Solovki is a sacred place. Here silence dwells and only seagulls and humans disturb it.
Solovki (Соловки/Соловецкие острова) is a group of islands that have been inhabited since 3000-s b.c. You find stone labyrinths from the old times on Big Zayatsky and Anzer. In XV c. the islands gave shelter to the first hermits who sought more solitude and laid the foundation for the monastic life on Solovki. In XVI c. the monastery saw its most glorious days under the rule of the abbot Philipp who transformed the existing scenery using engineering achievements of those days and big stones to build the monastery complex and an extensive web of canals which linked the lakes of the main island bringing water to the walls of the monastery. In the XX century people decided to make hell from what had been perceived as heaven on Earth for many centuries. A labor camp which became a prototype of GULAG existed here from 1923 till 1939. I will abstain from dwelling on the atrocities that happened on the islands then. But now the time has come for the resurrection of the monastery. The monastery was given back to the Russian Orthodox Church and in 1992 UNESCO added the Solovetsky Monastery to the World Heritage List.
I noticed that people set off to Solovki with either of the three in mind:
- Pilgrimage or pursuit of spiritual growth. Solovki is a key to understanding Russia, her past, her soul, her fears, her glory. This quest will make you richer. It should be understood that if the island doesn’t consider you are ready to be there you will not get there. Do not get upset and reconsider your attitudes and aims next time. Apart from the spiritual context of the visit Solovki can offer unique nature. Many birds and some animals inhabit the islands. The only aggressor is mosquito.
- Interest to SLON/GULAG history. You will be told the story of agony and torture and learn that this land is soaked with blood. But this part of the history has no oppressive influence on most of visitors. People failed to spoil this haven. We remember but life goes on.
- Adventure. Going to Solovki for a Russian is almost like going to Russia for a foreigner. ‘Solovki’ has long been a synonym of ‘prison’ for Russians. Would you of your own accord go to a prison and pay a handsome sum to boot for the chance… Unless you are in need of an adventure.
Ways to get to Solovki.
By sea (June-September)
You should arrive in Kem (Кемь) by train or car. Then you should take a taxi or bus №1 to Rabocheostrovsk (Рабочеостровск) from where motorships start to Solovki. If your train arrives at night you can stay at the hotel Prichal (Причал) in Rabocheostrovsk. Their contacts are website: http://www.prichalrk.ru/eng/index.html email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: +78145856060. They offer different rooms, restaurant, sauna, transfer, car park where you can leave your car while you are on the Solovki islands (at additional cost).
motorship ‘Metel-4’ departs to Solovki at 12.30 and at 16.00 from Solovki. The former is bigger. You should buy these tickets in advance. Price: 1200 RUB OW fare for an adult, 600 RUB children 3-10 yo, FREE children under 3 yo. The trip lasts 2 hrs.
From my experience – I asked Prichal representatives to organize transfer from Kem for us beforehand. They refused saying that it is not necessary, as their bus is always to be found near the railway station. 5 minutes before our train stopped in Kem a pouring rain had started. I don’t remember seeing such big pools in roads , my attempts to drag my bag to a shelter constantly landed me in another puddle, water reaching up to my ankles. And there was not a single taxi and no vehicle from the Prichal complex in front of the station. So I procured a couple of taxi number for my and your benefit: +79212204747, +79116660556 and +79114323111, +79317018550. I’m sure they don’t speak English. Try this: ‘My/Ya u vokzala v Kemi’ (We are/I am near the station in Kem). ‘Nuzhno/Nado taxi do Prichala.’ (A taxi to Prichal is needed). You will most probably not understand which car will come, so if you see a car arriving come up to it and ask ‘Prichal?’ If the answer is yes, get in and enjoy your trip for 200-300 RUB.
If you are going on a pilgrimage you can organize everything with Solovetsky Monastery Metochion in Kem http://kemskoe-podvorie.ru/. A pilgrimage presupposes free work for monastery.
If you go back from Solovki via Kem and have to catch a train and your train arrives at the platform 2 and the platform 1 is occupied by another train, you will need to enter this train on platform 1 and get off it to board your train…
You should get to Belomorsk (Беломорск) first by train or car. As most trains arrive late at night you should think where to sleep. Hotel Gandwik http://hotel-gandvik.ru/en/ email: email@example.com. Belomorye Hotel: http://belomorye.com/index.php/hotel email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Starchina Guesthouse email@example.com
Motorship ‘Sapphire’. Timetable: from Belomorsk at 8.00 and from Solovki at 19.00 (18.00 since 15 Aug), every day except but for 29 June, 13 and 20 July, 10,17,24 August. The trip lasts 4 hrs. Boarding starts 30 min before departure. Price: 1200 RUB OW adult fare, 600 RUB child under 12 yo OW fare
‘Sapphire’ is owned by the company Russky Sever which also offers transportation to Kizhi. Contacts in Petrozavodsk: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; +7921-6266006; +78142-734343; +7921-8014776; +7921-4651757; skype ekaterina_mironova3 and daria_segreneva. Contacts in Saint-Petersburg (in Summer): firstname.lastname@example.org and +7921-7003085. Website http://goo.gl/ayXNWb
2 companies operate flights to the Solovetsky islands from Arkhangelsk. You can easily get to Arkhangelsk (Архангельск) by air or by train.
http://www.nordavia.ru/en/ +7 -9112000550. Nordavia operates 4 flights a week from the Talagi airport (Талаги) in Arkhangelsk on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. They use An-24 aircraft. The cost of the ticket starts from 6540 RUB OW. The duration of the flight 45-50 min. Timetable: from Arkhangelsk 12.40, from Solovki 14.10. Baggage: you can take up to 23 kg (dimensions 203 cm) with you and 10kg (115 cm dimensions) as hand baggage. The only problem with them is that you never know when they will start selling tickets for the date you need. And no one in the airline knows this either. So if you want a ticket check their website from time to time.
http://2aoao.ru/index0e.html This company operates 3 flights a week from the Vaskovo airport (Васьково) in Arkhangelsk on Fridays. They use L-410 aircraft. The cost of the ticket is 5600 RUB OW. The duration of the flight 45-50 min. Timetable: from Arkhangelsk 13.20, from Solovki 14.40. Baggage: you can take up to 10 kg as checked luggage and 5 kg as hand baggage, its dimensions should not exceed 115 cm. Every additional kg costs 65 RUB. They start selling tickets 15 days before the flight and no earlier. *** Unfortunately this option is very difficult for non Russian speaking travellers because it is very difficult to buy their tickets. But I’m trying to find out how willing they are to cooperate. Wait for updates.
I recommend spending not less than 4 days on the Solovki. Here you will find many places of interest. Excursions can be organized by the excursion bureau (http://goo.gl/xOpA06), their office is to be found in the Hotel Peterburgskaya, email email@example.com, if you speak Russian only trip to Anzer should be booked in advance, other excursions you should come and book on the spot. If this accomplishment does not belong to the list of your strong points you should write an email to them in advance and book a guided tour. To tell you the truth only one guided tour to Big Zayatsky Island out of 3 excursions we had was conducted professionally so I cannot say I’m in raptures with their service. You can also have your excursions organised by the Pilgrimage Service of the Solovetsky Monastery. These guys are very professional. But English speaking guides are not always available, they ask to write to them beforehand and ask if it will be possible to offer a guided tour to you firstname.lastname@example.org. Pilgrimage Service office is to be found near the post-office (Sivko St. 4).
The Monastery complex as we know it was erected in the XVI-XIX c.
The Botanical Garden (Макариевская пустынь – Ботанический сад) astonishes your with the fact of its existence only 160 km from the polar circle. It exists since XIX c. and boasts more than 700 types of plants. 4 km from the monastery.
Big Zayatskiy Island (Большой Заяцкий остров) – differs greatly from the rest of the islands in terms of vegetation and landscape. It’s a realm of tundra. You can visit the island only as a part of a group.
The Dam and Muksalma island (Дамба, о-в Муксалма), the former is actually a bridge made of big stones between 2 islands. You need to walk 10 km to get there. It’s an easy walk in Solovki, where you can do things you never knew you are capable of. As everywhere on the island you will gorge yourself with bilberries while walking and may come across mushrooms and cloudberries. If you decide in favour of cycling be prepared to carry you bicycle half of the way. If you want to hire a taxi… they deploy cars with monstrous wheels and charge 2000-3000 RUB for OW trip. I strongly recommend walking there. Buy several pirozhoks in the monastery and set off.
The Cape of White Whale (мыс Белужий). White whales come to the Solovetsky islands to give birth to their calves. And you can watch them, but no one can guarantee that you will 🙂 You should try to be quiet and take binoculars with you.
Philipp Vivarium (Филипповские садки)
Sekirnaya Mount (гора Секирная, Свято-Вознесенский скит) lies 11,5 km to the north of the monastery. It is the highest point of the island and on top of it you will see a church-lighthouse. You can easily get here on a bicyle.
Anzer Island (о-в Анзер) is a place where the grace of God is in the air. There are two hermitages on the island. You cannot visit the island all by yourself, only as a part of a group.
Negotiation Rock (Переговорный камень) is a large stone with an inscription at the place where English officer submitted a request to the then abbot to give cows to them, which the abbott refused as monks lived on these animals’ milk. This glorious meeting took place in 1855.
Where to stay (hotels differ in comfort and facilities very much):
Solovetskaya Sloboda – I was there and I liked it a lot, especially their breakfasts, you can also have lunch and dinner there at additional cost. They are available on booking.com, their email email@example.com Website http://sohttp://visit-solovki.ru/en/lsloboda.ru/en
Solovki Hotel – they have a nice restaurant. They are on the booking.com. Contacts in Moscow firstname.lastname@example.org in Saint-Petersburg email@example.com website http://www.solovki-tour.ru/indehttp://visit-solovki.ru/en/x.html
Zelenaya Derevnya Hotel – firstname.lastname@example.org this one underwent renovation in 2014.
Priyut Hotel – email@example.com
Peterburgskaya Hotel – firstname.lastname@example.org no wc in rooms
Solovetskaya Usadba hotel – email@example.com
Try local dishes with kelp (laminaria)
To sum up: You’d better come to Solovki from Kem (buy Dramina (Драмина) pills if you tend to get seasick, 1 pill to be taken 30 min before departure). Second best is to fly from Arkhangelsk. There exist 1 or 2-day cruises to Solovki, I don’t think it is possible to understand the place in 1 day, that’s why I will not describe these. It is better to spend at least a week on the islands. Water from the lakes on the main island is drinkable! Tents are allowed only in one place on the island (+7-921-4820292 Alexey Evgenyevich), see the map. Try not to be in a boat on a lake during a storm with lightning. Carry raincoat and warm clothes with you all the time. Bring something against mosquitos to Solovki. Beeline mobile network doesn’t work here. Behave yourself in churches. Best time for visit is end of July and beginning of August with temperatures from 5 to 25 C, average temperature for winter is -11 C. Enjoy 🙂