Church & State in North West Russia

Monasteries & Kremlins

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Sunday 31 May - Monday 8 June 2020 (9 Days)


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Discover rural north-west Russia & its heritage of monasteries & ‘kremlins’

Some of the most important fortified Russian Orthodox monasteries included

Remarkable medieval frescoes

See the birthplace of Rimsky-Korsakov and enjoy some splendid Russian music

Visit timed to coincide with wonderful display of early summer flowers

Comfortable hotels in central locations

Tour Overview

Just before midnight the church doors swung open and in a flood of colour and candlelight the glittering procession emerged to circle the building three times, chanting. The long tapers they carried sparkled on the sumptuous brocaded vestments and the diamond-studded crowns...’ Lesley Blanch, Journey into the Mind’s Eye, 1968

This remarkable evocation of a ceremony held decades ago in a remote monastic complex captures not only the mystery of the Russian Orthodox Church’s liturgy, but also its remarkable tenacity, as in recent decades it has moved from living under relentless state persecution to Putin-supported ‘resurrection’. Indeed, at many levels the history of Russian Orthodoxy is also the history of Russia itself. Our new tour will untangle this relationship between church and state as we explore the territory north and east of St Petersburg, ending in Moscow.

Mention the word ‘Kremlin’ and that great complex looming over Moscow is imprinted on all our memories, visual and literal. This is partly due to its extraordinary silhouette seen against the skyline, partly the result of its ‘see-saw’ role in the development of Russia as a European and world power. However, the ‘Kremlin’ is not unique to Moscow as the word means a fortified complex, of which many more have survived throughout Russia.

Emerging from medieval isolation, as the autocratic state of Rus saw off the Mongol hoards, it turned west as new foes arrived. Defence became a priority. Long established monasteries became the ideal places from which to keep watch, upgraded within newly fortified enclosures or Kremlins. Our itinerary will take us to some of the most important of these sites at Schlisselburg, Staraya Ladoga, Tikhvin, the Volgoda area and ending in Moscow.

We spend 1 night at the 4* Angleterre, St Petersburg; 1 night at the 4* Astral in Tikhvin; 3 nights at the 4* Istoria in Volgoda; 1 night on the 1st Class sleeper train to Moscow; and 2 nights at the 5* Metropol in Moscow. Hotels in St Petersburg and Moscow are very comfortable, those in Tikvin and Volgoda are simple, clean and modern.

This is a demanding tour with one long journey by coach and an overnight 1st class sleeper train to Moscow, but the rewards will be worth it: remote monasteries set within their fortified ‘kremlins’, churches with wonderful frescoed interiors and the opportunity to see rural Russia at its early Summer best, the fields and woods awash in flowers. This is the Russia that few travellers from outside ever see.

Day by day

Day 1: Sunday 31 May
We fly to St Petersburg and check into the 4* Hotel Angleterre, ideally situated in the historic centre, across from St Isaac’s Cathedral, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant.
Day 2: Monday 1 June
We leave the city and drive out to Lake Ladoga to the Schlisselburg Fortress, a border defence post since medieval times, hugely important in the defence of Leningrad during World War II. We continue to Staraya Ladoga for a picnic lunch and to see the Fortress, Archaeological Museum and St Nicholas Monastery. We continue to Tikhvin and the 4* Astral Hotel where we have dinner.
Day 3: Tuesday 2 June
Tikhvin is a charming rural town dominated by the remarkable Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God, established by Ivan the Terrible in 1560. Tikhvin was the birthplace of the composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and the family home is now a Museum which we shall visit, followed by a private recital in a local church. After lunch we travel on to Vologda where we stay in the 4* Istoria Hotel for a three-night stay, with dinner in a nearby restaurant.
Day 4: Wednesday 3 June
A gently paced day as we explore Vologda. A charming town, medieval in origin and much favoured by Ivan the Terrible. It has always prospered and with much for us to see over two days. We visit the fine Kremlin, the St Sofia Cathedral and a local Museum. After lunch we visit the wonderful Lace Museum – ‘Vologda Lace’ has been highly prized for centuries. We have dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 5: Thursday 4 June
We spend today in the countryside when we visit two amazing monastic sites. The Foropontovo Monastery is an absolute must - within its Church of the Nativity there is a complete fresco cycle by the renowned painter, Dionysus, the only complete medieval cycle to survive in any Russian church. We continue to the village of Kurakino to visit a traditional sheep farm where the owners will offer us local hospitality. Then on to Kirillovo for lunch after which we visit the enormous Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, at one time the largest and most powerful in northern Russia: its three-storey fortress walls contain twelve churches and the glorious Cathedral of the Assumption, truly breath-taking.  We return to Vologda and dinner.
Day 6: Friday 5 June
A second day exploring Vologda with a visit to the nearby Spasso-Prilutsky Monastery dating from the fourteenth century and picturesquely reflected in the nearby river. Back in town there is the tiny House of Peter the Great in which he lodged when visiting.  Nearby we will visit some of the remarkable Wooden Houses which are such a feature of the area. There will be free time to visit some of the local markets; lunch and an early dinner are both included. We board the Overnight Train for Moscow with each 1st class compartment assigned for either twin or single occupancy. A late supper snack is served in your compartment.
Day 7: Saturday 6 June
We arrive in Moscow in the early morning and transfer directly to the 5* Metropol Hotel. After breakfast we visit the Moscow Kremlin, a fortified medieval enclosure within which church and state shared its grounds; a ‘theatre’ within which some of the most significant events in Russian history were enacted. We shall visit the Cathedral of the Assumption, the famous Armory Museum and of course, the amazing, newly displayed Imperial Regalia. After a group lunch we visit the Pushkin Museum which has stunning Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. The evening will be free.
Day 8: Sunday 7 June
After breakfast we return to Red Square to visit St Basil’s Cathedral after which we continue to the recently re-built Cathedral of Jesus Christ the Saviour. Nothing else marks so spectacularly the revival of the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church since the collapse of communism. After a group lunch we visit the Tretyakov Gallery which has the finest collections of Russian Icons to survive from medieval times, talismans of faith exceptional in every way.  We return to our hotel on the Moscow Metro, visiting a series of remarkable stations with their lofty platform halls decorated in the most spectacular fashion. Later that evening we have our final group dinner in a local restaurant.
Day 9: Monday 8 June
This morning we drive out to visit the famous Novodevichy (New Maiden) Convent, founded in 1524 and within its walls we shall find some spectacular churches and bell towers. We continue to Moscow Airport for our return flights to the UK and elsewhere.


  • Price: £4,150 per person
  • Price without flights: £3,850
  • Deposit: £500
  • Single Supplement: £695 (Double Room for Sole Use)

Hotel Details

1 night at the 4*Angleterre, St Petersburg; 1 night at the 4* Astral in Tikhvin; 3 nights at the 4* Istria in Vologda; 1 night in 1st class sleeper train to Moscow (single or twin occupancy per compartment); 2 nights at the 5* Metropol Moscow, all with breakfast

Room Upgrade

Single Supplement:
£695 (Double Room for Sole Use & 1st Class Sleeper Compartment for Sole Use)
£525 (Double Room for Sole Use & 1st Class Sleeper Compartment to share)


KLM / British Airways

Outward:          KL1002  Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 4) 0840, arrive Amsterdam 1100 KL1395  Depart Amsterdam 1300, arrive St Petersburg 1650

Return:             BA232   Depart Moscow 1605, arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1800

Price includes

7 dinners & 7 lunches with water & coffee, wine with dinners, all local transfers, City Tax, entry fees & gratuities, services of Tom Duncan and our local Tour Manager

Not included

Travel to/from Heathrow, 1 dinner & 1 lunch, Visa.


Your passport must be valid for 6 months after return from Russia.


Visa Fee is from £102 (21 working day service plus visa agency fees). THis is not included in Tour Price.


Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Russia in May are:
Average Temperature between: 8oC - 18oC / 46oF - 64oF
Rainfall: 50mm / 1.9 inches

Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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