Picturesque Plyos: Pearl of the Volga
Published: October 24, 2012 (Issue # 1732)
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Plyos, population 2,800, may turn into an elite resort following frequent weekend visits by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and efforts by Ivanovo regional authorities to attract more visitors to the town.
PLYOS, Ivanovo Region — This small town on the Volga River has long been famous for its serene atmosphere, picturesque hilltop views of a 3-kilometer-long quay and the house-museum of Isaac Levitan, a prominent landscape painter of the 19th century.
But Plyos, population 2,800, may turn into an elite resort amid frequent weekend visits by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and efforts by regional authorities to develop local infrastructure to attract more tourists.
“Dmitry Anatolyevich and his wife visit Plyos quite often,” Ivanovo Governor Mikhail Men said by e-mail. “They have fallen in love with this pearl of the Volga, and, of course, a number of projects in Plyos would have been impossible to start without their support.”
Plyos, located about 370 kilometers northwest of Moscow, in the center of the Golden Ring, is widely referred to as the pearl of the Volga.
Its quay is dotted with one-story wooden and brick buildings with renovated facades on one side, and small boats and yachts scattered along the riverbank on the other. Behind the front buildings, scores of private wooden houses climb up a hill.
A reporter walking along the quay in late September saw a few luxury private houses under construction. Several old wooden houses carried ads saying they were for sale.
Some residents complained privately that parts of the quay have become off-limits to locals recently amid efforts to turn Plyos into a tourist attraction. One end of the quay, for example, has been completely closed since authorities built an alpine skiing complex there. Before the complex was built, locals used its premises to take walks, gather mushrooms and go cross-country skiing. Other parts of the quay, now closed, were used for fishing.
Men said his office has been actively promoting Plyos as a tourist center for the past six years.
The town was included in a national tourism development program that qualifies for financing on local and federal levels but also requires private investment.
Government funds have been used to renovate the central part of the quay, repair and build roads, clean a small local river, install gas and water supplies in parts of the town that lacked them, and overhaul the electric power grid. By the year’s end, the authorities plan to finish repairing a historic building for the opening of a history museum.
Private investors have bankrolled a number of projects, including the downhill skiing complex, Milaya Gora, which opened in 2010; the Levitan Hall culture center, which opened in September; a mini-golf course, which opened in 2010; and churches, hotels and restaurants. They are also paying for the ongoing reconstruction of a museum of landscape painting, the only one of its kind in Russia.
The oil giant LUKoil has also built a fueling station for yachts in the town.
Plyos has started hosting events such as Zerkalo, an annual international film festival that started in 2007 and is named after a 1975 film by the late director Andrei Tarkovsky.
This winter, Milaya Gora will open a third slope, where Russia’s national freestyle skiing team will train.
But any construction must not damage the historical character of Plyos, which is proud to retain the appearance of a 19th-century town.
The governor has even banned local cafes and restaurants from playing “bad” pop music. Men told Dozhd television in late September that music plays “a very important role” in the impression that visitors get about the place.
Instead of pop music, he has ordered local eateries to play the music of Russian singers from the first half of the 20th century, like Fyodor Shalyapin, Leonid Utyosov and Lev Leshchenko.
Plyos’ history, however, stretches much further back than the 1800s and 1900s. The first recorded mention of the town, whose name is derived from the geographical term plyos, meaning a deep section of the river, was in 1141 when local rulers raised a second fortress wall.
The first fortress wall around the city was constructed at an unknown time to protect the Vladimir-Suzdal princedom from attacks by the neighboring state of Volga Bulgaria. It was destroyed in 1238 by the army of the Mongol Tatar ruler Batu Khan.
In 1410, Prince Vasily I, who fled from Moscow to Kostroma to escape from another Mongol Tatar khan, ordered another fortress built here, which was destroyed by the Polish army in 1609.
From the 17th to 19th centuries, Plyos was the main river port for the whole region. Cooks for the tsars prepared dishes with fish caught in Plyos.
Local folklore has it that Plyos merchants bribed the authorities not to allow a railroad to go through their town, fearing the new form of commerce would bankrupt them. Indeed, when the railroad opened between the regional cities of Ivanovo and Kineshma in 1871, it did not pass through Plyos. As Kineshma prospered, about half of Plyos’ population moved there.
In the 1930s, several resorts were built in Plyos, and it began to be recognized as a vacation destination.
About 500,000 tourists visited Plyos last year, a sharp increase that followed the town’s development efforts, Men said.
What to see if you have two hours
Start at the bus station and walk past the yellow-and-white Troitskaya Church and the white Vvedenskaya Church, both built in the early 19th century, to the nearby Sobornaya Gora (Cathedral Hill) for a beautiful view of the town and the river below.
To the left, on the hill itself, you will see a white church with a black roof and domes, the Assumption Cathedral, built in the late 17th century.
Then walk forward down the hill and to the right along the riverbank. A dozen blocks away, cross the bridge over a small river and you will see a white two-story building with a green roof, the Levitan house-museum (4/2 Ulitsa Lunacharskogo;
+7 493 394 3782; plyos.org/expos/levitan.html).
Guided 45-minute tours of the museum are conducted in Russian, French and German and cost 900 rubles ($30) for a group in a foreign language and 800 rubles ($25) for a group in Russian. Note: No tours are in English. A ticket without a tour costs 60 rubles ($2). You can also buy a 90-minute tour of the town for the same price as the museum tours.
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Boating is a popular activity among Plyos residents in the summer months.
What to do if you have two days
Walk from the Levitan museum along the quay to the right. Several blocks away stands Russia’s only museum of landscape paintings (20 Ulitsa Lunacharskogo; +7 493 394 3264; plyos.org/expos/muzpei.html). The museum is currently closed for renovation.
Walk back along the quay past the Levitan museum, and after number 27, turn left onto the short Kalashnaya Ulitsa, occupied by street vendors selling handmade souvenirs.
Several blocks farther down the quay looms a building that hosts a permanent exhibit called the Handicraft Industries of the Ivanovo Region (41 Ulitsa Sovietskaya; +7 493 394 3782; plyos.org/expos/ndpi.html). The exhibit presents jewelry, linen, miniature lacquer paintings and embroidery. Tours are offered in Russian, French and German.
From the exhibit, walk up the hill along Proyezdnoi Pereulok, which changes into a street called Spusk Gory Svobody. Along it stands the Travkin archaeological museum, which, among other exhibits, boasts a replica of the household of an ancient Russian family (1 Spusk Gory Svobody; +7 906 514 4345; travkin-museum.ru/).
Entertainment in Plyos depends on the season. In the summer, locals like to swim and engage in water sports on the quay, while in winter the preferred activities are sledding, skiing or snowboarding at Milaya Gora (90 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 493 392 4100, +7 962 164 5372, +7 962 163 3834; plios.ru/ru/leisure/Milaya_Gora/).
In the winter, the Plyos Yacht Club (29 Ulitsa Sovietskaya; +7 493 245 8353; plios.ru/ru/leisure/Milaya_Gora/) offers rides across the ice on airboats to neighboring towns or to local fishing holes.
The town has a single concert hall, which opened in September, but it holds no regular events and has no website yet. Plyos has no theaters or nightclubs.
Where to eat
Two restaurants are especially popular with the regional elite, according to the governor’s press office: the Yacht Club restaurant, on the quay (43 Ulitsa Sovietskaya; +7 493 394 3744; plios.ru/ru/gde_poest/), and the restaurant inside the privately owned boutique hotel Chastny Vizit (7 Gornaya Sloboda; +7 909 249 7854; +7 920 343 2998; +7 433 922 819; pless.ru/cousine).
Medvedev dined at the Yacht Club during his first visit to Plyos in 2008 and stops by Chastny Vizit from time to time. The restaurant offers contemporary regional cuisine and a variety of homemade liqueurs but is only open during the summer months and New Year holidays.
A dinner for one at Chastny Vizit is offered at the fixed price of 2,000 rubles ($65). The menu includes various kinds of meat, poultry and fish dishes, a variety of appetizers, pies and pastries, as well as homemade liqueurs and homemade jams. The restaurant offers a panoramic view of the town and the river.
Another restaurant worth visiting is Taiga (90 Ulitsa Lenina; + 7 493 394 3781, +7 906 619 1343, +7 916 475 2186; plios.ru./ru/gde_poest/) in the fashionable Fortetsia Rus hotel. A lunch of soup, meat or fish with garnish and salad, dessert and a nonalcoholic drink costs 600 rubles ($20), and a dinner of the same dishes, excluding the soup, goes for 500 rubles ($15), alcohol not included.
The best local cafes are in the middle of the quay, around Kalashnaya Ulitsa and its souvenirs. To sample the fish treasured by the tsars, look for a white building in the middle of the quay that houses a specialty shop selling only fish.
Where to stay
The most popular places with the regional and Moscow elite are Chastny Vizit (7 Gornaya Sloboda; +7 499 500 3808; +7 920 343 2998; pless.ru) and Fortetsia Rus (90 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 495 981 0766; forteciya.ru/).
At Chastny Vizit, 4,000 rubles gets you a small, cozy house with two beds, a table, a view of the river and a beautiful garden in the summer months. Also included in the price is a substantial breakfast of pancakes, oatmeal, cheese-filled pancakes and tea or coffee served in the room. But the bathroom is in the yard, and the shower is in the main building of the hotel.
For 12,500 rubles, you will get a large room with two beds, a television, a balcony and two windows. Breakfast and dinner or supper are included in the price.
Fortetsia Rus will close for repairs in November, and it is unclear when it will reopen. Its rooms cost 2,300 rubles to 10,400 rubles ($75 to $340).
Other alternatives are the Plyos resort (4 Ulitsa Kalinina; +7 493 394 3276; plyos-adm.ru/city/turizm/hotel/) for 1,500 to 3,800 rubles ($50 to $120) per night, and Plyos-tur (19A Gornaya Sloboda; +7 493 394 3276; plyos-adm.ru/city/turizm/hotel/) for 800 to 1,600 rubles ($25 to $50).
Residents complain of high unemployment, which forces young and middle-aged people alike to leave, and about tourism-inflated prices at local stores, which they say are higher than in bigger neighboring towns and in the city of Ivanovo. An empathetic word might go a long way.
But don’t expect locals to open up readily about Medvedev’s visits or the authorities’ efforts to reconstruct the town for tourists. Several residents expressed reluctance to discuss the topics, saying previous reporters had distorted their words.
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
Painters at their easels on the 3-kilometer-long quay by the Volga River in Plyos.
Other useful tips
Announcements for upcoming events in Plyos are posted in the news section of the town’s official website (plyos-adm.ru/about/info/news/) and in the exhibits section of the website for its museums (plyos.org/vistav/).
Most of the town’s museums, churches, restaurants and hotels are on the quay, which is a 10-minute walk down the hill from the bus station. Right beside the bus station stands a bulletin board with a map of Plyos showing places of interest and other useful information.
But if you want a map of your own, you cannot buy one at the Plyos bus station or the Ivanovo train station. You can print one with the sights here: plesru.ru/Information/map_arh.htm. You can find a more detailed map, but one that you cannot print, here: kartoman.ru/karta-goroda-plyos-s-ulicami/
How to get there
A night train runs once every 24 hours from St. Petersburg’s Moscow Railway Station to the regional capital of Ivanovo. The train leaves at 17:20 p.m. and arrives at 9:40 a.m. Ticket prices begin from around 1900 rubles ($60) for economy class to 4000 rubles ($130) for a compartment. A much cheaper train from St. Petersburg to Samara also stops in Ivanovo and runs several times a week.
Ten buses make a daily run to Plyos and back from the Ivanovo train station. The ride takes about two hours and costs 100 rubles ($3). The last bus for Ivanovo leaves at 8 p.m.
Note that the bus may not have a heating system, so if you go anytime other than in summer, it may be better to use a taxi. A one-way ride from Ivanovo costs 1,050 rubles ($35) and will shave 30 to 45 minutes off the time of a bus ride.
Keep in mind that there are no taxicabs in Plyos.
Mayor: Tatyana Bebina
Founded sometime before 1141;
its official birthdate is 1410,
the year of the construction of a second fortress wall
Interesting fact: Plyos’ architecture mostly preserves the style of a 19th-century provincial Russian town.
• Ivanovo regional administration spokesman Oleg Rakitov
(+7 4932 58-96-72; ivanovoobl.ru/department.aspx?part=134);
• investment opportunities: invest-ivanovo.ru
• In addition to teaching future farmers, Plyos Agricultural College (6 Severtsevo village; +7 493 394 3104) runs a thriving business growing and selling various crops.
• Almaz Holding (57/2 Ulitsa Sovietskaya; +7 493 394 3295) is a factory for Almaz-Holding, one of the country’s top three jewelry companies.