After the loss of the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Sochi is now the only subtropical resort region in Russia. With the arrival of the Winter Olympic Games in 2014, Sochi may soon be numbered among the leading resort cities in the world.
The city of Sochi is located nearly a thousand miles southwest of Moscow. The greater region lies between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, just north of Chechnya and Georgia. The Black Sea makes its climate so mild that the region has sometimes been nicknamed the Kavkazskaya Riviera.
Geologically, Sochi is located in Southwest Asia, because it is south of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Geographically, Sochi is located in Europe, because it is part of Krasnodar Krai, which is west of the Ural Mountains. Krasnodar Krai is a Russian federal subject. Although this term covers a wide range of different types of administrative units, in this case, it is roughly the same as a state or territory.
Sochi’s roads and buildings lie mostly along the coastline of the Black Sea, which gives rise to its claim to be the longest city in the world. Its total population is just under 350,000 residents, who originally lived in an area along 90 miles of coastline but only a couple of miles inland. However, Olympic development in the Caucasus Mountains is rapidly changing the city’s profile.
Sochi is internationally accessible by air, sea, and road. For both travel and visa purposes, most international travelers may be best advised to plan their travel to reach Sochi by way of other parts of Russia or the Ukraine, rather than from Georgia or the possibly-independent republic of Abkhazia, just 2-1/2 miles west of the Olympic Park.
The North Caucasus Railway runs south from Rostov-on-Don to Sochi and beyond. The Sochi line runs along the coast of the Black Sea and is very scenic. The main transfer point for trains from other regions of Russia is Rostov-Glavniy, literally the Rostov main terminal.
Although Sochi is at the same latitude as Toronto, Canada, its climate is much more mild because of its proximity to the Black Sea. Palm trees would never survive in Toronto, but they thrive in Sochi. However, Sochi is not as warm in winter as Nice, France, also at the same latitude, because of the nearby Caucasus Mountains and the wind from the Asian landmass.
Typically, coastal Sochi will have a couple of days every winter where the temperature goes below freezing. Although occasional cold snaps have taken the temperature to record lows of 8 degrees Fahrenheit, it is rare for temperatures in coastal Sochi to go much below freezing. Even in February, its average temperature is close to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Similarly, in summer, the Black Sea moderates Sochi’s temperature so that temperatures rarely go above the 80s, while night time temperatures are usually in the mid to high 60s. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Sochi was just over 100 degrees.
Meanwhile, summer sea temperatures are a balmy 73 degrees. While winter sea temperatures are not similarly comfortable for would-be sun seekers, they still never go below 47 degrees. The Black Sea never freezes.
These temperatures may raise questions as to how semi-tropical Sochi is able to hold the Winter Olympics at all. The answer lies in the proximity of the Caucasus Mountains.
Sochi’s unique location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia has encouraged the creation of symbols of unity and friendship throughout the city. The Arboretum includes the famous Mayor’s Alley, a line of palm trees which has been planted by mayors from around the world. The Tree of Friendship is a lemon tree with dozens of cultivars from other countries grafted onto its branches. The magnolia “friendship grove” in the Riviera Park includes trees which were planted by every single Soviet cosmonaut.
The idyllic location of the Sochi region has been continuously inhabited for at least 100,000 years. Under the Roman Emperor Trajan, it was part of the Roman Empire. Although prehistoric and Roman influences can still be seen, the oldest buildings in the city date back as far as the 8th century AD. Most buildings are much more recent, with strong Neoclassical influences during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Sochi was established as a major resort area in the early 1900s, with numerous opulent health spas built around its mineral springs. After the Crimean Peninsula became part of the Ukraine, Sochi took its place as the unofficial summer capital of Russia.
The Caucasian Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before winning the bid to host the 2014 Olympic Games, Sochi was a quiet Russian gem, with peaceful health resorts and lush tropical greenery. However, it only had a single hotel open to foreign tourists, the Kamelia. That has changed drastically. Almost the entire city has been overhauled to provide enough accommodation to the expected flood of foreign athletes and other visitors.