Post-Soviet summer: beat the heat at these former Eastern bloc beach resorts

8 July 2019

Summer must finally be here — we’ve even had a mini-heatwave in the UK. With thoughts in the office turning to sea and sand here are some of our favourite places to enjoy the warm weather. Most of them are Soviet-era summer resorts that are still thriving today and worth celebrating for their unique mix of beach fronts and brutalist buildings. From the Black Sea coast to Hungarian lakes and Russian salt flats, here’s how to holiday in the New East.

The Green Diameter, Belarus

The inhabitants of Minsk find respite from the heat of the tower blocks by kicking back in the Green Diameter — a Soviet-era system of artificial lakes and parks that crosses the city from north-west to south-east. And in a landlocked country like Belarus, it’s very welcome.

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Lake Baskunchak, Russia

Lake Baskunchak, located near the Kazakh border in southern Russia, is no beach holiday — no ordinary one anyway. Requiring long walks across hot sand to reach the water, and with no shade on offer, you may well wonder why it draws visitors from all over Russia. The answer lies in the high salt content of the water and mud, which is believed to have healing properties.

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Lake Balaton, Hungary

Once one of the Eastern Bloc’s most desirable holiday spots — Castro, Brezhnev and Honecker all had villas there — Hungary’s vast Lake Balaton is still popular with tourists today. Polish photographer Michael Solarski went back there, retracing the summers of his childhood to find out how much he could remember, and how much it had changed.

Hydropark, Ukraine

Two islands on the Dnieper river in Kiev play host to the Hydropark, a one-stop recreation destination boasting beaches, watersports, clubs and a 10,000 m2 open-air gym: the Soviet Union’s answer to Venice Beach. Private enterprise has changed much since then, but a glimmer of the socialist dream lives on: the park is free to enter and staffed by young volunteers.

Sochi, Russia

Photographer Rob Hornstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen spent two weeks at the Sanatorium Metallurg in Sochi, documenting how the Black Sea resort was changing in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics. They faked ailments to gain access to the full range of treatments on offer, from massages to evening discos and sour-cream-heavy meals.

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Gulf of Finland, Russia

The 70 km coastal walk from St Petersburg runs along the Gulf of Finland to Zelenogorsk. Spot sanatoriums and other Soviet relics along the way as you breathe the sea air and smell the scent of the pine forests growing by the shoreline.

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Yalta, Crimea

This photo essay was the result of two trips made by Moscow-based photographer Sasha Mademuaselle to the Crimean resort town of Yalta during winter. “It’s quiet and there are a million stray cats,” she says. “What more could you wish for?”

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Text: Arthur House