Come to Crimea: Could tourism help heal the divisions in Ukraine?

The rise of Ukraine's southern tip as a tourist destination has been put on hold because of the conflict. Simon Calder reports

Twenty-five years ago, not-yet-Sir Richard Branson had a vision for Crimea, the ragged diamond dangling from "mainland" Ukraine. In 1989, an identical shade of red ink stained the map across a great swathe of the world: from Vilnius across to Vladivostok and from Murmansk down to Yalta. In that year, Virgin Atlantic started flying from Gatwick to Tokyo. At the time, the airline's fleet required a refuelling stop en route, which was in Moscow. The airline's founder sensed an opportunity for offering access to the Soviet Union's prime holiday resort; even back in the USSR, tourism was the mainstay of Crimea's economy. Now, it's worth $5bn.

Discussions came to nothing as the USSR started to implode. But once the ugly conflict is settled in Crimea, Sir Richard may look again at the prospect (though for the time being, package tours to the region are reported to be down 90 per cent year on year).

While the foreground of news reports shows the deep animosity between Russian and Ukrainian-speaking residents of Crimea, the backdrop quietly reveals a region rich in interest. Its description as "one of the most wonderful places on Earth" is courtesy of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health Resorts and Tourism. But independent, international endorsement comes from National Geographic – which last year led its list of "20 must-see places" with Crimea.

The southern part of the peninsula is warm, beautiful and rich in heritage. Rolling hills give way to a dramatic mountain ridge that extends around most of the peninsula's southern shore. Crimea is slightly bigger than Wales, but the concentration of interest in the far south covers an area roughly the size of Anglesey. Grand villas, rocky gorges and lush vegetation run along the coast from Alushta south to Yalta – where the historical repertoire commences.

 

It was a quiet fishing port for centuries until rich Russians decided to winter here. After the revolution, Lenin decreed that every good Soviet citizen, or at least party apparatchiks, had the right to recuperate by the seaside. The resort is still an odd mix of proletarianism and flamboyance, and its name resounds as the place where post-war Europe was carved up by Churchill and the Allies.

Yalta is twinned with Margate Yalta is twinned with Margate (Rex) Yalta is twinned with Margate, and – like the far east of Kent – the far south of Ukraine has strong cultural connections. Chekhov came to Yalta as an ailing consumptive at the end of the 19th century. The villa where he lived until his death in 1904 celebrates his life and work; he wrote The Cherry Orchard here, and entertained Gorky and Rachmaninoff.

The dining options have increased 1,000 per cent since the collapse of communism. For the most spectacular plate with a view, aim for the Swallow's Nest at Gaspra, five miles south of Yalta. An Italian restaurant is located in the Germanic castle that perches on a rocky outcrop over the sea, a grand folly.

Read more: Besieged Ukranian forces in Crimea are starting to feel let down
Bicentenary celebration of great poet Taras Shevchenko swamped by anger over Russian nationalism in Crimea
Western governments pile the pressure on Vladimir Putin
Russian troops detain 30 Ukrainian border guards

Evidence of the folly of the Crimean War, which broke out 160 years ago, is easily found. Yet the battlefields beyond Sevastopol are largely untouched. The Great Redoubt at the Alma is still evident, as is the valley of death, where the Light Cavalry charged at Balaclava. At Inkerman, evidence of the slaughter still litters the ground.

Patrick Mercer, the MP and military historian, leads tours to the battlefields: "A bit of rudimentary scuffing around soon reveals shot, shell and shrapnel and, if you persevere, little pots of marmalade, bottles of English ale and even jars of bear grease to protect wind-chapped lips."

History in the morning, hiking in the afternoon and an aperitif by the sea is an alluring combination. In terms of Western holiday horizons, Crimea is virgin territory. And when a political settlement is reached, tourism will prove an essential element in repairing the damage.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals