Toys and pickles: The keys to Kirov

Popular toys handmade only by women represent the whole country on postcards, and the local pickled cucumbers are so delicious, they make people travel long distances to taste them - the Kirov Region really appeases both body and soul.

­In summer, tourists are attracted from all over the world for one highly unusual festival, the pride of the Kirov Region – the annual Cucumber Festival. The governor himself invited journalists from all across Russia just to showcase the region's tourist potential.

Organizers here make the bold claim that the pickled cucumbers in this village of Istobensk are the best in the world.

But while the players sing folk songs extolling the virtues of the green staple, there is only one tiny stall where the vegetable can be bought, and people confess to having traveled for nearly 100 kilometers to be in Ostobensk and taste the local marvel. 

“I am curious about what it is that makes them so special, but I am a bit disappointed because I wasn't allowed to buy more,” said one tourist.

August is the middle of the pickling season – the cucumbers are harvested, put in brine, and mixed with herbs. The recipe that makes them special is a strictly-kept secret. But the magic ingredients are dill, garlic and horseradish.

The truly unique part of the local pickling process is that the sealed barrels are dumped in the river for six months. It is said that the cold water gives them a subtle chalky flavor. 

Traditionally, the Kirov Region has always been known for its Dymkovo toys. Based on ancient pagan deities, these clay figurines have been handmade here for hundreds of years.

The handicraft's strict tradition prescribes that artisans must depict very specific subjects – ample peasant women and improbably-colored animals.

“This is not just a trademark of our region; this is Russia's visiting card. We want the world to take notice,” Dymkovo toy historian Nadezhda Menshikova told RT.

The toys can only be made by women, and apprentices have to perfect their craft for years before they can be called masters.

“Before I became a toy-maker, I thought making the same things over and over again would be boring, but actually they always turn out different. And once I have mastered the traditional motifs, I might branch out and experiment,” explained toy artisan Yulia Dvinyaninova.

Tim Kirby has been living in Russia for five years and has a video blog dedicated to tourism in Russia. He believes that the development of tourism in Russia is facing several problems, among them prices for services and lack of information.

"There is no information about things in Russia, so a lot of Russians have no idea what's happening," he says. "One person even said that there's nothing to see in Russia, nothing to see in the biggest country in the world! There's got to be something! The other thing is that for a lot of Russians, they just don't think that Russia's ‘cool’. And I think totally the opposite. I love this place," Kirby said.

Local authorities are hoping master classes will become a tourist attraction and a recruiting ground for new craftswomen. There is also talk of massive craft fairs that promise to draw thousands. There is now even a Dymkovo family statue in the city square, but that was paid for by a mobile phone operator.

Dymkovo toys and the local pickles charm tourists who find themselves in the region, but whether this is enough to turn the Kirov Region into a true tourist destination is another question altogether.