from the heroic city that changed the course of wwii to the exotic steppes of the tatars
Astrakhan – Stalingrad – Mordovia – Tataria – Chuvashia – Mari-El – Udmurtia – Bashkiria
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis from March through June. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
Cruise option: the following program refers to an overland itinerary across the Volga Basin. It is designed to be travelled solely by road (private minibus), as this will allow us to be flexible and relatively quick. The Volga is, however, one of those great Russian rivers that can also be journeyed by boat. Volga cruises are a perfect and romantic way to enjoy the region in a slow-travel mood. We can offer you a wide spectrum of river trips, ranging from a minimum of one week to a maximum of a month. Contact us to learn more about these options.
DAY 1 - Astrakhan
In the morning you will meet our tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel in Astrakhan (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for an additional fee).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Southern Russia.
Astrakhan morning sightseeing: Kremlin, Fish Market, City Embankment, Cathedral of the Assumption, House of the Soviets, Lenin Square, Wedding Palace, Music Fountain, Temple Gate, Peter the Great Statue.
In the afternoon we'll head to the Volga Delta National Park to enjoy a romantic boat trip surrounded by a wild landscape of lotus flowers, water lilies and flocks of migratory birds.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Astrakhan.
DAY 2 - Baskunchak
We'll set off on a long journey across the steppes and head to legendary Stalingrad (aka Volgograd, aka Tsarin).
We'll drive along the mighty Volga for most of the time, following the course of the old Soviet road connecting Astrakhan to Stalingrad and crossing a surreal and dystopian landscape of windswept steppes, Mad-Max settlements and industrial decay.
Besides the routine stops for food, photography and physiological needs, we'll break the long haul to Stalingrad by taking a plunge in the salty waters of Lake Baskunchak, the very Soviet version of California's Salton Sea.
In the late afternoon we'll eventually reach Stalingrad and get a well-deserved fresh shower to shake off the salt of Baskunchak.
Dinner and overnight in Stalingrad.
DAY 3 - Stalingrad
Stalingrad sightseeing: Giant Lenin Statue, Mamayev Hills Monuments, Soviet Motherland Statue, Flour Mill Ruins, All Saints Church, Volgograd Railway Station, WWII memorials.
Traditional Southern Russian lunch.
Guided tour through the State Panoramic Museum of Stalingrad Battle and evening stroll along the embankment.
Dinner and overnight in Stalingrad.
DAY 4 - Engels and Saratov
Morning drive to Engels, the former capital of the now defunct Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and short sightseeing stroll through the old town.
Visit to the Landing Place of Yuri Gagarin, just outside Engels.
Traditional Volga-German lunch.
After a visit to a lost Soviet little town aptly named Marx, we'll move to the grey-and-ugly industrial Volga metropolis of Saratov.
Dinner and overnight in Saratov.
DAY 5 - Mordovia
Today we'll leave the Southern Volga Basin and head to the autonomous republics of the Idel-Ural.
The term Idel-Ural defines a historical region of the Russian Empire and the former USSR. The name literally means Volga-Urals in the Tatar language and is often used to designate the six autonomous republics of the region: Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Mari El, Mordovia, Tatarstan, and Udmurtia. Before being conquered by the Tsardom in the 16th century, the region was dominated by native Uralic tribes and a succession of Islamic Turkic empires, such as Volga Bulgaria, the Khazars, the Golden Horde, and the Khanate of Kazan.
The first Idel-Ural state we are going to visit will be the Republic of Mordovia, an obscure nation inhabited by the ugro-finnic Mordovins, whose capital Saransk - the place we'll be heading too - gained some notoriety thanks to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
On our way to Mordovia we'll stop for lunch at the historical town of Penza.
Once in Saransk we'll then tour the Soviet downtown and the pay a visit to the National Museum to learn more about the Mordovins, their language, culture, and traditions.
Dinner and overnight in Saransk.
DAY 6 - Ulyanovsk
In the morning we'll continue our tour to Saransk and its fair share of Soviet architecture, Tsarist heritage and post-Soviet pomp, we'll then set off on an bucolic trip across the Mordovian countryside and head to Ulyanovsk, a major town along the Volga River and the birthplace of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, one of the initiators of the Great October Revolution and the very founding father of the Soviet Union.
We'll, of course, pay a visit to the local Lenin Museum and then have a vodka toast in his memory.
Dinner and overnight in Ulyanovsk.
DAY 7 - Tolyatti and Samara
In the morning we'll leave Ulyanovsk and head to the Soviet industrial metropolis of Samara.
On our way to Samara we'll stop in the model working town of Tolyatti, named after the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti, and at the surprisingly pristine Samarskaya Luka National Park, a green peninsula stretching in the shade of the Zhiguli Mountains: in Tolyatti we'll enjoy a Socialist tour of the concrete downtown and in the park you'll be able to take a break from the traffic and the factories of the Volga basin and enjoy the local flora and fauna, especially birds.
Dinner and overnight in Samara.
DAY 8 - Bugulma
After a quick sightseeing of Samara city centre we'll tour Stalin's underground bunker just behind the river embankment.
After lunch we'll then move further east and enter Tatarstan, an autonomous republic mainly inhabited - as the name suggests - by Muslim Tatars, the very same descendants of the powerful Golden Horde.
In the late afternoon we'll reach the sleepy provincial town of Bugulma, which we'll use mainly as stopover to break our long journey to Bashkortostan; but hey, sleepy provincial backwaters can be fascinating too and an evening out in Bugulma will give you an idea of what life is like in the forgotten outskirts of Mother Russia.
Dinner and overnight in Bugulma.
DAY 9 - Bashkiria
Early morning start and straight drive to Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, aka Bashkiria, the largest autonomous republic in the region and home to the once nomadic Bashkirs, a Muslim turkic people ethnically, culturally and linguistically closely related to but not to be mixed with the neighbouring Tatars.
We'll devote the entire day to the exploration of Ufa, the capital of the republic: eclectic new mosque, Soviet memorials, communist statues, socialist architecture, sky blue cathedrals and exotic bazaars.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Ufa.
DAY 10 - Udmurtia
Today we'll head to Udmurtia, yet another obscure autonomous backwater of the Idel-Ural region.
The Udmurts are a finno-ugric Christian people who recently gained celebrity thanks to a babushka choir from the remote backcountry of the republic performing at Eurovision and other national and international song contests.
Izhevsk, the capital of the republic and today's destination, is, instead, notorious for being the birthplace of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the namesake automatic rifle that cause more deaths across the globe that any other weapon combined.
We'll spend the rest of the day touring the city centre and paying a visit to Kalashnikov Museum, which also features its own backyard range, where you'll be to disassemble, reassemble, aim and shoot with the deadliest weapon ever.
Dinner and overnight in Izhevsk.
DAY 11 - Kazan
After a lazy morning in Izhevsk and traditional Udmurt brunch, we'll enter Tatarstan again and head to Kazan, the capital of the republic and arguably the most famous and touristic city in the whole Idel-Ural.
We'll have a traditional Tatar tea in downtown Kazan and devote the rest of the afternoon to the world-famous Kazan Kremlin, a recently restored walled citadel complete with palace, grand mosque and Orthodox cathedral.
Dinner and overnight in Kazan.
DAY 12 - Kazan
Full day in and around Kazan: Soviet monumentalism, socialist architectures, holy icons, Islamic reliquaries, pre-Soviet glories, camel farms and Tatar allure.
Evening boat ride along the Volga and night out in downtown.
Overnight in Kazan.
DAY 13 - Mari-El
Today we'll enter the Autonomous Republic of Mari-El, yet another Ugro-finnic protostate lost in the Russian backyard.
Mari-El is especially peculiar for being the last place in Europe still inhabited by follower of ancient pagan religions, once common in most of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Mari people practice, indeed, a weirdly fascinating cult that mixes ancestral traditions with Orthodox Christianity, and - with a bit of luck - we will be able to witness their mystic rituals held in the traditional settlements around the city of Volzhsk.
After a traditional Mari lunch we'll then continue to Yoshkar-Ola, the heavily Russified capital of the republic, where we'll visit the eclectic "new-old" downtown, completely rebuilt in Piazza San Marco style; the urban legend goes: the local head of the republic - one of those many Putin's provincial lackeys - visited Venice and was so impressed by its architecture that decided to create a copy of the Italian wondertown in the centre of Yoshkar-Ola: the rather kitschy and cheap result is not everyone's taste.
Dinner and overnight in Yoshkar-Ola.
DAY 14 - Chuvashia
Leaving Yoshkar-Ola we'll head to the last republic of our journey: Chuvashia, a curious geopolitical post-Soviet construct inhabited by the Chuvash people, the only Christian turks along with the Gagauzians in Southern Moldova.
On our way to Cheboksary, aka Šupaškar in Chuvash, we'll drive across the forested banks of the Volga and stop at the nostalgic Soviet sanatorium aptly named Chuvashia - like the republic itself - for a late picnic breakfast on the beach.
Cheboksary walking tour: early Soviet architecture, pastel coloured churches, Chuvash cultural institutions, melancholic river beaches, Communist monuments and WWII memorials.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Cheboksary.
DAY 15 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Chuvash-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to Cheboksary Regional Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the local train/bus station.
4 to 9 participants: 2580 €
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euros/night), private transport in the region (jeep or minivan), entrance fees for the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), meals, drinks and tips, visas if required, entrance to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility. It is also possible to make the tour the other way around, starting from Cheboksary and finishing in Astrakhan.
Airport pickup/transfer in Astrakhan and Cheboksary is available for just 35 euros per ride.
WHERE THE HECK AM I TRAVELLING TO?
BELOW YOU CAN SEE THE DIFFERENT TOUR STAGES MARKED ON A MAP OF THE REGION YOU ARE GOING TO EXPLORE WITH US
POSSIBLE TOUR COMBINATIONS FOR THIS ITINERARY INCLUDE
Southern Steppes and/or Caspian Depression