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18 Apr, 2009 07:19

Kabardino-Balkaria – a future tourist mecca?

The mountainous region in Russia’s North Caucasus is home to the highest peak in Europe -Mount Elbrus. The unexplored and natural setting brings in plenty of tourist adventure-seekers, skiers and snowboarders.

Just a two-hour flight from the Russian capital, it is a place where you can not only ski on Europe’s highest mountain, but also get pampered in style in their spas.

It may be only 13,000 square kilometers in size, but Russia’s Southern republic of Kabardino-Balkaria is packed with some of the country's hottest tourist attractions, including waterfalls and the Narzan mineral springs which, legend has it, can help people live longer.

“I’m really surprised why so little is said about this part of the world. It’s great here, especially when the weather is good. Yesterday we did sightseeing from a ropeway – the scenery was fantastic, and I think there should be another route built so that people from health resorts could get straight to the mountains,” shared Ilya Kirienko, cyclist.

Ilya and his friends can move about the region easily and a surprise is always around the corner.

Even in this landlocked region there are plenty of water attractions. Divers have long visited the Blue Lake, which, despite not being fed by a single spring or river, still disgorges water every day.

The waters are crystal clear and the temperature year-round is a refreshing plus-nine degrees Celsius, but while it might look like a regular park lake, it is actually a giant well. One could almost sink the entire Eiffel tower into it. It is believed the lake goes down as deep as 260 meters, but nobody knows for sure as no one has yet reached the bottom.

Mount Elbrus is Kabardino-Balkaria's biggest attraction. At 5,642 meters, Elbrus’s summit it is the goal of many, and all the tourists visiting this place are unanimous – it is an outstanding leisure area.

“The mountains here are so beautiful and pristine. You can get both scenery and adrenaline. That is what attracts us!”

“There’re many resorts, but I wanted to get to know the Caucasus Mountains, at least once in my life. The infrastructure is so-so, but the mountains are another question. It’s unbelievable.”

The Caucasus region has seven mountains higher than 5000 meters, most of which lie in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria.

After the seven summits programme was established, mountaineers flocked from all over the world, keen to scale the highest mountains of every continent.

Surrounded by soaring snow-capped peaks, the region has scenery to rival the Swiss Alps. Yet far from attempting to make the most out of its sightseeing potential, Kabardino-Balkaria, surprisingly, does not even seem to be trying to enlarge its infrastructure, which makes it refreshingly intact.

However, some of the locals are doing what they can to turn the Elbrus region into a tourist mecca, but for the meantime will have to settle for selling souvenirs ranging from ‘strobila’ honey to sheep fur hats.

“It's food not only for my family, but for the whole nation. The republic survives thanks to tourism. The more tourists there are, the more developed the region becomes,” said a local woman.