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Russia's Ring of Gold

Just outside Moscow is the Golden Ring, a trio of towns well off the tourist path – but brimming with culture and tradition. By Steve McKenna.

When it comes to travelling in Russia, two places stand head and shoulders above the rest: capital city Moscow and “cultural capital” St Petersburg. But there’s so much more to savour in what is, after all, the world’s largest country. 

One of Russia’s most captivating draws is the Golden Ringa beautiful and blissfully tranquil region just north-east of Moscow. It comprises a circuit of ancient cities, towns and villages where you can get a tangible sense of the culture and heritage of “mother Russia”
Churches dotting the landscape, Yaroslavi, Russia
The Golden Ring was looped together as a touring route in the late 1960s – when the Soviet Union made a big effort to boost tourist numbers and promote this then-Communist country as an attractive destination to foreign visitors. You can explore highlights of the Golden Ring by cruising the legendary Volga – Europe’s longest river – passing by several enticing pit stops, including the ring’s unofficial capital, Yaroslavl - one of the oldest cities in Russia
Whether you’re cruising by ship, or strolling on the city’s embankment, you’ll struggle to take your eyes off the colourful bulbous domes that sprout into the skies above Yaroslavl’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic centre. 
View of Church of Dmitry on the Blood Volga River, Uglich
A medley of emerald green domes crown the sprawling, fortified Monastery of the Transfiguration of The Saviour, which was founded in the 12th century – about 200 years after the city was established by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Now home to a museum with exhibitions displaying precious artworks, gold, silver and jewellery, the monastery was a favourite religious retreat for Russian tsars, not least the infamous Ivan IV (better known as Ivan the Terrible). 
Elsewhere in Yaroslavl, it’s a pleasure to walk the church-and monument-lined streets of a city that was renovated, in neoclassical style, as part of the urban planning reforms initiated across Russia by Empress Catherine the Great in the late 18th century.
View of white building with gold roof, Russia
Also not to be missed is the Church of St John the Baptist with its 15 green domes, and the recently restored hilltop Assumption Cathedral, capped with glittering golden onion-like bulbs. From the terrace below, you can cast your gaze over the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosi rivers. 
About 80 kilometres east of Yaroslavl as the crow flies, Uglich is another standout of the Golden Ring. Much prettier than it sounds, this leisurely paced town (population 35,000) has a feast of picturesque architecture by the banks of the Volga, and an intriguing local history fuelled by myths and legends.
View of Transfiguration Cathedral, Uglich Russia
Many focus on the fate of Prince Dmitry, Ivan the Terrible’s youngest son. The scarlet-tinged Church of St Dmitry on the Blood, topped with blue-and gold domes (part of the Uglich Kremlin), is said to have been built on the spot where the young prince tragically died in 1591. Some accounts say he accidentally cut himself with his own sword while suffering an epileptic seizure. Others say he was murdered by a future rival to the throne. The mystery, along with Uglich’s entrancing, timeless beauty, endures to this day.