Trip Tips: Off Sochi's beaten path, Stalin's villa, Caucasus cuisine

Tue Jan 28, 2014 7:07pm EST
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By Thomas Grove

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The main roads and boulevards of Sochi have been plastered over with Olympic Games posters, slogans in Cyrillic and billboards welcoming sports fans to the Russian Black Sea resort.

But for most visitors the real Sochi will be what they find when they travel off the beaten path of the Winter Olympics, which run from Feb 7-23, to soak up the sounds, flavors and even the waters of this Soviet-era spa city.

From its open-air markets to the mineral baths that made it the playground of the Soviet communist elite for much of the 20th century, Sochi will offer a glimpse of Russia that few visitors usually have a chance to see.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Sochi from Reuters, whose global network of 2,600 journalists can offer visitors the best local insights worldwide.

Josef Stalin's love of Sochi and its subtropical climate, lush forests and sea views boosted the city's popularity after World War Two, making it the ultimate Soviet vacation spot.

For the small price of a ticket, visitors can tour the villa built for Stalin on the grounds of the Green Grove spa where a billiards table still stands, with his favorite cue on display.

Stalin's desk is still there along with a kitsch life-sized wax sculpture of the late dictator, and the wood-paneled rooms of his wartime getaway still hang heavy with his presence.

The Green Grove, where the buildings are actually green, is just one of many of the stately stone spa resorts built for those in Soviet times who had the privilege of vacationing at Sochi and using its mineral baths and curative springs.   Continued...

Police officers walk with sniffer dogs trained to search for explosives, as they patrol at the Olympic Park in the Adler district of Sochi, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk