Ancient Russian Towns: Home for American Settlers with Traditional Family Values

English speaking families living in Rostov, Borisoglebsky, Yaroslavl, Pereslavl, Suzdal. . .

Originally appeared at: Moving to Russia

Idyllic ancient ‘Mother Russia’ still exists, and it’s being settled by English speaking families who are coming from America, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Denmark, and all over the world. In this article we will take a tour of Russia’s Golden Ring, paying attention to the special attractions of each town. We will also meet some of the English speaking families who have already settled there.

The medieval cities of Russia’s Golden Ring are nestled amid green hills and floral meadows, with rambling country roads surrounded by forests, lakes, orchards, and wooden farmhouses.

Borisoglebsky Monastery

If you are especially interested in reading about towns where Americans have settled, then feel free to scroll down and skip ahead to the sections on RostovPereslavl, and Borisoglebsky.

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Introducing Russia’s Golden Ring

Russia may be one single, colossal nation, but within its borders, there are many Russias. Everyone knows a bit about some of these Russias – the chaotic thrills of megacity Moscow or the frozen wilds of deepest Siberia.

But those who understand a little more about Russia may associate its thousands of years of rich human history with a different Russia. A much older Russia, it is partially sheltered from rapid development and industrialisation, its generations of inhabitants living much of their lives in peaceful ways at a more relaxed pace.

Incredibly, this idyllic vision of village and rural life in Russia still exists in many ways, particularly in one picturesque region just a few hours northeast of Moscow. The Golden Ring is a string of provincial towns and cities, some dating back to at least the 10th century. In the towns of the Golden Ring, you can feel the history in the air as you explore the ancient forts, gaze up at towering monasteries, and admire the magnificent cathedrals.

A true taste of old Mother Russia, the Golden Ring is a rare destination where tight-knit communities of locals still lead a large traditional Russian lifestyle – where the dacha (country house) is still an integral part of harmonious rural society, and many of ‘the old ways’ of cooking, craft-making, religion, and ritual are still followed and revered.

What and Where is the Golden Ring?

The name ‘Golden Ring’ refers to an overland route – a return loop from Moscow that years ago became a popular journey among Russian travellers. The region is located northeast of Moscow, and the following cities are the most popular destinations:

  1. Sergiev Posad

  2. Pereslavl-Zalessky

  3. Rostov Veliky

  4. Suzdal

  5. Kostroma

  6. Ivanovo

  7. Yaroslavl

  8. Vladimir

These ancient towns are arguably the region’s most interesting and impressive locations, but there are also many lesser-known villages with their own secrets to offer.

We will add the charming medieval town of Borisoglebsky to the list. A mere half-hour drive west of Rostov, this ancient village is home to the 700-year-old Borisoglebsky monastery, and has become a focal point for the majority of Americans who are settling in the Golden Ring.

The setting of these towns couldn’t be more picturesque – scattered across a rural landscape of rolling hills, flower blanketed meadows, fast-flowing rivers and crystal clear streams.

Why You Must Come to Russia’s Golden Ring

It’s Full of Incredible History

Russian history, above most other civilizations, is exceptionally captivating – no, let’s face it, awesome – with more political intrigue, wars, revolutions, heroes, villains, bizarre dynasties and enigmatic characters than one could even find in the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings.

Many Golden Ring cities date back to at least the 10th century. Yaroslavl, the oldest still-existing settlement on the Volga River (and home to several of Russia’s oldest significant buildings) celebrated its thousandth birthday in 2010. Many of these cities were once important trade settlements and played vital roles in both the rise of the Tsars and the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The region came under attack by invading Mongol forces in the 13th century – hence Golden Ring cities like Vladimir sporting impressive fortifications and even a few 700-year-old battle scars.

Traditional Russian Culture and Craftsmanship Up-Close

The compact cities of the Golden Ring enjoy a more relaxed sense of time, making them the perfect antidote to the relentless pace of Moscow. Many of these medieval cities are so well preserved that there’s a palpable sense of entering another, much older time and place – somewhere which stayed remarkably unchanged for centuries. As well as taking great pride and reverence in their status as the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church, these cities have carefully preserved time honoured traditions, folk music, art, and cuisine. Sit down at a quaint family-run café to try heart-warming fare cooked from old family recipes.

Some of Russia’s most iconic handicrafts originated here. Visit the colorful flea market and admire matryoshka dolls (wooden nesting dolls) in their home town, Sergiev Posad, or find the perfect gifts in intricately decorated wooden tableware, lacquer boxes and enamel paintings.

The Architecture and Surroundings are Hugely Photogenic

Virtually every town has historic city centres made up of one meticulously preserved architectural masterpiece after another. Several landmarks have been recognised for their artistic merit and culture importance by being granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

These include the monasteries and onion-dome cathedrals of Yaroslavl, the white stone monuments of Vladimir, and the medieval wooden houses and windmills in Suzdal.

Full of vibrant colours and incredibly intricate craftsmanship (the astonishing church frescoes in Yaroslavl have few equals in Russia or anywhere else), almost every city in the Golden Ring is a visual feast and a photographer’s paradise.

Most popular cities and attractions in the Golden Ring

Sergiev Posad

Sergiev Posad is situated 75 km (47 miles) northeast of Moscow, about an hour’s drive from the capital.

Sergiev Posad’s monastery, The Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, found in 1340, is one the oldest and most beautiful examples of a religious building showcasing the sapphire blue and gold cupolas and pure white walls, representing the Orthodox perception of divinity.

The monastery is one of the holiest sites in Russia. Founded by the country’s most revered saint, St. Sergius of Radonezh, it is one of the most important spiritual centres for the Orthodox Church, sometimes referred to as the “Russian Vatican”. Orthodox pilgrims have made long journeys here to pay their respects to its patron saint since the 14th century.

Another site not to miss in Sergiev Posad is the Chernigovsky skete, a monastery in central Russia that is unique because of its hand-dug monk cells and prayer caves. Now about 10 monks live in the skete, famous for its everyday unction sacrament with anointing. Pilgrims come here to bow to Elder Barnabas’ relics and two wonderworking Chernigovskaya icons.

There are several great museums in the area which are worth visiting, especially with kids, such as:

  • Toy museum - Proudly presents a collection of toys and Christmas tree decorations from all over the world. The museum is particularly famous for its collection of matryoshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls), including the first nesting doll ever produced in Russia.

  • Sergiyevskaya Kukhmisterskaya museum - The museum has a unique collection of cast-iron stoves of the 19th-20th centuries, copper and porcelain dishes, and kitchen equipment: mechanical churns, mixers, coffee grinders, ice makers, slicers, and more. Everyone can visit the dining room of the kitchen workshop and try culinary masterpieces from cookbooks of the 19th-20th centuries.

  • Peasant Life Museum Zhili-Byli - During an illuminating two-hour guided tour, you’ll experience what life was like in rural Russia. Run by an enthusiastic family, this museum encourages guests to interact with the exhibits, including touching certain artefacts.

While the majority of American immigrants have settled in Borisoglebsky, Rostov, and Pereslavl, the great monastery in Sergiev Posad remains a popular destination for pilgrimages. Many times, the American settlers in Rostov and Borisoglebsky have taken overnight trips to Sergiev Posad, eager to see the sights and to drink in the ancient spirituality that so richly adorns this ancient place.

Suzdal

Of all the wonderful historic towns in this part of Russia, people often rate Suzdal as the most charming and enjoyable in the entire Golden Ring.

With wooden houses straight from the pages of a storybook and horse-drawn buggies plying the quiet cobblestone streets, Suzdal recalls a Russia from centuries past.

In Suzdal, you can walk ramparts of the old Kremlin, admire the frescoes of the Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery, and appreciate the classic wooden architecture of the Church of the Transfiguration. Strolling the quiet village streets and country roads just outside town, you get a real sense of what life was like for the rural folks living under the Mother Russia of Old.

Other attractions in town are the Suzdal Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Nativity, and the Monastery of Saint Euthymius, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So far, we know of two English speaking families who settled in Suzdal. One family is from America. The other is from Scotland. Also, one of the local Russian deacons speaks perfect English!

Vladimir

A 1,000-years-old city of Vladimir was a former medieval capital of Russia, and the city is blessed with the highest concentration of 12th-century buildings anywhere in Russia. Today, Vladimir is a bustling city of around 350,000. While it lacks some of the laidback charm of more rural cities like Sudzal, it more than makes up for with its extraordinary concentration of grand, UNESCO listed architectural marvels, crammed into the compact city centre.

The Golden Gates were built in 1164, both as defence rampart and a grand triumphal arch. Vladimir’s great princes would ascent the thrown by entering the town through the Golden Gates. Inside the Golden Gates is an exhibition hall with a collection of medieval weapons and an impressive diorama depicting the storming on Vladimir by Mongol Troops in 1238.

At the right side of the gates is the tiny white stone Church of the Deposit of the Virgin’s Robe. It was commissioned by Prince Andrei to celebrate the miraculous survival of 12 workers who were buried alive on the day of the Gate’s unveiling. Complete with its charming church companion, Vladimir’s Golden Gates have no equal in medieval European architecture.

The Uspensky Cathedral was one of the most outstanding works of religious architecture ever completed in Russia. After opening in 1158, it became the most influential church in the region at that time.

Vladimir is only a 40-minute drive away from Suzdal. So if you happen to be in this city, you won’t be far away from native English speakers.

Yaroslavl

The oldest Christian city on the Volga River, Yaroslavl has earned World Heritage status, with its rich legacy of neoclassical buildings and a unique radial-style urban plan (a pioneering initiative of Catherine the Great). Between the 12th and 17th centuries, the city was home to many of Russia’s greatest craftsmen, who transformed Yaroslavl into a city of magnificent churches and monuments.

Of special interest is the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior, which was one of the richest and most heavily fortified monasteries by the 1500s.

There is one American who recently moved to Yaroslavl. And there are multiple native Russians in town who can speak English fluently.

Rostov Veliky

Rostov Veliky is the oldest town in the Golden Ring and the most architecturally impressive, with elegantly restored monuments dating from the 12th to the 17th century. The Rostov Kremlin has elegant white-washed walls and textured domes, displaying a magnificent figure, standing near the shores of Lake Nero.

Rostov’s Cathedral Square is dominated by the Kremlin and its main cathedral, the onion-domed Dormition Cathedral, which dates back to the early 1500s and stands a massive 60m high (197 feet) from base to cross.

Rostov also has many newer museums dealing with the tumultuous Tsarist and Soviet influences in the region. And there are plenty of good restaurants in town. Here is a list of homes currently for sale in Rostov.

English speaking families from both North and South America now call Rostov their home. The Silva family came here from Brazil, and the Kay family was featured last year in an article about Americans moving to Russia.

Kostroma

This city contains well-preserved merchant houses from the 19th century, and one of its main treasures – a few rows of shopping complexes from the 18th-19th centuries. Brisk trade thrives in them to this day.

One of the most significant places in Kostroma is the Ipatiev Monastery. It is known as the “cradle of the tsarist dynasty”. Once, it was here that the founder of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail Romanov, hid from his enemies, while his coronation ceremony took place in the Trinity Cathedral of the monastery.

Lovers of art and history will enjoy the Romanovsky Museum, housed in a beautiful pseudo-Russian-style building. Some of its rooms tell of the royal dynasty – here, you can see the royal throne, clothing, old documents and books. Other exhibitions are devoted to the life and art of the 19th century – they exhibit antique furniture, porcelain and crystal glassware, and clothing. Also worthy of attention is the Museum of Theatrical Costume, and the Museum of Ancient Architecture with its ancient wooden churches.

It would be wonderful to have some Americans or Western Europeans settle in the city of Kostroma. It is a beautiful city with a lovely history and heritage.

Pereslavl-Zalessky

Founded in 1,152 by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, the city was devastated numerous times by the Mongols between the mid-13th century and the early 15th century. Its charm is its location on the bank of the Lake Pleshcheyevo and its provincial feel. There are 5 monasteries and 9 museums in the town, which considering its size is quite an achievement.

The Cathedral of the Transfiguration is one of the oldest buildings in Russia, over 850 years old. One of the more well-known museums is the Botik Museum which houses the sailboat, Fortuna, which is one of only two boats to survive from among Peter the Great’s possessions. He spent time in Pereslavl-Zalessky when he was younger and this is supposedly where his love of ships grew.

Two American families have settled in Pereslavl, including Jason Campbell and his family, who were featured last year in an article about Americans moving to Russia. Pereslavl also has English-speaking settlers from France and from Belgium. Even the local bishop speaks good English!

Ivanovo

The history of Ivanovo began in the 19th century with the unification of two settlements, the village of Ivanovo and Voznesensky Posad. Today Ivanovo attracts people with its unique architecture – especially private residences, trimmed with marble, rare wood, bronze, and granite.

There are also well-known villages such as Paleh and Holuy, which are located not far from the city. Ivanovo is still a textile center of Russia and this is why it is often called “Russian Manchester” or “The City of Brides”.

Popular local attractions:

  • The Svyato-Vvedensky Convent is one of Ivanovo’s Orthodox gems, located in the heart of the city. Today, more than 150 nuns live here.

  • The Cathedral of the Transfiguration, also known as the White Church, was built in 1889, when the Russian style was especially popular in architecture, recalling the traditions of the 17th century.

  • The Stitching and Embroidery Factory is where you can see and buy traditional folk embroidery and decorated curtains.

  • The Shchudrovsky Chamber is a famous ancient brick building and an authentic symbol of the city. Located near Revolution Square it forms part of the historical and local history museum.

A friendly English speaker in Ivanovo is Fr. Makarios Markish, an Orthodox Christian monk who writes for Global Orthodox News. He spent his childhood in Russia, his young adulthood in America, and is a citizen of both countries. A couple decades ago, he finally returned to Russia just before becoming a monk.

Borisoglebsky

Half an hour drive west of Rostov, the ancient town of Borisoglebsky is peaceful and charming, home to the 700-year-old Borisoglebsky monastery and the famous annual St. Irenarch Cross Procession. English speaking families from all over the world have arrived in this area, and are settling in the surrounding villages.

An Australian family just purchased an acreage nearby, with plans to build a home there. A family from England is coming this fall to look at land and housing options. A family from Denmark just settled south of town, and they can be seen in a recent video about Westerners moving to Russia.

Five American families have already settled around Borisoglebsky, including the Gleasons, the first American family to settle in the area.

Weather in Russia’s Golden Ring

The Golden Ring is magical all year round, with each season bringing a new and inspiring palette of colour to the surrounding countryside. During the summer months of June to August, you’re most likely to get the vivid blue skies that make the iconic backdrop to so many stunning images of the region’s cathedral domes and cupolas.

Spring is when the rural scenery is at its best, with April and May being the wildflower months in the meadows. Days are still usually sunny and pleasant, but you’ll feel the chill at night without a good warm jacket.

In autumn, the woodlands and orchards take on rich hues of red, orange and yellow and day time temps are still reasonably mild. The freezing temperature of the winter (November to March) often cover the parks and meadows with thick blankets of snow. If you don’t mind the cold, this time of year really is a dreamy wonderland, with frozen lakes and rivers perfect for ice skating.

Of course, to really comprehend the depth of beauty of Russia's Golden Ring, you have to see it for yourself. There is no comparison to personal experience. You are invited! First, come for a visit. And then come to stay! Undoubtedly, the Golden Ring is one of the very best places to see, taste, and experience authentic old-world Russian culture.

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