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Sochi has long been Russia’s largest and most popular resort, but it has now also emerged as one of the country's top sporting destinations. 2014 saw the city host not only its first Formula 1 Grand Prix, but also the 22nd Olympic Winter Games and 11th Paralympic Winter Games. It is also a host city for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Unofficially nicknamed ‘the summer capital of Russia’, the city of Sochi usually enjoys 200 days of sunshine a year and is characterised by a unique blend of beautiful scenery, the warm azure waters of the Black Sea and high mountains of the Caucasus, all of which will provide a distinct and spectacular setting for the Grand Prix.
The 5.848-kilometre circuit is located within Sochi’s dazzling Olympic Park and winds its way around many of the architecturally eye-catching venues that were built for the Games.
“I’m very impressed with the layout of the track,” was the verdict of FIA Formula 1 race director and safety delegate Charlie Whiting. “The size of the project is very impressive.”
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was equally impressed with what he found.
"It’s an interesting layout with a good mix of high-speed corners and technical sections," he said. "It’s a huge challenge in a Formula 1 car."
Did you know?
Sochi is home to the northernmost tea plantation in the world, a product of the city’s unique climatic conditions.
Sochi's primary gateway is Sochi International Airport, which is situated just 7 kilometres from the circuit. As befitting a major sporting destination, the city is well served by public transport. To get from the airport to downtown Sochi or the Olympic park, you can take a shuttle bus or, over the Grand Prix weekend, a free 'Lastochka' train. Hire cars and taxis are also readily available, though Sochi's numerous parks, beaches and architecture also make it a pleasurable city to walk around.
Don’t forget your swimming costume - or your skis! Sochi’s unique subtropical climate and late April date mean that, in theory, it’s possible for visitors in town for the Grand Prix to be able to both swim in the sea and go skiing in the mountains. Typically the water is warm enough to take a dip between April and October, whilst the skiing season runs between October and May.
It’s worth noting that foreign citizens are required to have a visa to enter the Russian Federation, although a visa is not needed for the tourists from the countries with which the Russian Federation has established a visa-free entry agreement.
Where to go?
The Olympic Park commands plenty of attention, but Sochi offers a plethora of other interesting attractions.
Visitors can take in an opera at the dramatic Winter Theatre, watch ‘the singing fountains’ in the city centre, stroll around Sochi’s art and history museums, explore the stunning 30-acre Dendrary Botanical Gardens or one of the other picturesque parks, sample Russian cuisine in a local restaurant, discover sea creatures at the Discovery World Aquarium, take an excursion to view local waterfalls, wander along the Black Sea coast, or simply walk around town observing the many examples of Stalinist architecture.
Where to stay?
As the hub of the so-called ‘Russian Riviera’, Sochi is home to hundreds of hotels and several campsites. In general, Lazarevskoe district offers cheaper accommodation, while Central Sochi and Adler have more expensive options. And don’t forget, Sochi is also famed as a health resort and boasts numerous spas situated around healing mineral springs.
It’s not for nothing that Sochi was awarded the Winter Olympics, and tourists arriving in the region have the option of skiing and snowboarding on the same slopes used in the Games by visiting the world class ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana, just 40 kilometres outside of the city in the magnificent West Caucasus mountains.
The Western Caucasus also contains the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site that is described as ‘the only large mountain area in Europe that has not experienced significant human impact’. The area includes large tracts of undisturbed mountain forests which are inhabited by numerous wild animals, including bears, wolves and the recently reintroduced European bison.
Closer to the city there are numerous parks, beaches, caves and lakes to explore, all of which are well worth a visit.
There are several other race tracks in Russia, but the only other international standard facility is the Hermann Tilke-designed Moscow Raceway which was opened in 2012 and situated just outside the capital city. Other tracks include the Smolensk Ring and the NRING circuit, both of which are in the west of the country.
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