What to see in Russia
Tourist attractions Mandrogi
It is rare for river cruises not to make a two or three hour stop in this little village. It is located in the region of Karelia and therefore surrounded by the lush landscape of the northern forest. The village has a tragic history, but this has not prevented it from staging a comeback and becoming known for the experience of recreating the most deeply-rooted Russian traditions.
World War II was not kind to this little village. All its inhabitants were evacuated and none returned. In fact, the whole village was razed to the ground during the time of the Finnish occupation. In 1996, however, a wealthy Russian tycoon and businessman bought the remains of Mandrogi to restore it to the settlement it is today. Something halfway between a museum of traditions and a theme park. To achieve his goal he relied on Russia's finest traditional carpenters.
Today, Mandrogi has a population of about 200 inhabitants who live and work here. The village has a nursery and school.
There's a lot to do if you decide to visit Mandrogi. Although it's best to wander around the streets and the area near the village, there are some places where it is almost obligatory to stop. Here are some of them:
This quintessential Russian spirit came into being in the city of Uglich, which was also the birthplace of Piotr Smirnov, but there are vodka enthusiasts all over the country. The Mandrogi Vodka Museum houses a collection of 2,500 varieties.
But drinking isn't everything. To get to this point, wheat, barley or rye have to go through certain processes that are carried out in a series of machines. The Vodka Museum contains many examples of the machinery needed to distill vodka and its employees will teach you the little-known history of this drink.
Awaiting you at the end of the visit is a small, attractive and above all cosy wooden house, where you can taste different varieties of this liquor.
To prevent it from going to your head, the tasting is accompanied by traditional zakuski and other typical Russian products such as pickles, onions and herring.
To travel to Mandrogi and not partake in one of its classic barbecues is almost a sacrilege. Just don't expect a fancy table and silverware. They usually serve you tasty meat on plastic plates.
The name of this unusual barbecue is shashlik, and it comes from the mountains of the Caucasus and the steppes of Central Asia. From there it spread to all of Russia.
The main course is delicious skewers of lamb, chicken, pork or beef cooked on the grill, fuelled with wood or charcoal. But before coming into contact with the fire, they spend a night marinating in a special sauce based on vinegar, wine, fruit juice, vegetables and secret spices.
The village is a showcase of Russian traditions and this includes its craftsmanship. In its streets you will find workshops where authentic craftsmen and women work in ceramics, cloth, embroidery, sculpture, leather, jewellery and even sculpture.
But the experience is not limited to the chance to buy beautiful handmade objects. Most of Mandrogi's tourism is domestic and the goal of the village is to keep traditions alive. So there's the possibility of learning how to work with all of these materials. If you wish, you can paint your own Russian dolls.
The northern forest that makes up most of the landscape of Karelia is also present in Mandrogi. Take the chance to lose yourself among the huge trunks of pines, firs and white birches. You'll discover wooden sculptures inspired by Ruslan and Ludmila, the famous poem by Pushkin that tells the story of Ludmila, the daughter of Prince Vladimir of Kiev. An evil wizard kidnapped her and the knight Ruslan braved a thousand dangers and adventures to save her. Having the opportunity to see the poem recreated in a fairy-tale setting is something you mustn't miss.
In addition, the forest is home to a small zoo where you can see small animals and birds that are native to Russia.
Among the traditions that Mandrogi seeks to preserve are some leisure activities. Visitors will therefore have a chance to try the traditional sauna or banya. You'll find them in small cabins along the river.
You can also ride horses and take lessons in shooting with antique weapons.
And the day will end around the fig tree, at an open-air meal where everyone will share their stories by the fire.
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