The Solovetsky Islands are an archipelago located in the western part of the White Sea unlike any other place in the region. From massive monasteries to hidden stone labyrinths to intricate canal systems, the Islands offer endless attractions. Off of the coast on Belugas Cape you can watch the majestic and graceful beluga whales breach in the summer season. Be sure to visit the Solovetsky Monastery, which is not only a masterpiece of architecture, but the crown jewel of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Port: Solovetsky Islands
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Solovetsky Islands

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  • Solovetsky Monastery

    This enlightening exploration of the Solovetsky Monastery reveals its varied history as a destination for worship, pilgrimage, commercial enterprises and a notorious prison camp.

    Upon arriving at the pier on Great Solovetsky Island in the White Sea, you will walk to nearby Solovetsky Monastery, passing through its holy gate. Founded in 1429, the monastery expanded over the years to include secular commercial activities such as fishing, trapping and iron works. By the 17th century, more than 350 monks lived here with even more laymen.

    Despite being remote and difficult to access, the monastery thrived economically, and it became a major pilgrimage destination. While walking the grounds, you will see many of the grand religious structures such as the Transfiguration Cathedral, refectory complex and several churches, including the hilltop Alexander Nevsky Church from which the views are spectacular. You will also notice that the monastery doubled as a frontier fortress or kremlin, as thick walls with defensive towers armed with cannons surround it.

    However, after the Russian Revolution, life here changed dramatically. The monastery closed and became a forced-labor camp for “enemies of the people.” In 1937, Stalin turned it into one of the empire’s harshest gulags where countless prisoners died.

    Finally in the 1990s, the monastery re-opened and was renovated to its present state, which has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site of special significance. After touring the monastery for well over two hours, you will walk back to the pier.

    Please note: This tour includes approximately 2.5 hours of moderate walking which includes cobblestone walkways and stairs to negotiate. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests and not considered suitable for those with mobility concerns. Weather appropriate clothing to include a wind/waterproof jacket; an umbrella; sunglasses; insect repellant; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Shorts are not permitted in the monastery and women must cover their heads.

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  • Solovetskys Botanical Gardens

    Stroll a botanical garden of plants that rarely grow this far north, some of them originating in the 19th-century hermitage here, others from the years when the island was a prison.

    After departing from the pier, you will soon arrive at Solovetsky’s lovely botanical gardens overlooking Nizhy Pert Lake. Although one of the northernmost botanical gardens in Russia, it sits in a favorable microclimate where plants from other climates and latitudes can easily thrive. Consequently, there is a great variety of plant species.

    In 1822, the hermitage of the centuries-older Solovetsky Monastery was founded here and began to grow hothouse fruits and berries for export to nearby Russian cities. That small enterprise eventually expanded, as apple trees, dog rose and shadbush were cultivated.

    A few chapels, houses and a summer residence for the archimandrite were built, and the gardens became even more sophisticated with the addition of an ingenious system of pipes that heated the soil and hot houses. Then, the Russian Revolution erupted. The monastery closed, the complex was used as a forced labor camp, and countless prisoners died.

    As you walk the grounds, you will notice that the gardens are divided into those from the initial monastic period and those that supported the population of the concentration camp. In memory of those who perished, a serene path lined with larch trees was created.

    After strolling the grounds observing the various species, you will re-board your coach and return to the pier.

    Please note: This tour includes approximately 1-hour of moderate walking over mostly even surfaces. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests and may not be suitable for those with mobility concerns who are cautioned to carefully evaluate their personal level of stamina and ability. Weather appropriate clothing to include a wind/waterproof jacket; an umbrella; sunglasses; insect repellant; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

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  • Solovetsky Monastery and Gulag

    Discover how life drastically changed at the 15th-century Solovetsky Monastery by touring its religious buildings and a museum that details its conversion into a barbarous gulag.

    Upon arriving at the pier on Great Solovetsky Island, you will walk to nearby Solovetsky Monastery, passing through its holy gate. Founded in 1429, the monastery expanded over the years to include secular commercial activities such as fishing, trapping and iron works. The monastery thrived economically and became one of Russia’s most influential religious centers, drawing pilgrims from all over.

    While walking the grounds, you will see many of the grand religious structures such as the Transfiguration Cathedral, refectory complex and several churches, including the hilltop Alexander Nevsky Church. You will also notice that the monastery doubled as a frontier fortress or kremlin, as thick walls with defensive towers surround it.

    However, after the Russian Revolution, life here changed dramatically. The monastery closed and in 1923 Vladimir Lenin turned it into the first Soviet forced-labor camp or gulag for “enemies of the people.” In 1937 under Stalin, it became one of the empire’s harshest gulags, where countless prisoners died and were buried in mass graves.

    You will discover the nightmarish details of their imprisonment in the Gulag Museum housed in the former prison barracks. The eye-opening exhibits candidly present the grim realities of daily life in the camp. After browsing the museum, you will walk back to the pier.

    Please note: This tour includes close to 3-hours of moderate walking which includes cobblestone walkways and stairs to negotiate. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests and not considered suitable for those with mobility concerns. Weather appropriate clothing to include a wind/waterproof jacket; an umbrella; sunglasses; insect repellant; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Shorts are not permitted in the monastery and women must cover their heads.

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  • Mysteries of Zayatsky Island

    Tender to a nearby island to see a collection of ancient stone labyrinths and rocky mounds whose exact purposes remain a mystery.

    After departing from the ship by tender, you will soon arrive at Big Zayatsky Island, one of the six Solovetsky Islands. While walking among its boulders and large gnarled bushes, you will notice a collection of stone labyrinths, sanctuaries and hundreds of stone mounds. All of these structures were built at least 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period.

    The purpose of the intricate labyrinths on the western part of the island and who built them is unknown. Nevertheless, the labyrinths are visually fascinating. Made of rows of boulders that form interconnecting spirals, each one has a single entrance, which also serves as the exit. Some researchers believe that the labyrinths were meant to represent the border between the real world and the underworld, but it’s only speculation.

    When Peter the Great visited the island for the second time in 1702, he ordered a wooden church to be built honoring Saint Andrew. As there were no trees, the church was built on the mainland, disassembled, and then shipped to the island for reassembly. You will see the church and a few its outbuildings on a boulder-strewn stretch of land near the water’s edge. Afterwards, you will tender back to the ship.

    Please note: This tour includes approximately 90-minutes of moderate walking which includes some uneven surfaces and steps to negotiate. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests and not considered suitable for those with mobility concerns. Weather appropriate clothing to include a wind/waterproof jacket; an umbrella; sunglasses; insect repellant; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Shorts are not permitted in the church and women must cover their heads. Zayatsky Island’s nature is strictly protected by law and visitors are admitted only in guided groups and must stay with their guide throughout their visit. No independent visitors are allowed. It is prohibited to remove any items from the Island.

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  • Sekirnaya Hill

    Ascend notorious Sekirnaya Hill, site of the world’s first church lighthouse, which was later used as an impossibly cruel isolation prison where untold numbers died.

    After departing from the pier, you will enjoy a leisurely drive along a forested rural road to the base of Sekirnaya Hill. From here, you will start walking to the top, stopping every so often to admire the panoramic views of the island and the White Sea beyond.

    It only takes about 20 minutes to reach the hilltop, and the rewards are well worth the effort. Built in the 1860s, the two-story Ascension Church perches at the summit and has the distinction of being both a religious building and a lighthouse. Oddly, there is a cross at the very top and a lighthouse lens directly below it.

    While it’s difficult to imagine now, the church was converted into an isolation prison cell following the Russian Revolution, when the island became the first Soviet forced-labor camp or gulag. In 1937 under Stalin, the island became one of the empire’s harshest gulags, where countless prisoners died, many of them by execution on Sekirnaya Hill. At the bottom of the hill’s nearly 300-step stairway, there is a sobering memorial to the victims.

    Mercifully, the gulag closed in 1939. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the nearby monastery that served as the main concentration camp re-opened for religious purposes.

    After visiting Sekirnaya Hill, you will descend and return to the pier.

    Please note: This tour includes approximately 90-minutes of moderate to strenuous walking which includes a significant uphill and downhill walk. The tour is not available to wheelchair guests or those with mobility concerns. Weather appropriate clothing to include a wind/waterproof jacket; an umbrella; sunglasses; insect repellant; and flat, comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Shorts are not permitted in the church and women must cover their heads.

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