To celebrate Orthodox Easter this Sunday, why not explore some of the monasteries in the south-east of the city. The churches are full of gilt and frescoes, lit by oil-lamps and bees' wax candles. Moscow has been ruthless with the countryside that used to surround these buildings, but the suburban and industrial areas have their own surprises: constructivist workers' clubs, riverside panoramas, tower block flower beds and the Moscow Museum of Water. Leave Avtozavodskaya metro station near the end of the train, turn left out onto the street and you should see one of the brown and white fortified towers of the Simonov Monastery ahead of you. Walk towards this, passing a car factory and turn left into the little park before you reach the tower. Following the factory fence on your left, you come to the gateway and lane, which lead to the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. The location is bizarre, surrounded by the semi-defunct ZiL Motor works, which used to make limousines for Soviet leaders. The church was used as a storage shed for the factory, but now the repainted interior glows in the candlelight. A fresco on the west wall shows Prince Dimitry Donskoi's troops assembling, ready to leave for the battle of Kulikovo, a vital turning point in defeating the Mongol Horde.
As you walk back towards the monastery tower on the road, you can see an impressive stretch of wall, which is one of the few features that survived the Soviet era. Founded in 1371, the Simonov, known as the "sentinel of the city" was one the great fortified monasteries that formed a defensive ring around the south of Moscow. Going in through the gate near the tower, you can see the buildings that are left. The only extant church, the 17th century Our Lady of Tikhvin, is slowly being restored and houses a community centre for deaf parishioners. The shop in the church sells an informative booklet in Russian and English.
The grey building next door to the monastery is the ZiL Palace of Culture, designed in the 1930s by the Vesnin brothers. The second set of doors on the left lead to a little café with great views over the Simonov. Even diehard fans of Constructivist architecture will regret the fact that so much of the monastery was demolished to build it. Going on past the Torpedo football stadium next door, follow the road round to the left, then curving right along Simonovskaya Embankment, where an intriguing panorama opens up. Standing above the Moscow River, you can see another constructivist icon: Vladimir Shukhov's radio tower (to the left), a radical early 1920s structure. In the other direction, you can see the domes of the Novospassky Monastery and the church of the beautiful Krutitskoye Podvorye.
Beyond the garage, cross over the busy road, follow a pale green wall on the far side and turn left along a track that runs behind block No. 13. Keep going along this little road, parallel to the river, and you reach the back gate of the Krutitskoye Podvorye. The brick buildings on this side were used as a military prison from the time of Catherine the Great. The Metro politan's Palace on the left is connected by brick walkway to the lovely Assumption Cathedral. Go through the gateway into the yard to admire the ornately tiled "teremok" and go into the dimly-lit cathedral. The ensemble also includes a rarely-open Museum of Pilgrimages, and a number of old wooden houses around the yard. The little orchard completes the pleasing sense of a hidden oasis of old Russian architecture in modern Moscow.
Krutitskaya ("steep") Ulitsa leads down from the wooden houses towards the main road. Before you get there, you reach the (free) Museum of Water in another old courtyard on the left. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays, the museum charts the history of Moscow's water systems through well shafts in the Kremlin towers up to the present day. There are some beautiful architectural drawings of the late 19th century waterworks at Mytishchi. A similarly charming red brick pumping station, on the riverbank behind the museum, is visible through the windows.
The grand Novospassky ("new saviour") Monastery is on the far side of the main road. To visit this collection of 17th century churches, women should be wearing not only a headscarf, but also an at-least-knee-length skirt. A box of fetching, flowery wraparounds is available just inside the gate. The Transfiguration Cathedral, built by the Romanovs to imitate the Kremlin's Assumption Cathedral, has some fantastic frescoes, but is closed for restoration until the summer. You can get a flavour by peering through the window from the painted side-chapel at the top of the steps. The smaller church behind the cathedral is also being restored, and contains the tomb of Count Nikolai Sheremetev's serf-opera-singer bride, Praskovia. The bells in the yellow bell tower chime the hours and half hours very sweetly. The monastery also has two great shops - a bookshop and the usual church "lavka", currently stocked with some great Easter gifts, including painted, chocolate or enamelled eggs.
With souvenirs in hand, you can head back to the main road and turn left towards Proletarskaya metro station.Alternatively, you can turn right from the monastery, past the monastic fishpond to find the Novospassky Most river station, for scenic cruises (400 roubles) to Kievskaya.
You might want to start at Proletarskaya, stroll down to the monasteries by the river, buy a chocolate egg and hop on the boat.