This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Russia is full of charming little towns and villages, passed by by the modern world, authentic in their simplicity.
The Starozolotovsky khutor located on the river Don in Rostov Oblast joined the International Association of World's Most Beautiful Villages. Sholokhov used to write about places like this, amazing nature almost untouched by civilization. Every house in the khutor is an art piece. It's a true tourist paradise.
Veronika Bogma with the details.
Starozolotovsky wakes up early when it's still dark. The sun rising above the high bank of the river Don is greeted by fishermen and bobacs, the curious and alert critters the locals jokingly call the guardians of the khutor.
According to the ancient texts, the village used to be initially located on an island close to the left bank. It used to get flooded a lot so the Cossacks moved to the opposite bank. In total, they've been living here for almost four centuries. Peter the Great mentioned the town of Zolotoy in his travel journal. Later it was called Starozolotovskaya stanitsa, and now, it's a khutor. It wasn't named after the riches of the Cossack treasury, but rather after a clear creek that had so much fish, it looked golden in the sunlight.
“It's a true paradise.”
Every resident will tell you the same thing. Agafia, who takes her crunchy cucumbers straight from her garden, loves having guests. Today, one of the oldest residents of the khutor was visited by her son and two granddaughters.
- They love it here. They were learning to swim in the Don when they were little kids.
- Why do you think they love this place so much?
- I don't know but it's so beautiful here.
Craftsman Vladimir Makhanko is one of the so-called new residents. He moved here from the city. Many beautiful or functional things in the khutor were made either under his guidance or with his own hands.
Vladimir Makhanko: "There was nothing in here, no roads, no houses. The village was in ruins."
In the darkest days of the Cossack community, the prosperous 1000-house stanitsa was almost desolated, 40 residents and a couple of households. Everything changed when 20 years ago, the family of a wealthy and caring man moved here.
Ali Uzdenov, Guardian Council Chairman: "The locals taught us how to grow tomatoes and vines, how to tin and preserve mulberry, how to plug it, as the Cossacks say. On the other hand, we created the right environment for them to get rid of garbage, use water and other nature's gifts. They like it a lot, you know. They realized they can exist on their own."
Joint efforts and hard work made it possible to restore the khutor. They began with the church. The previous one was taken to pieces to build a bridge that was destroyed during WWII. The Church of the Ostrobramskaya Icon of the Holy Mother of God, the only one in Russia, was built from scratch on the same spot.
Irina Voronova: "We have a great museum and church school. We have a lot of concerts and festivals here."
The museum. Some decorations from the set of Quietly Flows the Don filmed by Sergey Gerasimov were moved here from Veshenskaya stanitsa. They were written into the landscape, repaired, and filled with exhibits, including the ones taken from the chests of the locals. In the end, it became an open-air ethnographic museum.
It's the house of the Melikhovs. It was designed by an artist specifically for the movie. And this is the house of the Nikiforovs, who actually used to live in the Starozolotovskaya stanitsa. It used to stand right at this spot, or rather was laying on its side before it got restored. It was rebuilt from the basement to the weathervane. The museum became the major employer, giving jobs to the locals and experiences to the guests.
“They were Cossacks, you see. They used to decorate every corner to make their homes beautiful.”
The khutor has joined the association of Russia's most beautiful villages and towns. The movement is international: Europe, Canada, Japan, and China have similar associations. There's a chance a village from those national lists gets recognized as the world's most beautiful.
Jacques Ragon, expert: "The khutor was selected based on 30 requirements. The main ones are uniqueness, beauty, architecture, interior decoration, and the care expressed during the restoration."
Jacques Ragon is a strict expert from France, the country that came up with the brand. After announcing the results, he couldn't help himself and started chopping firewood still wearing his white shirt and bowtie.
“We have five fish species in here.”
The local signature trick is called sobrage. One must open a bottle of the local sparkling wine with a sword.
“This champagne was made according to an ancient Cossack recipe, without adding any liquor or yeast.”
It's hard to surprise the French with wine but the locals managed to do that somehow.
“It's so delicious and fragrant.”
There's a religious community center, a sports ground, and art studios here. There's also a camp that welcomes kids from the social rehabilitation center from a neighboring city. Here are the visiting kids celebrating the end of a session with their local friends.
Ali Uzdenov, Guardian Council Chairman: “There were a lot of obstacles in our way, but we succeeded. Perhaps our greatest success is that we did it all together with the locals.”
A new guest house is under construction, it's comfortable but fits in the general design. It has clay floors, which are cool in summer and warm in winter, and a true Russian stove with a broad double-bunk.
- So it's a guest complex?
- It's a superior option for our guests.
- It's a luxury suite.
At the entrance to Starozolotovsky, travelers are greeted by a lavender field, which was specifically grown from Crimean saplings. The only thing the locals ask is to not pluck the flowers. This beauty needs to be preserved as well.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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