Lake Ladoga: A Quick Getaway from St. Petersburg
The largest lake in Europe, the second largest in Russia after Lake Baikal, and the 14th largest freshwater lake in the world — that’s Lake Ladoga. Such an enormous lake with 48 species of fish and even its own endemic seal species (the Ladoga seal) seems like it should be in some far away, long forgotten spot only accessible to the most dedicated of travelers. And yet, it’s right outside of St. Petersburg! So easily accessible, it’s the perfect place for a little weekend getaway.
Ladoga has a long history; it didn’t always belong to Russia. Such a large source of clean water would obviously be considered very valuable. And so, Lake Ladoga over the course of history has been disputed by many countries. In the Middle Ages, it was used as an important trade route. Later, it was fought over during the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars during the 12th and 13th centuries, with two fortresses, Oreshek and Korela, being built along the banks of the lake. Ladoga was ceded to Sweden by Russia in 1617, although in 1712 it was returned back to Russia after the Great Northern War. Between 1812 and 1940, the lake was shared with Finland. During World War II, Ladoga, as the only access point to St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), was vital in helping transport supplies to the besieged city. Called the Road of Life, Ladoga truly did save a lot of innocent lives. After the war, the lake became firmly Russia’s.
Hiking is an extremely popular way to get out of your house and get some exercise. After hearing about such a magnificent lake near St. Petersburg, last year I decided to go take a day hike along the banks of Ladoga with my father. And so, one day in October, we went off to the lake. I was surprised by how easy it was to get there! It took us less than an hour and a half by train. Every day, multiple times a day the train goes to the lake and back. A one-way ticket for one person costs around 150 rubles, depending on the time of year. We departed early in the morning from the Finland Station and, after arriving, looked all around. There was a quaint little village surrounded by nature near the train station, but we didn’t explore it. We immediately walked down to the beach before picking a direction and hiking along the coast. It was easier than expected to walk along the beach, as it had really compact sand, surprisingly solid. The nature all around us was stunning. There was a brisk autumn breeze, but not a cloud in sight. The only break we took was to stop, find a large fallen tree to sit on, and eat the lunch that we had brought with us. We hiked until we reached a lighthouse before turning around and walking back. This time we went along a road in the forest. There were so many trees and hills; and we even saw little streams running through the woods. All in all, we hiked for around 4 hours. It was such a fun day that I will remember it forever. My father and I liked the experience so much that we went back in February. I would highly recommend such a trip to anyone who likes hiking.
Lake Ladoga is perfect to visit on a day trip. Of course, there are many things to do there other than hiking, although it might take a bit more preparation. If your goal is to swim or spend time on the beach, then there’s a park (https://ladogapark.ru/) where you can rent out quaint little log cabins right on the beach. The beach is a perfect spot to picnic, play frisbee, or walk pets on, but if you want to swim, it is a good idea to go when the water is warmer, like late spring or summer. There are so many activities, it’s a great idea to spend a day there with family or friends.
It’s also possible to visit other parts of Lake Ladoga. They will be a bit more difficult and take longer to reach, but it’s worth it for the experience and sights. For example, you can visit the two ancient fortresses: Oreshek (built in 1323) or Korela (originally a castle that dates back to the 12 century). There’s also a town nearby that you can explore called Staraya Ladoga, which is extremely ancient and ripe with history. You can reach the town either by car (which could take around an hour and a half) or by one of the many buses leaving from St. Petersburg. Staraya Ladoga has so many fortresses, churches, and monasteries that anyone can visit and marvel at. It was founded in 753 CE! Staraya Ladoga was one of the most important trading centers in Eastern Europe from about 800 to 900 CE; even the oldest Arabian coin in Europe was found in Ladoga.
Everyone can find something to do at Ladoga, whether it be the lake or the city. I’m sure you can, too!