Crimea. History, nature and where to dine like the Romanovs

21 Aug 2019
Located on the northern shores of the Black Sea, the Crimean Peninsula is the jewel of the Russian south thanks to its amazingly rich history, insanely diverse nature, a very multicultural population and, of course, crazy delicious food and wine. As cliché as it might sound, there’s truly something for everyone here – history, geology, architecture, extreme sports, luxury seaside resorts, beach bars, wineries, monuments to all major religions, nature, safari parks, family-friendly aqua parks and much much more.
In the Middle Ages, during the western migration of Central Asians, a group of Mongols settled in the Peninsula, who became known as Tatars and established a Khanate. For the following centuries, the Khanate flourished through trade and raid with the Rus in the north.
For the Tsars of Russia, Crimea held a strategic value. Control of the Crimean Peninsula meant access to the Black Sea and ultimately with the Mediterranean Sea and the rest of Europe. Its conquest for the access of the sea began with Peter the Great. 
At the time of Catherine the Great, Russia was at its pinnacle, while the Ottoman Empire was in a state of decay.  In 1736, the Russians inflicted a humiliating defeat for the Tatars when they burned the Khanate’s capital of Bakhchisarai. And so by the time of Catherine the Great, the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire were ripe for conquest. 
The Russian-Turkish war took place between 1768 and 1774 and by 1783, Crimea was absorbed by Russia and recognized the rights of the Russian nobility for all the noble families of the Khanate. Russia built the cities of Sevastopol as the center of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Simferopol (1784) as the center of the Tauride province. In 1783, Catherine the Great embarked on an extensive tour with Emperor Joseph of Austria-Hungary of the peninsula to see the prosperous Russian settlements that Grigory Potemkin established. 
For the remainder of the 18thand the entirety of the 19thcentury Crimea grew and prospered, becoming the favorite summer retreat for the royals, the nobility and the cultural elite. Among the Romanov family, Nicholas II, his wife and kids visited Crimea the most frequently.
Following the Communist Revolution of 1917 Crimea was made an autonomous part of the Soviet Union in 1921. However in 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. They captured Sevastopol in 1942. In 1944 the Russians liberated Crimea and in 1954, Khruschev gifted Crimea to Ukraine. 
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea became part of independent Ukraine, and Moscow and Kyiv agreed to divide up the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Crimea's port city of Sevastopol remains the base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
In March, 2014, following a referendum, the vast majority of Crimeans voted to return to Russia. Today the main industries in Crimea are tourism and agriculture. The population of Crimea is 2 million, the largest city being Sevastopol with a population of 393,000.
Hopefully this brief overview of Crimea and its history have got you looking up flights already. If yes, once you get there you have the amazing opportunity to travel back in time and dine like the Russian royal family, the Soviet elite and Churchill and Roosevelt during the Yalta Conference. One restaurant in the center of Yalta lets you do just that!
Doctor Whisky, a newcomer on Yalta’s growing dining scene, offers guests the “Historical Menu”. It might not sound like anything special and unique at first but, in fact, it is. First, head chef Andrey Savenkov had to get permission to dig through the archives of Yalta’s most famous palaces. Then, he had to get a research team of historians together to help go through and make sense of them and, finally, put together the historical menu (but with a modern twist) that encompasses the favorites of all those who ever resided or visited the palaces. 
The process took six long months and the first result was a dish called “Royal Hunt on Mount Ai-Petri”, which was dedicated to Count Vorontsov (a Russian statesman and diplomat who laid the foundations for the fortunes of the famous Vorontsov family). This dish was first presented at the Palma Fest, Russia’s premium annual culinary workshop, which culminates with the Palme d’Or award. The “Royal Hunt on Mount Ai-Petri” got bronze, making Doctor Whisky the first ever Crimean restaurant to get one of the top three medals. 
The full menu now includes the favorite dishes of the Romanovs (both for official events and intimate family gatherings) over a 200 hundred year period, from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II. These two names are especially closely interwoven with the history of Crimea. To literature fans’ delight, the menu also features the “Strasbourg Pie”, which Alexander Pushkin so fondly writes about in his most famous work “Eugene Onegin”. You can also try creative interpretations from the archives of Count Mikhail Vorontsov and dishes that were served to Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during the Yalta Conference.
“Our main source of inspiration is Crimea itself, its history and the history of Russia as a whole,” explains Doctor Whisky’s director Roman Luzhny. “Thanks to the help and support from the Crimean Ministry of Culture and the directors and researches of the Livadia, Massandra, Vorontsov and Alupka palaces, we have created the first ever cultural and gastronomic project in Crimea that has a 100% authentic and scientific foundation”. 
Another aim of this project is to promote high quality Crimean produce. “We work with unique Crimean products and from further afield in Russia,” says head chef Andrey Savenkov. “I’m talking about Crimean truffle, oysters, quail, crayfish, hog and fresh vegetables from our very own farm. Food enjoyed by Russian nobility took its roots in French cuisine so we’ve got Crimean and Russian suppliers of cheese and foie-gras. The water that we use for cooking comes exclusively from the springs near the Red Rock in the Gurzuf Valley. Even our salt is special – it comes from lake Sasyk-Sivak near Evpatoriya. And, of course, all our dishes are accompanied by fine Crimean wine. We also started making our own exclusive Scotch whiskey, which is aged in the barrels that were once used to make some of the most famous Massandra wines: “Livadia” port wine and “White Muscat of the Red Rock””. 
This is just one of the many things the good people at Doctor Whisky have in store to resurrect the fame and glory that Crimea once had as Russia’s cultural and gastronomic center. In the summer of 2018, Doctor Whisky brought in famous Russian and foreign chefs from restaurants all around the country to do special culinary weeks. The theme this summer was “Pan-Asia: Russia looks to the East”, which saw Asian and South American cooking up a storm during their time there. We’re interested to see what the theme will be in summer of 2019!

Getting there
By plane
Going by plane is the best and the quickest way to get to Crimea. The brand new Simferopol Airport terminal opened in April 2018 and, as you can guess, is located near one of the biggest Crimean cities, Simferopol. Other towns such as Sevastopol, Yalta, Kerch and others can be easily reached by bus, taxi or train. There are several flights every day leaving from Moscow’s Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and Zhukovsky airports; they take approximately three hours and prices start from around 2,700Rbl.
By train
As the Crimean Peninsula is separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait, there is no direct train service between Crimea and Russian cities. To reach the final destination you should go to Anapa or Krasnodar by train, and then by bus on the Kerch bridge. Several trains leave from Moscow to Anapa and Krasnodar every day. The journey will take you from 18 to 25 hours. Prices start from 3,000Rbl for train and 380 - 850Rbl for bus. By bus you can get to Kerch, Feodosia, Sudak, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yevpatoria and Yalta (travel time from 4 to 13,5 hours).
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