The Solovetsky Islands are a group of islands in the White Sea in Arkhangelsk Oblast. It is a true pearl of Russian north. Several sites on the islands are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
There are two main ways to reach the Solovetsky Islands: by air from Arkhangelsk, or by boat from Kem'/Belomorsk.
- 1 Solovki Airport (Аэропорт Соловки, CSH IATA) is in close proximity to the monastery and the islands' main settlement. Nordavia Regional Airlines (a subsidiary of Aeroflot) fly the 50-minute journey from Solovki to Arkhangelsk up to twice a week. Prices start at approximately 5000 руб one way.
- from Kem': Kem' is easily accessible as a stop on the Petersburg-Murmansk mainline. From there, it is 12 km to the port settlement of Rabocheostrovsk, a journey that can be done either by bus (regularly from 6am) or by taxi. In the summer season, boats leave three times a day (June-August 2016: 08:00, 12:30, 17:30), take 2 hours, and cost 1200 руб for an adult. Booking the journey out to Solovki is advised, as it regularly books up fully. If, however, you arrive and have not booked, there are boats owned by the monastery that leave at 07:00 (frequency uncertain), and it has been suggested that they are reluctant to leave people stranded in Rabocheostrovsk. The cost is also 1200 руб, and definitely an experience!
- from Belomorsk: Belomorsk is also accessible by rail, boats leave daily to Solovki, taking 4 hours and costing 1200 руб.
- from Arkhangelsk: In the summer months, boats also ply the route between Arkhangelsk and Solovki (up to three times a month) but it is worth consulting a travel agent about this for prices and availability
There is no paved road.
Mystical home of monasteries and chapels, priests and holy fools, Solovetsky symbolises Russia's spiritual past. Memories of Stalin's infamous GULAG camps speak of darker times.
- 1 Solovetsky Monastery, Bolshoy Solovetsky Island, ☏ . A large monastery and one of the principal spiritual homes of the Russian Orthodox church, in use since the early 15th century. During the crackdown on organized religion in the early Soviet Union, it was closed down and in 1923 became the Solovki Prison Camp, primarily intended for opponents of the Bolshevik regime, and home to a large group of imprisoned writers. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called Solovki the "mother of the GULAG". As it was far too close to the border with Finland, there were a number of daring escapes in the 1920s; as World War II loomed in the late 1930s, it was closed. The monastery includes the Holy Gates, Transfiguration Cathedral, Assumption Church, Nikolskaya Church, Annunciation Church and the Refectory Complex. As of 2015, human rights activists had expressed disquiet that the authorities were "gradually removing all traces of the labor camp", while the religious buildings are being renovated. Free.
- 2 Bolshoy Zayatsky Island. Small island with labyrinths. Very pleasant. Excursion: 550 руб, twice a day in summer.
- Sekirnaya Hill & Church of the Ascension
- Botanical Gardens & Makaryevskaya Hermitage
Beluga-watching: The belugas arrive in late June. The visitors' centre organizes excursions by bus, followed by a 4-km walk.
Hire a bike, but the roads are extremely poor. Many places offer hire, prices start at 100 руб for an hour.
Beware of midges & mosquitoes in the summer!
- Hotel Priyut: nice and clean, 1900 руб for a single with common bathroom.
- Peterburgskaya Obshchezhitie (Petersburg Hostel) has beds for as low as RUB 450, but booking in advance by phone is essential in peak season. (☏ )
- Apartment on Primorskaya 9 (Natalya's Apartment) (walk 7 minutes heading SW from the monastery), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Natalya has a cute single room for US$22 (as of Summer 2018) and a living room that can accommodate up to 4 people for $70 with breakfast included. She also offers home-cooked meals for a reasonable price. You'll want to eat here; she was the former cook at the monastery. There is one shared bathroom with a toilet and shower with hot water. No Wi-Fi. Natalya speaks conversational English and normally spends the winters in Moscow. US$22-70.
Sloboda Hotel is the only place to access semi-reliable Wi-Fi on the island. 100 руб for 24 hours access.