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What to do in Kamskoye Ustye. A guide to the most picturesque region of Tatarstan

The Kamsko-Ustyinsky district, famous for its Volga landscapes, fishing spots, mines and gypsum deposits is a popular adventure travel destination among Tatarstan residents. Descend down to Yurievskaya Cave, climb Mount Lobach, walk the promenade along the ‘Imperial Nursery’ or go hot air ballooning – we give you dozens of reasons you’ll want to head on an expedition to the south of the republic for a fun-filled weekend.

The road from Kazan to the Kamsko-Ustyinsky district resembles a trip to the southern coast of Western Europe. Two bridges and two main Tatarstan river crossings, kilometres of power lines, colourful wooden houses and countless roadside stalls selling dried goose, apples and tomatoes will all remain behind as you come up to the velvet hill landscapes that change with the odd roll of hay and golden wheat fields, Yuryevy mountains and Mount Shishka, and finally opening up a view of Kama River - vast, proud and unruly like the sea.

How to get there

Kamskoye Ustye is located 100 km south of Kazan. The journey is undoubtedly more pleasant by water: just a one and a half hour cruise along the Volga, which is especially nice on a hot day. During the summer season, ‘meteor’ jet boats leave for Bolgar daily from the Kazan River Port. Do note that tickets for the jet boat are only sold on the day of departure at the Port, and since seats are limited, it is recommended to arrive much earlier so you can buy your tickets before they sell out. If however you have missed out, don’t fret – simply head over to the Volga Hotel near the Central Railway Station and take the №529 bus which will take you to Kamskoye Ustye in two and a half hours for 250 roubles. Alternatively, a taxi trip will take no more than an hour and cost around 2,000 roubles one-way. If you choose to travel to Kamskoye Ustye in your own car so you can have the freedom to explore the district, we suggest opting for a 4WD since some of its best sights can only be reached via off-road routes.

Where to stay

One of the most popular accommodation spots in Kamskoye Ustye is the ‘Kama Trophy’. Its building was built in 1939 and once housed rivermen, and had been abandoned until just last year. The restored complex now has dozens of rooms (from shared rooms with bunks to luxury suites), a fireplace room and a lobby bar. The nearby restaurant serves dishes such as warm salad with elk, Caesar with pike, carbonara with wild boar, goulash soup with game kupat sausages. Kama Trophy stands on the banks of the river, offering a great view of Kama and making it the perfect place to watch the sunrises and see off the sunsets on a sunbed or couch under a canopy behind the hotel. Kama Trophy has everything you need for rent no matter the season – in summer it’s inflatables, standup paddleboards, boats and bicycles, and in winter – snow tubes, skis, skates and airboats. At reception you can book guided tours to Mount Lobach, Yurievskaya Cave, Bolgar, Sviyazhsk, or simply a cruisy trip on a yacht, boat or hot air balloon.

People often come to the Kamsko-Ustyinsky district to go fishing. For those who want to take a weekend fishing trip, there are recreation centres such as Prekrasnovidovo, Klyovoye Mestechko, Rybolovniy Ray, Tri Berega, Kamskiye Prostory and Idel, where you can rent all your gear and even catch a transfer to Kama.

What to see

The centre of Kamskoye Ustye is a typical urban-type settlement, of which there are thousands in Russia: a neat city council building surrounded by flower beds, a couple of shops with essential goods and charming provincial museums, where every exhibit item has a great attachment of importance. However, a trip here should be made solely for the nature. Since Kamskoye Ustye is located on the shore of the geographical mid-point of the Volga; where the Kama flows into the great Russian River, it is likened to the Atlantic coast of Portugal with its sharp cliffs and incredible, almost marine landscape.

What used to once be a village called Bogorodskoye, has built its life up around two large rivers. Most residents of Kamskoye Ustye are river workers who leave for work in April and return only in November. Even Sabantuy isn’t big here since on the first Sunday of June the whole of Kamskoye Ustye celebrates Riverman’s Day. The skilled masters who remain in the village primarily help repair ships that come in to dock. Another common skill among locals and a source of entertainment for visitors is fishing. The Kama zander is highly praised by the head of the district, where the fish soup and fishing championship are held annually.

There are a number of key reasons to spend a weekend at Kamskoye Ustye. For example, Yurievskaya Cave is a natural monument and is the only cave open to the public in Tatarstan with numerous ‘rooms’ – ‘Baboons’ Rock’, ‘Castle of Horrors’ and others. The 13,000 cubic metre cave is a little more than a kilometre in length, however lovers of speleology should know that due to the risk of collapses, only half of the entire area can be explored, and we highly recommend going down there with a guide. Do come prepared for your expedition: put on old warm clothes (the temperature inside the cave even in summer is +8 degrees Celsius) which you don’t mind getting dirty, comfortable non-slip shoes, a headlamp flashlight and insect repellent. Do note that Kamskoye Ustye has varying levels of altitude - you will have to go up and down along steep paths on your way from the cave. Be sure to also check out the climbing wall nearby - a steep slope that attracts mountaineers from all around the Volga.

The highest point here is Mount Lobach which also happens to be the symbol of the district. Around this point, the Volga abruptly makes a turn south and carries its waters to Astrakhan and the Caspian Sea. Some report that in 1870, it was here in the vicinity of Mount Lobach where famous realist painter Ilya Repin made the initial sketches of his famous painting “Barge Haulers on the Volga”. Make your way up the mountain where an observation deck awaits, located at an altitude of 100 metres above sea level. A pointer resembling a lighthouse was erected here last year, which points to the Volga and Kama rivers. The area next to the observation deck has recently become a camping hotspot – locals say the place is overrun with both tents and people on the weekends during the warmer months and it’s not surprising: the view from here is simply amazing.

Another activity in Kamskoye Ustye is experiencing the charm of provincial museums. The Local History Museum guides will be able to tell you all about the nature and industry of the region, the connection between the district and Maxim Gorky and the places where cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and the first President of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, used to holiday. The wooden log house next door is a museum too – this one is dedicated to Tatar playwright Tufan Minnullin where his personal items, manuscripts and theatrical props can be seen on display.

Syukeyevo

Long-time residents of Syukeyevo say that the local villagers were always freedom-loving, they were never subject to serving any masters and spent all their energy on their own households. Before collectivization, there were many mid-level peasants, locals lived in solid houses, many worked in their craft workshops and there were 25 working mills, including a mechanical one. In Syukeyevo, just like in Kukmor, what used to be an extremely popular task: felt boot making, has now become a thing of the past.  

Not far from Kazanskaya Street there is the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity, built on the site of its wooden predecessor in 1813 with the money raised by parishioners. It is now in poor condition. Only small fragments of stucco moulding give a glimpse of the original decor. The bell tower was destroyed in the 1930s, around the same time when the dome was unsuccessfully tilted. Villagers proclaim that those who had a hand in the collapse of the church, died suddenly. In the 1990s, warehouses and workshops operated in the church. In 1998, a prayer house was built next to it since the restoration of the church requires a lot of funds, which are not yet available, however the residents continue to have hope for its revival. The Chernoye Ozero Lake is hidden next to the church behind a wall of trees. According to rumours, there have been numerous occurrences in the past when the water in this lake has mysteriously disappeared overnight.

If you are in Syukeyevo, make the most of your trip and visit the ‘Syukeyevsky Vzvoz’ observation deck. It is located on a picturesque slope, overlooking the Syukeyev (Mordovian) mountains, awashed by the waters of the Kuybyshev Reservoir. If you’ve had enough of marine landscapes, one more sight you can see is the local ‘Grand Canyon’ - this is how the locals nicknamed the terrain recesses which were formed during the construction of the road towards the crossing to Bolgar.

Tenki and Antonovka

A massive 360 hectares of the village of Tenki is occupied by the Imperial Nursery, which, since 2009 has been breeding valuable coniferous trees: from cedar to larch. Its blue spruce trees grow in Zaryadye Park in Moscow, and the linden trees grown here proudly stand along the main Kazan roads. Around 100 staff monitor and tend to the trees, among which there are linden, bird cherry, poplar, lilac, Manchurian walnut and willow. By prior arrangement, staff are happy to conduct a tour of the nursery and you will be able to purchase anything that catches your eye.

Within the village which contains the Tatar zonal experimental gardening station, a two-story white brick building with crumbling plaster will serve as a pleasant discovery for fans of hidden antiquities. This is the manor palace of the Gagarin princes - an object of cultural heritage of Tatarstan and a monument of architecture of the 19th century. The Gagarins are known to be the owners of the first garden on the Volga. Apple, cherry and pear trees for it were brought over from Europe. Following their lead, local residents also became engrossed in gardening, so much so that two centuries ago they planted over a million trees between Kazan and Ulyanovsk. However, following abnormal frosts in 1979, the Gagarin's garden died. Initially the 1850s classicism style mansion was used as a residential building. After the Civil War, until 1932, ‘Sadvintrest’ State Farm employees worked here. And later the Tatar fruit and berry station was transferred here, which bred Volga apple varieties, one of which was named after the village: Tenkovsky. The manor, which is closed to the public, inside has preserved the entire Soviet set-up: from shelves with books about agricultural chemistry to a darkroom.

Antonovka village is famous for two natural sites. A much beloved spot of the locals, the top of Mount Shishka offers an excellent view of Kama. Two kilometres north of it are the steep sloped ravines. The hill’s abrupt drop leading to the Volga, forms a semi-mountainous relief. In 1997, a natural reserve was founded here to preserve its rare species of plants and animals. Another ravine in Antonovka is called ‘Nemetskiy’ (which means ‘German’ in Russian) since it is the burial site of German prisoners of war, who worked on the local collective farm during World War II. The cemetery here has survived to this day.

Burtasy

The snow-white building on the high bank of the Volga is the Church of the Nativity of Christ, originally built from wood in the 16th century. In 1778, a local merchant took it upon himself to restore the temple by rebuilding it in stone. The church with its two-tier bell tower in late baroque style had been preserved better inside than outside, and in 2011, local residents collectively refurbished the temple. A 16th century wooden font that used to stand in the church can be seen today in the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan.

Come closer to the cliff and you will see the Panovye Mountains, where exiled Polish officers lived in the dugouts during the 1890 uprising. Locals say that in the mid-1960s it was possible to find traces of past life around here such as plates and other utensils, however the dugouts have now been completely destroyed. The Polish cemetery is nearby - not too far from the mountains.

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