Russia is known for being cold–snow that never melts, fur-lined hats and coats, and reindeer sightings–making it an ideal location to host the Winter Olympics. So it was a bit surprising when Sochi, the summer capital of Russia, was announced as the host of the 2014 games.
Sochi is located in southwestern Russia, along the Black Sea and near the border of Georgia. Russia’s largest resort city–a favorite area of Joseph Stalin–has nearly 75 miles of black-pebble beaches. Unlike much of the country, Sochi has warm summers and mild winters. The area is known for its Krasnodar tea (the northernmost tea producer in the world), its wineries (it’s the eleventh-largest wine-producing area in the world), and as Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova’s hometown. None of this screams winter wonderland.
But the Caucasus Mountains–the continental divide between Europe and Asia–are on the other side of the city. From high on the mountains, you can see the Turkish coastline across the Black Sea. It’s starting to feel a little more wintry.
Central Stadium, plus four other arenas, will host indoor events–ice skating, short track speed skating, and hockey–near the waterfront. In between events, tour Empire-style buildings from the Stalinist era: the Winter Theatre, the Sochi Art Museum, and the grand train station. Explore Byzantine fortresses: the Byzantine triangle and the Loo Temple. Hang out with visitors–and athletes once they finish their events–from around the world in Riviera Park, the city’s largest green space. You won’t even need mittens; it’s nearly 50 degrees outside. And eat seafood at a beachfront restaurant as the sun sets over the water.
The next day, head inland. Follow a narrow, canyon road from Sochi north to Krasnaya Polyana (Red Meadow) to see the downhill ski trails, the slalom slopes, and the snowboard halfpipe. Watch ski jumping at Gorki and bobsled at Sanki. And grab a pint of beer or a glass of Abrau-Durso sparkling wine on the terrace of Le Chef after the medal ceremonies end.
By the time it starts to lightly snow, you’ll be ready to head back to the Sochi waterfront. From now on, all of the Winter Olympic Games should be held in a subtropical climate.