Optimistically known as the ‘Russian Riviera’, Sochi has undergone a transformation in recent years from a spa town on the shores of the Black Sea to a built up holiday resort.
For many years, Sochi has been a playground of the elites, many of whom have residences nearby to enjoy the heat in summer and the snowy peaks in winter.
The most famous of these is what many believe to be Putin’s Palace. Estimated to have cost USD one billion, the Italian designed complex boast three helipads and a private theatre. Though security at the complex is extremely tight, it can easily be seen from space.
Both the purpose of the palace, and the funds obtained to build it remain shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless when campaigners broke through the fence to try and gain entry in 2011, they were not only met with private security, but also by uniformed members of the Kremlin guard, giving a clue as to who the real proprietor might be.
For many, Sochi is intimately associated with corruption. The city received huge financial boosts ahead of staging the 2014 Winter Olympics, but it remains unknown how much of this was actually spent on improving its infrastructure. At a cost of USD $50 billion it dwarfs the costs of all previous Olympics. Vancouver’s Winter Olympcis in 2010 cost USD $7 billion whereas this year’s edition in Pyeonchang, South Korea, ran over budget at USD $13 billion. Only the USD $40 billion spent on the Beijing Olympics in 2008 comes anywhere near. R
Recently murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov described the Sochi Games as “nothing but a monstrous scam”, citing the USD $5 billion that was spent on a 30 mile (50km) road as proof that much of the money was simply used to enrich a small circle of Putin’s friends.
Nevertheless, some money did find its way into new construction projects in the city. As well as the Fisht Olympic Stadium, now converted into a 35,000 seater football arena, Sochi is also home to the Formula One Russian Grand Prix. The building boom set off by the Olympics means that the town is one of the best equipped to host fans during the World Cup.
Indeed, the town has a very ‘holiday’ feel to it. There are several lively areas with plenty of bars and restaurants, offering visitors a wide variety of options. The temperature will be around 30˚C throughout the tournament and the cool waters of the Black Sea are perfect for a refreshing dip.
Visitors might also enjoy taking a boat trip around the harbour, past all the yachts and out into the sea. Even in summer, some mountains retain their snow-capped peaks and there are plenty of activities on offer.
Sochi was used as a venue during the 2017 Confederations Cup, hosting group games and a semi final. During the World Cup it will host six games, including arguably the biggest game of the group stage – Spain vs Portugal on June 15.
The 35,000 seater Fisht Stadium, with the Formula One track snaking around it, is a thirty minute drive from the city centre. Fans should plan well ahead before heading to the stadium.
Read before going:
A Hero of Our Time – Mikhail Lermontov