Moscow may be landlocked, but in the dog days of the summer, there are still plenty of places to enjoy a cool swim. Most of the city's parks possess lakes: Sokolniki, Kuzminki, Ostankino, Troparyovsky, Bitsevsky and so on... and many of these have sandy beaches for sunbathing or swimming, sometimes despite notices forbidding it. These grassy banks along the wide river, as well as the officially designated beaches around the city, can all make for very pleasant days out. Water quality is at best dubious, the crowds and litter at weekends are often horrendous, but the Moscow-beach-experience is still a crucial part of the multi-faceted, fun-loving nature of city life. The best-known and most popular beaches are deservedly those on Serebryany Bor and they are well worth visiting, but here are a few others to cater for a variety of tastes. 1. LOVERS' LAKE - Stroginsky Zaton.
One of the largest bodies of water inside the MKAD, the huge bay in the Moscow River between Schukino and Strogino is surrounded by some hidden and not-so-hidden gems. From Schukinskaya Metro, walk or catch any bus or tram heading west across the bridge to the ‘Tekh-tsentre Kamerton' stop. The most accessible beach is right here on the Stroginskoe Shosse with a cafe and boat hire. It offers a not-unpleasant dip in hot weather, despite a carpet of cigarette ends across the sand. But with a little bit of effort, you can do much better. Following the shoreline to the right past the yacht club, you come to a gated tarmac road leading to the end of a peninsula. All along this road, little paths lead off to the left through the marshy woods to small sandy coves often inhabited only by the odd lone fisherman or yoga fanatic. With the view across the bay suddenly rendered more palatable by the tranquillity of the intervening water, these beaches can be almost idyllic, more so the further you go. The open water is relatively clear and the jumping fish and seagulls perched on mats of weed give a romantic seaside feel.
Rounding the end of the promontory, you come across an unbelievably rural moment. The tower blocks are out of sight and the tip of Serebryany bor is visible across the water with, in front of it, the flowery peninsulas that encircle the other side of the bay like arms. These deserted havens are home to a very active gay beach, accessible down the spiral staircase in the middle of the Stroginsky road bridge. If it's more of a family day out you had in mind, just around the corner to the south is a large patch of sand and some sheltered shallows. Or, check out one of the following...
2. CHILDREN'S CHOICES - Rublyovsky, the "Big Garden Pond" and the "White Lake"
All of these have nice sand, playgrounds, changing areas, boat hire, cafes and are accessible with a minimum of walking. Rublyovsky is just outside the MKAD, but is easily reachable with the 357 Marshrutka, which shuttles between Krylatskoye and Schukinskaya metros. There is an entrance fee of 40 rubles, worth it for the acres of clean sand, interspersed with patches of grass and flowers. The water here also looks as clean and inviting as it gets, since on the west side of the city, the Moscow river has yet to become completely polluted. The music can get a bit much at weekends and the cafÈ is rubbish, but it's still worth a trip. The Bolshoi Sadoviy Prud is a reservoir in the north of the Timiryazeva Academy Park (buses 179, 191, 204 and 282 go there from Voykovskaya Metro). The water is reputedly the cleanest in central Moscow - not a huge claim, but it's pleasant enough for a dip with plenty of space for the weekend crowds. The playground is one of the best and newest, the cafÈ in the woods to the south is lovely when it's open and if the weather turns nasty, the nearby Baikal Cinema has an internet salon, bowling, more cafes and an indoor play area shaped like a flying saucer! On the south eastern side of town, the Beloye Ozero also makes a popular day trip. Catch bus 602, 613, 747 or 772 from the north side of Vykhino station - there is also a huge fruit and veg market here which is perfect for putting together a picnic. Get off at the ‘Polyklinika' stop, cross over and follow the lane away from the road, then left at the first turning to find the gently-shelving swimming area, marked out by a line of buoys. The half hour or so walk around the lake is also recommended; although you never quite lose the distant roar of the MKAD, there are some peaceful places under the poplars and willows and you can visit the lovely cluster of churches which make the far bank so picturesque.
3. CONVALESCENTS' CORNER -Povedniki
Another watery excursion is to the Klyazminskoe Reservoir, north of Moscow. One route is bus 273 from Altufyevo Metro. This drops you in the village of Povedniki where a path winds through the woods from the bus stop to the lake. Going through the barrier of the ‘Klyazma Pensionat,' there is a well-equipped beach on the left with plenty of sun loungers and an old-fashioned spa feel, enclosed and leisurely. The water is rather green, but walking on along the shore, the reservoir opens out and you can see why the area is famous for Sanatoria - there are benches on the mowed grass of the bank, looking across a wide and peaceful expanse of lake.
4. BARGAIN-HUNTERS' ‘BEACH': Serebryano-Vinogradny Pond
Partizanskaya may seem an odd location, but its proximity to the popular souvenir-market makes it worth a mention for those who have not yet discovered the relatively relaxing waterfront behind the busy bazaar. If, after heading from the metro through the peacock gate towards the market, you then branch off to the right, you come across the old palace in its lake. You can cross the bridge and wander among the dilapidated buildings and well-kept lawns, or keep on along the left bank with the water on the right for a charming beach experience: the grass is covered with cafes, sun loungers and playground equipment. Swimming here is definitely not advisable (the generalised prohibition is reinforced by reference to ‘standards' and by the look of the water), but the presence of the muddy water is still soothing and there is a great view of the church on the opposite shore. For a really tranquil setting and a bit more shade, go on one stop on the metro to Izmailovskaya and head for the ponds there.
5. PARTY LOVERS' PARADISE - Pokrovskoe-Glebovo Park
The water quality is probably not great here either, but huge numbers of people do dive in and the wide grassy spaces are just made for relaxing with a picnic. The middle pond is the most tempting for a swim and on a still summer's evening, it is quite idyllic with the ducks and minnows. There is a small beach and a sandy volleyball court, a nearby playground and cafÈ, as well as a shop selling cheap beer, which is a chief attraction or drawback depending on your perspective. To get there: walk west through the houses from Voykovskaya metro until you reach the park (through a railway bridge) or catch the train from Rizhsky Vokzal to ‘Pokrovskoye Streshnevo' station, sharing the carriage on a warm day with gangs of half-dressed young people ready to sing, sunbathe, play and drink by the water for hours... Although it attracts a party crowd, the beach can also be surprisingly tranquil without the traffic noise that blights some parks.
6. SACRED SWIMMING-PLACE - Istra
An hour further on down the same railway line from Rizhsky Vokzal, are Istra and Novo Yerusalimskaya. The area is well known for resorts by lakes and pools, but you can swim here for spiritual, as well as physical purposes. A pilgrim's path leads from the station along the road, across a bridge and fields to the New Jerusalem Monastery. Here, the seventeenth century patriarch Nikon attempted to recreate the Holy City, including the baptismal river Jordan. Just behind Nikon's hermitage, outside the monastery walls, a wooden cross and a faded carpet designate a ritual bathing-place. Here you can immerse yourself at any time of year with serious babushkas in bras. The underground Konstantino-Yeleninskaya church also serves boiled holy water from the well in pewter tankards.
7. THE EXPLORERS' ESCAPE - Lytkarino
Although it is 15km outside Moscow, the lake in the Tomilinski Lesopark is not exactly unknown. Bus 348 departs regularly from Stop 1 of the bus station near McDonalds at Kuzminki Metro and eventually deposits you in the unprepossessing town of Lytkarino. Heading away from the bus terminus towards the woods, you go past a cafÈ and take a little concrete path on your right. Following this straight ahead into shade and bird-song, you soon find the white sand and pine trees for which this beach is known. The little beach near the bus station is quite adequate, but there are more facilities ten minutes further on, on a promontory in the lake. At first glance, the water has the disappointing murkiness of so many Moscow swimming places, a bit scummy round the edges, but stepping through the sandy shallows, the lake shelves quite suddenly to become a pellucid blue-green. The further out you swim, the clearer it seems and the more peaceful the surroundings. Suddenly, Moscow seems a very long way away.