Sophia Yarzeva is a Voronezh-based journalist, photoghapher and blogger. She is also the editor-in-chief of the award-winning arts and culture magazine Slova which is probably the best regional magazine in Russia. Born and raised in the old town of Yelets 100km north of Voronezh, Sophia moved to Voronezh to study journalism at the Voronezh State University, fell in love with it and decided to move there for good. She shared with us her insider tips on how to best navigate Voronezh for an authentic and unforgettable trip. Here are some of her favourite cafes, restaurants, shops, museums, galleries and parks to put on your radar.
Well, trips within Russia are easier to organise for me compared to travelling abroad. All you need to do is just grab some food, get into the car and go. Besides, it’s always good to see new places, take pictures, and gain new experience on the way.
I like cozy small towns in the southern part of Russia such as Kislovodsk, Stavropol, Sochi and other places along the Black Sea coast. You won’t find skyscrapers or traffic jams there, no nightlife, nothing is going on there really, but it’s exactly what you need sometimes. You can go to a food market and get fresh fruits or berries, then lay down on a beach by the river or just walk through the whole town in 30 minutes.
I’d go to the Kaliningrad Region, to the Baltic Sea Coast. I don’t like the sun and feel better next to a cold sea.
My hometown, Voronezh.
It’s green and warm. It’s not too big, so you don’t feel lost there, but it’s big enough to be interesting to live in.
The city's long and difficult history and people who made it.
I like the city centre and the area around the Voronezh State Agricultural University campus. The university itself was built in the beginning of the 20th century. It's a beautiful place with old faculty buildings, a cozy park and an arboretum, which have all miraculously survived during the Second World War, while almost the entire city was destroyed.
I like my neighbourhood in North Voronezh. It’s a quiet residential area with modern houses, schools, supermarkets and everything, but it’s located right next to a real forest called Nagornaya Dubrava (I often say that I live in the forest). I can smell the trees and hear birds singing while lying in bed.
I like Scarlet Sails Park (or Alye Parusa in Russian) very much. There's a pine forest, and a sand beach on the banks of the Voronezh Reservoir. I'd usually grab a takeaway coffee from on of the park cafes and sit on the beach watching sailing boats. It’s all in the city, you don’t even need to go anywhere.
Ptichka Coffee, a nice little place with very good coffee.
I like having breakfast at small and cozy bakeries and cake shops like Sugar Bakeshop, Marzipan or BonApArt where you can curl up in a snug corner by the window, grab a cup of coffee, poke your cake with a spoon and watch the world go by.
Just Bar&Kitchen: delicious food, affordable prices, and a perfect place to meet up with friends and colleagues.
I like The Depot Bar at the Kommuna Art Centre, it looks just like The Lockhart Bar from Harry Potter. You can get there from one of the central streets, but you need to know how.
Georgian Restaurant KinZa-Dza or a Soviet-themed restaurant CoVok. I like simple, cozy and a bit clamorous places with authentic cuisine.
I think the best view you can get is from the bell tower of the Annunciation Cathedral, the main cathedral of the city. You can see the city centre (and realise how green the city is), and even the houses on the other side of the Voronezh River. Mind it, it's only open for visitors around the Easter week.
Garmoshka Café: you can try something exotic there, like bear or venison meat, as well as very simple things like apple pancakes (the best I’ve ever tried).
If I were a tourist in Voronezh, I'd love to stay at The Bronze Boar Hotel. This boutique hotel looks very unusual, and it's located in my favourite neighbourhood in the city.
I've recently found out that the Nagornaya Dubrava forest next to my place is actually an ancient oak forest which has been here for many centuries. It was once part of an ancient settlement called Vantit.
I like big shopping malls like Arena, Chizhov Gallery and City-Park Grad. I usually end up spending a whole day there, wandering from one shop to another, taking a coffee break, going to the cinema, then having lunch, buying food in a supermarket there - and coming back late at night all flaked out. If you're looking for something regional, I'd recommend checking out Sinichka Market. It's a pop-up market which takes place several times a year, each time in a new place. You can find an array of small brands from Voronezh and other Russian cities selling clothes, jewellery, souvenirs, etc.
The festival season in Voronezh begins late in spring with New Horizon Film Festival and various other cultural events. In June we host Platonov Arts Festival which is one of the top cultural events in Russia. The festival lasts for about two weeks and brings celebrated musicians, actors and artists from all over the world often revealing them for the first time to the Russian audience. Then July is the time for the jazz festival Usadba Jazz, so I don’t want to go anywhere in summer. You should definitely come to Voronezh in summer to attend some of these events.
The Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts! It’s often called the small Hermitage for its magnificent collection of paintings and the oldest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Russia.
The H.L.A.M. Gallery and the Voronezh Contemporary Art Centre. Both of them bring the most important contemporary Russian artists, so you can see the development of contemporary art in Russia (or maybe even in the world) without having to leave Voronezh.
The Central Market - it's big and new, and has a huge glass roof. I'm always tempted to stock up on veggies, cheese, meat, artisan bread, honey and dried fruits and start a new culinary life.
Willow herb tea, local honey mixed with fruits and berries, sweets made in Voronezh. My absolute favourites are 'Koltsov's Songs (Pesni Koltsova), they're chocolate with jelly filling, and also handame chocolated called Princess of Oldenburg (Printsessa Oldenburgskaya), they're made in Ramon Village near Voronezh, an interesting place with a red-brick neo-gothic palace and an old chocolate factory on its grounds.
I live close to the Voronezh Central Park. It stood abandoned for a long time, a remnant of the Soviet past with ruined stairs and columns. But despite everything, it was always crowded and cherished by photographers. The park has recently been renovated in the Stalinist Empire style but with modern sports and playgrounds, and the open-air Green Theatre. It's not the same as it used to be but, nonethess, it's still a beautiful park and an interesting place to visit.
Walk from the train station towards the tower of the Southeastern Railway headquarters, then pop into the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts, take a walk around the centre, along Komissarzhevskoi and Tchaikovskogo streets, and the main Prospect Revolyutsii. Walk down the narrow streets of the Old town towards the Voronezh Reservoir to see the reconstructed Goto Predestination ship which was the first Russian ship of the line commissioned by Peter I. That's my must-do list. Once you've seen these places, you can just wander the streets and find something that resonates with you. Voronezh is very diverse, you can find both cozy narrow streets like in old European towns, industrial districts, beautiful new houses and decadent old structures.
The city is surrounded by woods, and you can literally walk into nature from any neighbourhood in the city. That's what I like most about my city, you don't need to leave the city to escape to nature, it's all around you in Voronezh. But if we're talking about long distance trips, I'd recommend Divnogorye in the South of the Voronezh Region. It's a nature reserve in a steppe surrounded by the chalk mountains with remains of an ancient fortress and a monastery nearby. It's a breathtaking and truly unique place.