Escape the city: journey out of Kaliningrad to the coast for amber mines and remote beaches

Beyond the game
Escape the city: journey out of Kaliningrad to the coast for amber mines and remote beaches
Yantarny

The Kaliningrad region that encircles its eponymous capital is a sliver of land by the Baltic Sea. But its small size belies a fascinating history as a strategic naval port and a beautiful coast of long spits where amber, a symbol of the area, can be found lying on the beach

7 June 2018
Text: Mike Spassky

In Kaliningrad for a bit longer than just the football and want to see more of the most western region in Russia? The coastal area around Kaliningrad has plenty of opportunities for day trips and perhaps a spot of sunbathing. Our top tips for days out from the capital will take you to endless beaches on nearby spits, a historic border village and the old heart of the region’s amber mining industry.

Vistula Spit

While in Baltiysk, a town overlooking the Vistula Spit, Russian writer Joseph Brodsky wrote In the Hanseatic Hotel ‘Anchor’. It’s even possible that he penned it while looking at the Vistula Spit, the younger cousin of the nearby Curonian Spit, which is famous for its national park of the same name. The future Nobel laureate was right to be inspired as the Vistula Spit (half of which is in Poland) is a fascinating destination: old German forts, an abandoned seaplane base, wild beaches and waters dangerous for swimming because of the unpredictable currents. It is also the most westerly point in Russia, and in summer hosts an illegal DIY festival: ask your Kaliningrad contacts for details. But be warned that the spit is part of a special border zone and foreigners need a permit from the local security services to enter (these can be arranged by local tour companies and take 2 weeks to process) and must be accompanied by an accredited guide.

To get there take a ferry or motorboat from Baltiysk. Services run several times per day (the spit’s only connection to the outside world)

Sovetsk

The most famous fact about Sovetsk is that it was the place where Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon signed the first Treaty of Tilsit in 1807. The least famous is that it was the birthplace of Edgar Froese, founder of krautrock and electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream. In the 1990s, the town formerly known as Tilsit was one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden places in the whole region, with rampant cross-border smuggling and competition over the distribution networks for contraband. The amount of smuggling has since died down, but something of the 1990s still hangs in the air and Sovetsk’s cosy urban charisma is reflected in the façades of its old buildings. Castle ruins and historical monuments are a testament to the fact that the city has been relatively well preserved since 1945.

Get there by car or bus from Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad port

Kaliningrad’s port is best visited in the summer and the shipping season runs from April to October. During these months, the port opens up to water tours, the river fills up with yachts, and cargo ships dock. The port itself is of less regional significance now that the old whaling fleet has ceased its operations. One option is to take a bike and cycle the length of the publicly accessible section of the port’s embankment. Or you can sit and watch the ships, flask of coffee in hand. Take the left bank if you prefer bleak industrial landscapes or the right bank for historical buildings and its proximity to the city centre.

Take a bus or head there on foot from the city centre

Yantarny

If you only learn one Russian word while in Kaliningrad, it should be “yantar” — amber — the precious resin that you can buy in every shop or stall in the city. The town of Yantarny by the coast is where 95 percent of world’s amber is extracted. This former fishing village was founded by Germans in 1654 and the neat, bright tile façades of typically Teutonic houses still dominate the town. Compared to nearby Svetlogorsk, a popular touristy waterfront, Yantarny is more authentic and calm, offering the largest local beach and an otherworldly amber canyon by the sea. You can also visit the amber plant itself at 1 Baelebin Street.

Get there by car or bus from Kaliningrad