Despite being open to tourism for decades now, Russia remains, as Churchill once observed ‘a riddle wrapped in an enigma'. Mysterious, mighty, modern yet medieval; beautiful and brutal, romantic but cynical, poetic and pragmatic, this is an endlessly contradictory country, but large enough to allow all opposites to exist.
Russia's sheer scale is difficult to imagine, let alone thoroughly explore. Western Russia on its own, from the borders of Belarus to the Ural mountains, is the largest country in Europe, and that's just a fraction of the whole country. The Russian Federation only finishes when the sea separating it from Japan begins, a great sweep of steppes and Siberia in between. There are silvery birch forests too, and snow capped mountains, the warm sands of the Black Sea, rivers, deep lakes and every kind of physical beauty to enjoy.
If the landscapes soothe the soul, urban life in Russia stirs it. The cities are exciting, or enchanting, and in some cases both. From the chaotic yet compelling charm of Moscow, the enchanted feel of the ancient towns on the Golden Ring, the elegance of St Petersburg to the exuberance of Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, there's something for everyone here, from adventure holidays to cultural city breaks or both combined in a tailor made trip.
This is one country where working out an itinerary designed to take in as much variety as possible is recommended, due to both its size and scope. Preferably an itinerary that will allow for sociable stops in steamy bathhouses and chatty teahouses and bars for shots of what is known as ‘a little drop of water' in Russia - and consumed with as much regularity - vodka.