Nestling by the milky waters of the Black Sea, Sochi is known for combining a tropical climate with quick access to snow-clad mountains and a winter sports mecca. The resort city was the centre of world attention during the 2014 Winter Olympics, but has much more to offer than just a sporting legacy. Stroll along the waterfront, revel in the remains of Soviet resort life or just grab a skateboard and go for a ride.
Be wowed by the views from a futuristic tower
No trip to Sochi is complete without seeing the city from above. The Batareika tower is a good alternative to the more well known Dendrarium or Ahun viewpoints and is probably the easiest to access — the futuristic construction is right in the city centre. If you ignore the gaudy bronze decorations on the facade you can enjoy the breathtaking view. Peep into the city's courtyards or come in the late afternoon to see the hills bathed in the light of the setting sun.
Address: 18a Alpiiskaya Street
Get authentic photographs straight from the darkroom
Posing with parrots or monkeys on your shoulders: essential vacation photos from the 1990s are still all the rage for tourists in Sochi. But local photographer Lilit Matevosyan decided to challenge the kitschy tradition with Shipr Photo studio, her own mobile studio doing vintage photography. You can be photographed using a 1950s wooden camera and allowed to enter the sacred darkroom to see how the prints are shaping up. You may also be served traditional Middle Eastern coffee cooked on hot sands. Go for a proper photo shoot with a vintage camera or try a retro photo-booth, one of only three authentic US mechanical photo-booths left in Russia. Matevosyan is so friendly that if you’re lucky, she will take you on a tour of Sochi’s secret spots when you're done with the photographing.
Leave your mark with some legal graffiti
You don’t have to toss coins into the city's fountains to mark your stay in Sochi — how about leaving a graffiti tag instead? A 120 metre-long wall on Nasypnaya Street in Adler (half an hour’s drive down the coast) has recently been allocated to local creatives Valgalo Hof, with another wall in Mamaica (to the north of Sochi city centre). Legalisation arguably goes against the spirit of the street art movement, but these walls are also a way to protest against the authorities' approach to public space. Pick the wall that is closest to you, check out what’s already written and get creative. The project is led by Valgalo Company, a group of artists who also aim to bring contemporary art and music to the city. Follow their Facebook page to be kept in the loop about upcoming events.
Address: Nasypnaya Street (Valgalo Company)
Kick back in a Soviet spa
The coast around Sochi is famous for its sanatoriums. The water of the Matsesta is believed to cure many diseases — whether by inhalation, showering or bathing — and are thought to be the inspiration for Josef Stalin to turn Sochi into a spa town. Traces of former Soviet glory are everywhere to be seen in Sochi: dilapidated examples of exquisite Stalinist architecture may be overgrown with ivy, but they still inspire awe. For large-scale examples of Soviet megalomania you need to go to one of the sanatoriums by the coast. You can get into the Metallurg Sanatorium if you give the guard your passport and tell him you've agreed with management to come and look at a room. The building is a complex ensemble of staircases, columns, arches and sculptures, set among palm trees. You'd hardly take it to be a place of healing — more like the set of a Soviet version of Last Year at Marienbad. Accommodation is surprisingly cheap and not only do you get a sea view but the chance to wander over in the mornings for a water treatment, clad in just your dressing gown.
Address: 92 Kurortny Prospekt
Ride carefree by the sea
Tired of strolling around? Try skateboarding. Cool ramps and parks are to be found in several different spots in Sochi and further along the coast. Head to the Olympic Park if you want to taste the real international competitive spirit — some of the world's best skaters compete here every year. Or simply go to Tsvetnoi Bulvar to ride among the palm trees.