the mighty volga and the idel-ural autonomous republics
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
Regular monthly departures: this tour is offered regularly once a month from March to June and again from late August to October. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the ask-us button below and we will match your preferences with the relevant scheduled group departure. If you are unsure about the month you wish to travel in, 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 friends and there are 5 or more of you, you can set your own dates and we will organise a tour just for you without charging any additional fee. If you are travelling solo or with less than 4 companions we will organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
Cruise option: the following is 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 are also to be enjoyed by boat. Volga cruises are a perfect and romantic way to enjoy the region in a slow-travel mood. We 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: art galleries, holy icons, Islamic reliquaries, pre-Soviet glories, camel farms and Tatar allure.
- Traditional Tatar lunch and and free shopping time in the late afternoon.
- 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: we will arrange transfer to Cheboksary Regional Airport for your flight back home.
- For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: we will arrange transport to your train/bus station of choice.
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.
Please note: It’s advisable to arrive in Astrakhan one day before the actual tour begins. You should notice, however, that you’ll have to take care of your accommodation for any day and night preceding the actual start date of the tour. Without any additional charge we will readily and gladly reserve a room for you at our hotel of choice and you’ll be able to pay for it by cash or credit card once you check-in. If your flight lands on the same day as the tour begins and you prefer to rest a bit before going out sightseeing, you will then meet your tour guide and the rest of the group at the designated hotel in the late afternoon.
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