For the weekend after Valentine's Day, this walk from Gorky Park to Sparrow Hills contains several romantic ingredients: ice skating, snowy woods, a deserted monastery, great views and a chairlift ride from a log-cabin café. If long, icy walks are not your idea of a good time, but you like the sound of the last bit, you can simply start from Vorobyovy Gory Metro Station (No. 5 in the text). The large Moo Moo cafe immediately outside Fruzenskaya Metro may not be everyone's dream location, but its familiar faux-tavern interior does well enough for a start and there is not much else in the way of cafés along this route until you reach the end. Crossing under Komsomolsky Prospekt, go left a little way to find a path on the right leading, via a tall gate with a sun motif, to one end of the Andreevsky Most (1). This covered pedestrian bridge was one of those built recently to promote walking routes through the city and has great views along the river as far as the Kremlin, there is even an escalator up from this end onto the panoramic walkway.
To your left lies Gorky Park, its paths iced over for winter and transformed into a huge outdoor skating rink. In the morning it can be quite empty and the near end is particularly picturesque, but our route lies to the right, where the hilly woods are visible in the distance. Come down the first set of steps onto the embankment and walk along it, with the river on your right. Go past the theatre and enter the Nyeskuchny Sad ("not boring garden").
Keeping to the left of an old stone bridge (2) head for another, brick and wrought iron, bridge spanning the ravine further uphill. Go across this and keep following the path in this direction, parallel to the river below. In the 18th and 19th centuries these undulating woods contained three country estates, of which all that remain are a couple of faded summer houses. The cliff-top grey empire style "reading room" on the right is one of them. The white rotunda on the left is actually a war memorial and shortly after it you finally climb (or slide) back down the steep slope to rejoin the riverside path.
Cross under the road and railway bridges (3). Not the most romantic spot admittedly (although the red brick 1930s warehouses have a certain dilapidated charm), but immediately after the bridge you have a great view of the University ahead and you reach the walled Andreesvsky Monastery. Foun ded in 1648, the ensemble today consists of a gate church and, inside (enter through the wooden door on the left in the tunnel) a tall baroque belfrey from the 18th century and a simple red and white church with ancient memorial stones in the wall. Anyone who has seen the New Jerusalem Monastery or the Intercession Cathedral at Izmailovo will recognise the colorful "peacock's eye" tiles around the dome of the overgate church as the work of 17th century master crafstman, Stepan Polubes.
The huge buildings, topped by strange gold cuboids, that tower behind the monas tery belong to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Their architecture was supposedly influenced by the monastery they now overshadow. Going on along the river bank a path soon leads off up some steps to the left. This is one of the new "Ecological routes" designed to make the area more accessible to tourists and leads past the pretty Andreevsky Ponds (4). Keeping to the less-travelled path along the left banks, furthest from the river, continue in this direction, bearing left at a fork to cross two small streams and pass a flight of steps. The riverside embankment is temptingly flat at the foot of the hill and this pleasant upland route may become unfeasibly treacherous in icy weather, but if you persevere it levels out.
Just beyond the wooden gazebo, fork left again along a track which leads past the glass Vorobyovy Gory Metro station (5), brilliantly designed to span this picturesquely wide bend in the Moscow river. A path with yellow railings runs on beyond the station. This is another "Eco trail" completed just last summer and lined with information boards, secluded benches, summer houses and a lovely woodland pond; it even claims to be accessible for wheelchairs. At a meeting of several ways below a tall stone monument, turn sharp left and double back uphill to some steps. At the top of these, turn right again along a track that leads to the top of the ski slope.
Beyond the chairlift is a row of cafés with great views. The castle-like Georgian restaurant is more formal, but the unpretentious "Ski Café" offers great soups and Turkish coffee in a wooden cabin on the edge of the cliff. Just beyond it is the famous Sparrow Hills viewpoint (6), crowded with souvenir sellers and weekend wedding parties. Chekhov clai med that anyone who wanted to un der stand Russia had to come and see Moscow from here.
The modern skyline certainly reflects the grand aspirations of successive generations. The glorious Novodevichy Convent is dwarfed by factories and tower blocks and the view is dominated by the enormous Luzhniki Stadium where the 1980 Olympics took place. On a clear day, six of Stalin's skyscrapers are visible, with the seventh and largest - the Moscow State University - immediately behind you.
From here, you can walk around the 36-floor giant onto Lomonosovsky Prospekt, where you turn left to reach Universitet Metro. Or you can catch the No. 7 trolleybus from the church to Kievskaya. The recommended option is to get the chairlift, if it is running, back down to the river (100 rubles) and turn right back to Vorobyovy Gory Metro. Take a last look at the view from the train and plan to return in a couple of months, when the banks will be flooded with golden anenomes and the boats will start running into town again from the pier at the foot of the hill.
By Phoebe Taplin
Family friendly features:
Kids are probably the last thing you want on your romantic walk, but if there's no escape, at least the chairlift should be popular and there are some great sledging hills along the way. There are several playgrounds on the slopes of Sparrow Hills and a carousel at the cafe. There is also a large and well-kept childrens' park next to the metro at Fruzenskaya.