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Holidays in the Near Abroad

During Soviet Times, the small Caucasian Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was part of Soviet Georgia and Joseph Stalin's favourite holiday destination where he would hold court at one of his numerous dachas in the mountains overlooking the Black Sea. As the Soviet Union started to disintegrate in the early 1990s, Abkhazian separatists fought a short war with the Georgian army, wresting the territory from Georgian control and establishing a de facto independent state that, until this day, is only recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu. Yet in recent years, especially since the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 which cemented the territory's breakaway from rump Georgia, Abkhazia has been experiencing somewhat of a mini boom with Russian tourists once again flocking to the sun-drenched beaches of this sub-tropical proto-state. Not only is the Abkhaz-Russian border a mere 35 kilometres from the popular Russian Black Sea town of Sochi, which is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. It also retains much of the Soviet era infrastructure that once made it one of the most desirable places for Soviet citizens to holiday and, with Russian being spoken everywhere, makes for a cheap and homely holiday environment for less profligate Russian tourists. Some 300,000 Russians are thought to holiday in Abkhazia every year. Abkhazians were given Russian passports following the 2008 war and Russians now travel visa and hassle free into Abkhazia. Despite this, however, the territory remains an isolated and impoverished outpost and relic of Soviet geopolitics. Any industry that used to function in Abkhazia has long ceased to operate and the average wage here is a mere GBP 42.

Still, for many Russians this is the best they can hope for in terms of bargain holidays with affordable train rides taking 36 hours from Moscow to Sukhumi, the territory's crumbling and still war-scarred capital city. Petrut Calinescu spent a couple of summers in Abkhazia, soaking in the sun and atmosphere of this most unlikely holiday resort on the Black Sea.

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