surroundings are calm, so you will probably meet very few people there. Even if this beach has no touristic facilities, it is worth exploring since the water of Lake Baikal is cool even during the hottest summer days. Hence, I can guarantee you that Port Baikal really gives you a day away from civilisation, perfect fresh nature and a glimpse into a hidden gem unchanged by time.
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