Russia's Northern Region is a place of frozen seas, silvery forests and shimmering lakes and thousands of islands. Reaching into the Arctic Circle, this region of lakes, forests and tundra might be chilly in the winter, but it's a beautiful fairytale landscape during the snowy months, and equally gorgeous to look at all year round.
The landscape here is diverse and thrilling. The coastline of the White Sea is stunning, and the Solovestsky Islands - a White Sea archipelago astounding in natural beauty - is home to both one of Stalin's most feared Gulag camps and a wonderful historic monastery. Karelia, full of lakes and forests is a draw for adventure holidays, with hiking, skiing, off-road tours and the Kola Peninsula is equally enchanting, with its unspoilt coastline and rolling rivers and hills.
The cities and culture of the Northern Region are mesmerising too. The old pagan ritual site of Kizhi is petrified in the past - ornate wooden buildings built in the traditional style cover this island, one of the thousands in Lake Onega. Of particular glory is the Transfiguration Church, built in 1712, a riot of domes and gables and possibly the single most impressive example of Russian wooden architecture, worth the day trip by itself.
For longer stops, the port of Arkhangelsk - Archangel - is historically intriguing. Old wooden houses are still to be found amidst the modern concrete, and the waterfront along the wide Dvina river is charming, as are the inhabitants, said to be the friendliest in the country.
Murmansk, at the mid-point between Moscow and the North Pole, is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle and perfectly placed to enjoy polar nights and the midnight sun. And while Petrozavodsk might literally mean ‘Peter's factory', founded as it was by Peter the Great as an armaments plant, it‘s in fact one of the most attractive Russian cities, set on Lake Onega and dotted with charming squares and parks.
The jewel of all the cities in this vast region, however, is indisputably St Petersburg. Endlessly elegant, European in feel, rich in history, home to the extraordinary museum that is the Hermitage, and the city to party in during the legendary white nights of summertime under the midnight sun.