The Crimean Express by Steam is a remarkable, historic and sweeping journey you won’t want to miss. The last time IRT’s Eleanor & Owen Hardy accompanied an IRT group on this itinerary, we both agreed it was one of our best ever.
It was the perfect mix of the ancient (a cave monastery and a Greek settlement) to the historic (Catherine the Great’s gorgeous summer palace and the site of the Yalta Conference) to the delicious (visits to fabulous wineries and dining on local delicacies with the region’s famed dessert wines). Just thinking of these places now makes us want to pack our bags and do it again!
Scheduled to be steam-hauled throughout the 3,750-mile journey, the tour begins in St. Petersburg and continues through Belarus and the Crimea by the private, steam-hauled Golden Eagle train. The journey ends in the Black Sea resort of Yalta.
The trip includes two nights at the 5-star Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace in St. Petersburg, and three nights at the 5-star Villa Elena Hotel in Yalta on the Black Sea.
This is a fabulous itinerary — perfect for steam train aficionados, history buffs and lovers of the beautifully exotic.
Railfan highlights include: the St. Petersburg railway museum, enjoying time on the train between Pavlovsk to Novgorod as you are hauled by the last steam locomotive built in the USSR, and taking in the Belarussian countryside en-route to the capital Minsk, hauled by two Su class steam locomotives, followed by two P36 class locos.
Visit the largest remaining strategic reserve of steam locomotives in Roslavl (45 in total), tour the narrow-gauge Gagarin Children’s Railway in Rostov-on-Don, and visit a locomotive repair depot in Tikhoretsk.
Meanwhile, history and architecture aficionados will marvel at the ancient settlement of the Greeks, the cave monastery, Catherine the Great’s frothy blue and white summer palace with its Amber Room.
We’ll also visit places important to the Yalta Conference during World War II: you’ll feel like you were there, exploring Churchill’s villa that overlooked the Black Sea, viewing Roosevelt’s quarters and viewing Stalin’s base.
Lunch at the Swallow’s Nest, narrowly perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Black Sea, was unforgettable, Eleanor says.
“And one of the most memorable last nights on any train trip I’ve ever done,” Eleanor says, “was dinner surrounded by roses, overlooking the Black Sea, listening to live local music and saying goodbye to a train full of friends.”
“This tour is an incredible mix of culture, climate, history and experiences from amazing gardens to a tour of the Massandra Winery to dinner overlooking the Black Sea. This is one of the best tours we’ve ever done.”
— Owen Hardy, IRT CEO & Publisher
Day 1: St. Petersburg, Russia
Arrive at the St. Petersburg Airport, where you are met and transferred to the luxury five-star Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace hotel, in the center of the city, for a two-night stay.
Day 2: St. Petersburg, Russia
Today, we enjoy a morning visit of the Russian National Railway Museum. The museum complex is spread over a vast area, including an old locomotive depot building and an eye-catching modern building. The museum includes a collection of rare and legendary steam locomotives, electric locomotives, railcars, and other rolling stock.
From here we take a steam train to Pushkin, where we have lunch, followed by an afternoon visit of Catherine’s Summer Palace, including the world-famous Amber Room.
Day 3: Novgorod, Russia
This morning, we depart on the Golden Eagle from St. Petersburg Vitebski station, hauled by two Er class steam locomotives. From Pavlovsk to Novgorod, we are scheduled to be hauled by LV.0522, the last steam locomotive to be built in the USSR, in 1956.
Novgorod is one of the oldest and most important historical cities in Russia; during the 14th century, it was one of the biggest cities on the European continent. Lying on the Volkov river, Novgorod has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. Here we will have a guided tour around the Novgorod Kremlin, discovering many ancient buildings and churches, including the Cathedral of St. Sophia, which is one of the oldest and most well-preserved 11th century churches in Russia.
During World War II, some of the towers were modified to fit anti-aircraft machine guns to defend the city from German bombers. As a result, many of the city’s historical buildings were protected and, as of today, there are 13 surviving towers of the fortress, which we will have the opportunity to explore.
Day 4: Pskov, Russia
Early this morning, we head to Pskov, hauled by two L class steam locomotives.
Pskov still preserves many of its medieval walls, most notably the picturesque Pskov Kremlin. The walls are over 70 meters tall and this medieval fortress sits on the junction of the Velikaya River and smaller Pskova River. In the 13th century, Pskovians elected a Lithuanian prince named Daumantas, an Orthodox convert known in Russia as Dovmont. It was under his rule that the city was fortified; the current walls were built during the 15th century. We will visit this magnificent Kremlin and the Citadel, where the remains of the Prince and his sword are preserved, and have a private tour of the castle grounds.
Pskov is also the birthplace of Saint Olga of Kiev, who was also an important Regent, famous for avenging her husband’s death and introducing Christianity to the region. Despite the resistance of her people to Christianity, Olga built churches in Kiev, Pskov, and elsewhere, which contributed to the expansion of orthodox Christianity throughout Russia.
Day 5: Minsk, Belarus
Today is a real highlight as we enjoy time on board the Golden Eagle, as we head through the Russian and Belarussian countryside en-route to the capital Minsk, hauled by two Su class steam locomotives to the border and then transferring to haulage by two P36 class locomotives.
We will spend the evening in Minsk, capital of Belarus, and enjoy a short tour of this city, which saw fierce fighting during World War II. It is estimated that 85% of the city’s buildings and infrastructure was destroyed during the German occupation.
As you explore the city, it will feel like you have taken a step back in time into the Soviet era as you see the historical architecture, including a statue of Lenin, the Belarusian State Circus, and Victory Monument with the Eternal Flame. Unusually, most of the communist symbolism decorating the architecture remains intact. Unlike many other ex-soviet countries, you will notice the Soviet Star and Hammer and Sickle decorating many of the buildings, a reminder of Belarussian history and what was once an important city of the USSR.
Afterwards, we will return to the Golden Eagle late in the evening as we travel back across the Belarus countryside towards Russia.
Day 6: On Board
We spend today on board, enjoying the passing Russian countryside from our private train. We return to Russia from Minsk via Smolensk and onto Roslavl, where we will visit the largest remaining strategic reserve of steam locomotives (currently 45), continuing with two P36 steam locomotives on the line to Etets.
Day 7: Voronesh, Russia
We will arrive in the morning to Voronesh, the birthplace of the Russian Naval fleet. In the late 17th century, Peter the Great of Russia returned from England to Voronesh to start commissioning boats for a military purpose. We will visit a replica of the most famous and magnificent warship called Goto Predestinatsia (God’s Predestination). The original was mounted with 58 cannons and built at the Voronezh shipyards in the early 18th century. The replica functions as a museum, where we will have a private tour and learn about the history of the ship and the First Russian Naval fleet.
Most of the city was destroyed during World War II and now Voronesh has a vast variety of architecture. The historical part of the city lies on a steep hill of the Voronezh River, while the streets are lined with a mixture of Soviet and modern high-rises — a reflection on the city’s history and how it has flourished and grown. Closer to the river, we will see beautiful pre-revolutionary houses.
After exploring the docks, we will return to the train where lunch will be served. This afternoon, we continue with two P36’s to Likhaya, where our sleeping car train will pause during the night.
Day 8: Rostov & Tikhoretsk, Russia
We arrive into Rostov, hauled by our P36 locomotives this morning, where we will transfer to the famous Gagarin Children’s Railway, a narrow-gauge railroad for a tour around Nikolai Ostrovsky Park, where we will have our own train hauled by their restored Gr steam locomotive.
We return to the Golden Eagle for lunch and travel onward to Tikhoretsk, where there will be the opportunity to visit the locomotive repair depot to see more of these historic steam locomotives that have been hauling our tour.
This evening, we continue onto Svetlograd, where we change locomotives from the P36s to two L class locomotives en-route to Elista.
Day 9: Elista, Russia
Elista is the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia and is a unique and beautiful city, home to the Kalmyk ethnic group originally from Mongolia. It is famous for international chess competitions and has a whole building, built by the Kalmykia President, devoted to chess. The city is full of Buddhist statues, temples, and pagodas, which is unusual considering most of the Russian population are orthodox Christians. Remarkably, in this part of Russia, Buddhism is the most practiced religion.
In 1998 during a visit to Kalmyk, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visited this city and chose a location for the city’s Buddhist temple. We will visit the Burkhan Bakshin Altan Sume (Golden Temple of the Buddha), which opened in 2005 as a dedication to the Kalmyks who died during the years of deportation to Siberia. The stunning temple is surrounded by 17 pagodas, with statues of the great Buddhist teachers of Nalanda and decorated with unique Kalmyk Buddhist artwork, which we will explore before returning to the train for lunch.
Day 10: Pyatigorsk & Kislovodsk, Russia
Our steam-hauled train will continue west this morning, pausing at the impressive station of Mineralnye-Vodi (Mineral Water) before traveling up the steeply graded Kislovodsk branch, as far as the spa town of Pyatigorsk, which we visit, hauled by LV and FD class locomotives.
This afternoon we continue up to Kislovodsk. Here we have the opportunity for a walking tour of the city’s well-manicured gardens and cobbled streets. You should notice the air, at nearly 1 km above sea level, feels crisp and fresh. In Soviet times, Kislovodsk was a closed area and required special permission to visit as it was a favorite haunt of the Soviet leadership.
Returning late afternoon to Mineralnye-Vodi, we switch back to haulage by two P36’s and head overnight to Krimskaya.
Day 11: Novorossiysk & Anapa, Russia
The short journey from Krimskaya to Novorossiysk this morning is hauled by double-headed L class locomotives.
The areas of Novorossiysk and Anapa are one of Russia’s main wine-growing regions and produces table and sparkling wines, mainly for domestic consumption. The most famous winery in the Krasnodar region is the Abrau-Dyurso Soviet Champanskoye winery, established by Tsar Alexander III in 1870 to produce Russian Champagne for the Royal Household. In 1896, Prince Lev Golitsyn, the founding father of modern Russian wine-making, arrived with Champagne specialists to oversee the building of the winery. An extensive series of tunnels and caverns were dug into the hills for maturing the Methode Champagnoise for Russian sparkling wines. The winery is located just 14 km outside the city, which we will visit for a sparkling wine tasting. We will also visit the museum to learn the interesting history of the winery and its importance in this region before returning to the Golden Eagle.
Haulage this evening is provided by the P36 class as we head to Crimea.
Day 12: Feodosiya & Evepatoria, Crimea
This morning we cross, with our two P36’s, the newly constructed Kerch Strait Bridge from the Russian mainland onto the Crimean Peninsula. Following a quick change of locomotives to an L class at Vladislovovka, we make the short run to the seaside resort of Feodosiya where we will visit the Aivazovsky Gallery.
Returning to the Golden Eagle for lunch and an afternoon on board, we will be hauled again by the two P36’s to Evepatoria, which is a beautiful resort town on the western cost of Crimea.
Evepatoria was once a colony of Ancient Greece and its origins date back to 500 BC, but it has also been a part of many different kingdoms, such as the Mongol, Ottoman, and Russian Empires. During the Soviet era, it was used as a medical resort for children suffering with tuberculosis and other related illnesses. It is believed that the perfect combination of climatic warm weather, spas, and springs using natural mineral water contributed to the healing of the most serious diseases of this time. During World War II, the sanatoriums were used as military hospitals to treat the sick and injured. After the war, the city welcomed over one million visitors each year to visit one of its many treatment facilities.
Here you can enjoy a tour of the city’s 100-year-old tram service (subject to availability), or take some free time to explore this ancient city and visit many different religious and monumental buildings. After the tour, we will head to a local restaurant to experience the diverse and exciting cuisine of this area — the perfect combination of Turkish and Eastern European-influenced food.
Day 13: Bakhchisarai, Crimea
After leaving Evepatoria, we travel initially onto Simferopol with the L class locomotive before it is re-joined by the P36’s, which will haul the Golden Eagle on the last leg of our tour to Bakhchisarai and Sevastopol.
In Bakhchisarai, we will visit the 16th century Hansaray (or Khan’s) Palace and Uspensky Cave Monastery.
This evening, we arrive into Sevastopol, which is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet and is a town steeped in the history of the Crimean War and World War II. On both occasions, Sevastopol was under siege for almost a year.
Day 14: Sevastopol & Balaclava, Crimea
Saying farewell to the Golden Eagle this morning, our tour of Sevastopol includes the Old Town, the Panorama (a 360-degree painting and montage depicting the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War of 1853-56) and Khersones, reputed to be the most complete ancient Greek settlement in existence, and only opened to foreign visitors a few years ago.
We also visit the town of Balaclava and its Diorama depicting the Battle of Balaclava in October 1854. We will visit the place where there is a fine view of the valley where the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade took place. The valley today is now covered in neat rows of vines and in the middle is a white stone memorial to the ill-fated military engagement by the British Light Cavalry with the Russian army.
For the next three nights, we will stay at the Villa Elena Hotel, a luxurious five-star hotel on the seafront promenade designed by the famous Yalta architect Lev Nikolayevich Shapovalov, which is now a historical monument of local significance and an award-winning boutique hotel. With beautifully decorated rooms, you will be able to relax and enjoy the luxury service this hotel offers.
Day 15: Yalta, Crimea
Today there is a guided tour of Yalta, including Chekhov’s House and the Botanical Gardens, followed by lunch at the Swallow’s Nest, a fairy-tale castle breathtakingly perched high above the sea. This restaurant is a world-famous location and many world leaders have eaten here. In the afternoon, we take a scenic cruise along the picturesque coastline before visiting the Massandra Palace and Imperial Winery, touring the cellars (they have bottles dating back to 1775 and many bottles from the Tsars’ personal collection).
Day 16: Yalta, Crimea
This morning we visit Alupka Palace, which was built for Count Mikhail Vorontsov, former special envoy to the United Kingdom and friend of the Marlborough Family. The Palace is a strange but attractive combination of a Scottish castle with Arabian influences. Winston Churchill stayed here during the Yalta Conference of February 1945.
In the afternoon we enjoy a tour of the Tsar’s Summer Palace at Livadia and the site of the Yalta Conference between Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. A Champagne reception in the grounds will be followed by dinner in the restaurant attached to the palace.
Day 17: Yalta, Crimea
Following breakfast, airport transfers are provided to Simferopol Airport for guests connecting to international flights.
Locomotives scheduled to be used during the tour:
2020 Dates:October 19-November 4
| 2020 Pricing
Prices are per person.
Pricing includes all meals, including wine or beer with lunch and dinner, airport transfers, all sightseeing mentioned, all gratuities, all accommodation in five-star hotels and on the train.
Not included: international airfare, visas required for the tour (Russia & Belarus for U.S. citizens), travel insurance.
Latest News: Click here for owner Owen Hardy’s blog on what’s new for 2011 and 2012 on the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express.