A Day Trip to Kashin, the City of ANCIENT Churches and Unexpected SPIRITS (PHOTOS)

Stay away from Moscow

It is 6 a.m. on Moscow’s Tverskaya Street and there is no sign of the traffic which is the hallmark of one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. I am leaving for a 222 km trip to Kashin, an urban agglomeration (a generous name for a large village) of about 14,000 inhabitants in the Tver region, with my traveling companion and friend Victor Salamatov, who left a quarry in business to be a “bridge between his native island of Sakhalin and the rest of the world”.

The cloudy skies and gloom that invade the Russian capital in the uncomfortable period between autumn and winter follow me north, until everything seems to magically disappear on the border between the regions of Moscow and Tver. Blue sky, sun and landscapes reminiscent of the famous paintings of Ivan Shishkin welcome us on the other side. Unsurprisingly, it gets much colder as we head north to an area strikingly distant from some of Russia’s legendary historic cities such as Tver, Rostov and Yaroslavl.

Ajay and Victor are at the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral of the Resurrection.

Just over an hour’s drive from Moscow (which has a population density of 4,940 people per square kilometer) and you get a feel for the vastness of Russia. There are wide open spaces as far as the eye can see and little sign of human life other than small dachas, trucks, and cars on the highway.

Historic town from the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale

Kashin, which lies on the banks of the Kashinka, a small tributary of the Volga, is mentioned in historical records as early as the 13th century. He survived the rampage of the Golden Horde, attacks by Polish interventionists during the 17th century Polish-Moscow War, and changes brought about by the Soviet Union.

The tranquil center of Kashin that surrounds the Resurrection Cathedral feels like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale town. Surrounded by rich and fertile farmland, the city actually has 29 Orthodox churches. The market square, which is close to the river, hosts cultural festivals full of song, dance, food and drink. One of them is the ‘Kashi Festival’ (‘Porridge Festival’). According to one version, the city owes its name to “kasha”. You can learn more about this and the local traditions at the Kasha Museum.

And the spirits?

Well, there are spirits, but not the kind you might think of! Another reason why Kashin is known beyond the limits of the Tver region is that it is home to ‘Veresk’ (‘Heath’) – an alcohol distillery founded in 1898. In addition to liqueurs and gin, l he company produces ‘Tverskaya’ vodka and another brand of vodka named after Tver’s most famous son – Afanasy Nikitin, the 15th century merchant and traveler who traveled from Tver to Persia and India . When Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, Veresk produced “Tverskaya Gorkaya,” a bitter alcoholic beverage that was available throughout the city and became popular with foreign visitors.

A sip of Sakhalin

Strictly speaking, the Veresk Distillery is not open to the general public and tourists don’t just come as they do to a vineyard in France. However, a new alcoholic drink made from “Klopovka” or red blueberries endemic to the Russian Far East and northern Japan sparked my interest.

The drink is an original idea of ​​Victor. He leads me into the Veresk factory, where security personnel scan my passport with some amusement. They are used to business visitors from Europe, Japan and even China, but apparently they see India as the land of the spiritual teetotaler.

The director of Veresk, Vladimir Perin, shows us some of the new liqueurs that are in their production line. His office is full of all kinds of awards and certificates that Veresk’s products have won, but my eyes and taste buds are riveted on this new Sakhalin drink.

As I take my first sip of ‘Klopovka’ my mind drifts from central Russia to one of the least populated places on the planet – Sakhalin, which is eight time zones away and what looks like a planet far away. Kashin (there are about 10,000 km between them!). I instantly remember the bays, nature, landscapes and the cold sea breeze of the largest island in Russia. The drink, which has an alcohol content of 35 percent, is marketed as an exclusive drink, which goes equally well as an aperitif, as a digestif or as an accompaniment to a dessert.

It’s, of course, too early in the day for me to take more than a sip at Kashin.

For those who abstain from alcoholic drinks, the distillery also produces mineral water. Kashin is a seaside resort and is famous for its reserves of mineral water and therapeutic mud, on which a sanatorium, founded in 1884, still operates for anyone who wants to improve their health.

Exploring the spiritual side of Kashin

Once we leave the distillery and return to tour mode, we return to the main square. Originally built in 1382 and dedicated to Saint Anne of Kashin, the Resurrection Cathedral, in its current form, dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. The church was transformed into a warehouse in 1940 and then used as a house of culture from the 1970s. It was not fully restored as an Orthodox church until 2009. It is currently undergoing massive repairs with the aim of to recreate the original ambience.

At the Resurrection Cathedral.

The highlight of a visit to the church is a climb to the top of the 76-meter-high bell tower that was built in the 1830s. Call it luck or a divine sign; we manage to climb to the top exactly one minute before noon. As we listen to the bells ringing on a sunny day, we gaze at the tributary of the Volga and the surrounding countryside, as well as the city skyline which has retained its atmosphere of yesteryear. The bell chimes, which according to legend were purchased in the 1870s at the Leipzig fair, add to the fairytale atmosphere.

The area near the cathedral has a few small cafes serving standard Russian cuisine. There is a quaint cafe a few hundred meters from the cathedral which has a view of the river. It’s too cold to sit on your patio in autumn, but it must be a lovely place to enjoy borscht in the warmer months.

Flooded Belfry in Kalyazin, not far from Kashin

The view over Kalyazin.

We make a slight detour on the way back to Moscow to get a glimpse of one of the most unique monuments along the Volga. A 20-minute drive from Kashin, the town of Kalyazin, which sits on the right bank of the Volga, is famous for its flooded Belfry or Kalyazin Bell Tower.

Built in the late 1790s, the 74-meter-high bell tower was part of the larger St. Nicholas Monastery. The monastery and several other older structures in Kalyazin fell victim to the Uglich Hydroelectric Station Dam built in 1939. The project led to the formation of the Uglich Reservoir, an artificial lake that engulfed the monastery.

Miraculously, the bell tower has survived and sits on a small islet visible from the main riverside promenade of Kalyazin.

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