Listvyanka, a picturesque small village in Siberia, has an enviable location that ups its tourism potential manifold. The narrow strip of land is sandwiched between a ridge and the Lake Baikal which is famed as the oldest and deepest lake as well as the largest freshwater lake in the world. The quaint village, 70 km from Irkutsk, which is the nearest city, should be your choice if you yearn to relax with good food and drinks while ensconced in a spectacular natural setting that will leave a lasting impression. Even if you don't intend to put up your feet, the place won't let you down; hence more and more Russian families arrive here especially to spend their weekends.
The scenery all around Listvyanka will captivate you: from the vast expanse of the Lake Baikal right in front you to the Khamar Daban mountains that flank the water mass on its eastern shore to the ridge behind you. If you arrive before winter, a visual treat is in store as the yellowing leaves of birch trees transform the landscape. While on the shore fringing the village, you may overlook Baikal's drab grey look, but will cherish the crystal-clear water as you peer into the lake's bottom.
Come winter, the lake is frozen and the hills and trees are covered in a white blanket of snow. Still, Listvyanka is the place to go for entertainment, cultural enrichment, and even vigorous outdoor activity – the ultimate being a week-long trek across the icy Baikal. This is challenging when compared to pre-winter sports like boating, diving, swimming, fishing, jet-skiing, horse riding or even the 25 km hike between Listvyanka and Bolshiye Koty hamlet, that helps you soak in the views of Baikal on a larger scale. An epic hiking trail of 2,000 km encircling the colossal inland waterbody is in the offing.
Attractions and activities
The vast, placid and clear lake beckons tourist as soon as they enter Listvyanka. To begin with, a walk along the lone road that flanks the lake is apt so that you familiarise with the surroundings and know at first hand what all needs to be seen and done.
Important tourist attractions are littered alongside a 4 km stretch from the dead end of the road to the site of the Baikal Limnological Museum. You can't miss the Ferris wheel erected at the end of the road, close to the market. Spend your evenings here as the market comes alive and the big wheel starts rolling. The cafes and eateries nearby are open by noon, but the atmosphere here is magical by dusk as you enjoy the food and drink watching the Sun go down beyond the lake.
For fish lovers Listvyanka is the paradise: the catch is straight from the lake or even from sea. Order fish and eat it there itself. A hotel sign reads: "A fine of 5000 Roubles if you eat fish in the room." Why? The answer is obvious.
Cute wooden houses and souvenir shops, hotels and bars, lodges and hostels, monuments and museums dot one side of the road. The opposite side has a narrow pathway abutting the lake. At daytime, don't mind sauntering on this pavement to soak in the Siberian rural ambience and more importantly the breeze from the Baikal. Be careful not to slip into the rocks or water!
St Michael's Church, Baikal Astrophysical Observatory, Cemetery of Japanese Prisoners of War, Monument to the Soldiers Who Died in World War II and Retro Park of sculptures from old automobiles are on this stretch.
At noon, you may order a typical Siberian or a Russian lunch along with vodka or beer. Look out to Baikal as you finish what is on your plate and in glass. Don't hurry. The Baikal shore in a Siberian village is good for contemplation.
Day-2 here should be reserved for more enriching activities. Children should visit the Baikal Limnological Museum which is one of the three lake museums in world. The displays here give you insights on the flora and fauna of the massive lake which is 640 km long and with an average width of 47 km. The lake has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre for its unique and rich biodiversity.
You may take a taxi from Listvyanka village to reach the Baikal Museum. It is at this spot the climb to the Chersky Rock – 728 meters above sea level – begins. The way up to the observation deck winds through desolate wooded parts of the hill named after a 19th-century Polish explorer and Siberian exile Jan Czerski. You may avoid the arduous trek by opting for the chairlift or zipline. The view of the Baikal from the top is astonishing. The Chersky Rock is the vantage point to see the very source of Angara River. In winter you may try snowboarding or skiing down the hill. Ice mountain biking, ice sculpting and dog sledding are also possible then in nearby areas.
The nerpinary or seal aquarium too will definitely be of great interest to children.
Set apart half a day, at least, to visit the open-air Taltsy Architectural and Ethnographic Museum on the banks of Angara. The place is 20 km ahead of Listvyanka as you drive in from Irkutsk. The 67-hectare site features traditional Siberian wooden architecture. The displays of typical residences, public facilities and artefacts give a peek into the history, culture and traditions of local peoples like Buryats and Cossacks. Both Siberian and Russian dishes are available at the on-site restaurant. Shop for souvenirs and gift articles at the stalls. Don't wade into the river as you go downhill!
Trek on frozen Baikal
A trek on Baikal ice is not for everyone even though the trail offers stunning scenery. The adventurous arrive in Irkutsk in winter for a thrilling trek across the frozen lake at its widest stretch. Those interested may contact specialist tour organisers. Crossing the icy lake from western to the eastern coasts on foot would take a week. Covering around 50 km in frigid conditions is challenging despite expert guidance and proper gear. Expect blizzards and dense fog!
The unique trek passes through the geographical centre of Lake Baikal at Olkhon Island – the third-largest lake island in the world – its eastern coast and the abutting taiga forests in Buryatia. A must-see on the island is the picturesque Shaman Rock or Cape Burkhan which was the nerve centre of an old shamanic cult of the Buryats. It was here the main Baikal spirit, called Burhan, was propitiated.
The best time for crossing the frozen lake is mid-February and March.
Upon reaching the eastern shore, trekkers often pay a visit to Buddhist shrine Ivolginsky Datsan. This holy place, 23 km from Ulan-Ude, is the prime centre of Buddhism in Russia.
Food and stay
There are only limited lodging facilities in Listvyanka village. There are a few lodges on the hillslopes. The lone major hotel is Mayak. Book before you arrive.
Cafes, bistros and restaurants can be found in between the souvenir shops and houses. Listvyanka Club is a nice spot to unwind, eat and drink.
Fish is much sought-after in eateries and in the village market. You may try Baikal fish, especially Omul, Kamchatka crab and shrimps. Smoked and salted fish are sold in the market.
Omul or Baikal omul is considered a delicacy. The endangered fish is still sold though a ban on its fishing is in force.
Those organising trek across Baikal arrange ice camps in the middle of the lake. Some camps are atop the deepest parts – about 5,000 m! Olkhon Island has homestays near Khuzhir village.
How to reach Listvyanka or Baikal?
Several settlements across Russia are also called Listvyanka. The one on Baikal is in the mountainous part of Siberia in Irkutsky District of Irkutsk Oblast. The nearest airport is Irkutsk. Listvyanka is the last point on the Baikal highway commencing on the outskirts of Irkutsk. Listvyanka is in the south-western corner of the mighty lake.
Taxis are the best option. The frequency of buses on this shortest federal highway is low. Irkutsk to Listvyanka boat service is available except in winter.
Baikal is in south-east Siberia. Irkustk city is the base for Baikal tours.
Ulan-Ude, which is the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, is on the Trans-Siberian rail route. It lies to the east of Baikal. The Baikal International Airport on the outskirts of the city, formerly known as Ulan-Ude Airport, is the departure choice for trekkers who undertook the crossing of the frozen lake.