As late summer dissolves into autumn, what better place to enjoy the splendor of the changing leaves than at the old royal hunting grounds? The walk meanders through meadows and woods, across the island that houses the remains of Tsar Alexei's country estate and ends with matryoshkas at the famous craft market. 1. As soon as you step off the metro at Izmailovskaya, you feel a sense of escape from urban stress. The woods run immediately alongside the railway tracks, which emerge above ground shortly before the station; several paths branch out invitingly from the station. If you are arriving from out of town, turn left off the train and go down the steps at the end of the platform. Turn left again towards the woods and follow the broad tarmac path straight ahead.
2. This path will take you soon into a meadow where you will follow the path over a wooden bridge and along willow-fringed ponds, first on your left and then on your right, then on through the trees until you reach the Krasny Prud (Red Pond).From here, you can make a short detour left to visit the Paseka (apiary), complete with carved bears and a wooden honey pot that adorns the gates.
3.Walk round the Krasny Prud counter-clockwise until you reach the path that leads off to the right, about halfway along the western shore, just beyond the swimming clubhouse and fitness apparatus (a kind of woodland playground for hardened pensioners who brave the waters here throughout the year). Turning right, away from the pond, follow the path ahead until you reach the road.
4. Glavnaya Alleya (main avenue) is a busy road and you may have to wait a little bit for a suitable gap in the traffic. Once safely across, walk straight ahead again, along a small path away from the road into the western woods. Crossing a wider track, continue along a tarmac path, looking out for the remains of a ruined villa on your left.
5. You emerge from the trees onto a twisting path near the bandstand. Behind it, you can see a war memorial, the fence surrounding the renovation Renovation of the Krugly Prud (round pond), and beyond that, a big wheel. Turn right just beyond the bandstand and go straight, now heading north, past a stadium, towards gates onto another road. Cross this and go straight on along another avenue. This is a great area for spotting red squirrels and woodpeckers.
6. You pass between disused fairground rides and some wooden benches, past a colourful big wheel and along an alley of silver birches. Follow the path past another fairground with wonderful flowerbeds to "Western City" on the left. Cross over the tram tracks (you can get a tram from here all the way to Ostankino) and go on towards the road. The café on the right is fine for a coffee, but don't be tempted by the shashlik: it is much better at the crafts market.
7. Enter the underpass and past Partizanskaya station. Go through the peacock gate ahead and to the right, as though heading for the Vernisage. Drawing level with a wooden café that resembles a church, turn right off the main path towards the water. Ignoring the gate to the lakeside path, go past a blue and white striped café (they often have an old-fashioned charcoal samovar here and it's a good place for tea and preserves, especially in fine weather).
8. Cross the bridge ahead over the moat onto the island, admiring the view of the market. Immediately past the football field, turn left and then right through the gates of a picturesque whitewashed eighteenth century barracks into the peaceful courtyard inside. Through a small grove and out of the fine gates at the far end, you reach the most beautiful part of the island, very popular with art students. The path just to the right leading straight to the door of the cathedral takes you past a lion fountain, behind which is a statue of Peter I, his foot resting on a coil of rope, his hand on an anchor. The "grandfather of the Russian Navy" spent much of his childhood on his father's farm here and first sailed on this pond.
9. Going past the seventeenth century Sobor Pokrova (Intercession Cathedral) with its coloured tiles and ornate roof (you can go inside and see up into the domes; women should cover their heads), you come to the Mostovaya Bashnya (Bridge Tower) which is also a lovely building. The inside, once a small museum, is currently being restored. Go on past the tower over a pedestrian bridge and turn left along the bank.
10. A lime tree avenue conducts you back towards the market. To your left is a great view of the cathedral, rising above the willows on the opposite shore and contrasting in that uniquely Muscovite way with the tower blocks and factory chimneys to the right. Follow the path past a playground and numerous waterside cafes until you reach a road,where you can go through a gate in the fence into the huge sprawling clothes market.
11. Here you can choose to walk around the edge until you come to the side entrance into the craft market, or the adventurous can plunge into the massive maze-like warehouse. Like a tacky inverted Narnia, you find yourself stepping from the trees into the wardrobe: rows of fake-fur coats as far as the eye can see. Although this is an amazing and huge bazaar with the air of a medieval souk and lots of unbelievably cheap shoes, beware of getting lost in here and keep an eye on your belongings in the crowd.When you come up for air, you can orientate yourself by the windmill or the distant towers of the Izmailovo Hotel (which is the largest in Europe).Here you will also be able to find very cheap food - a huge bowl of tasty plov or three doughnuts can be bought for 10 rubles, but the kebabs in the souvenir market are still better, a well-earned reward at the end of the adventure.
12. Compared with the lively clothes market, the outer reaches of Izmailovsky can seem positively eerie.Don't miss the "Kremlin‚" a courtyard with a small playground, museums and colourful buildings at the end of the wooden walkways above the main market. When you've had enough, head back up the paved path to Partizanskaya metro with its marble bas reliefs and bronze statues of Partisans.
FAMILY FRIENDLY FEATURES
1. Several playgrounds en route including a nice wooden one with owl carvings next to the apiary.
2. Fairground rides in western part of the Izmailovsky Park.
3. Wildlife: Some of the red squirrels are so tame they will eat out of your hand! Plenty of ducks to feed on the ponds and even the woodpeckers are rather friendly.
4. Museum of Fairy Tales and Museum of Toys in the "Kremlin."
5. Plenty of bridges, stairs and gazebos to explore in the market. Even the cafe has a tree house-like feel.
6. And there are always the Pokemon and Simpsons matryoshkas - or the English DVDs for 100 rubles near the entrance.