Start: Ryazansky Prospekt metro End: Vykhino metro (via 'marshrutka' bus)
Distance: about 7km
The view of the 18th century Kuskovo Palace across the water is one of the most beautiful in Moscow. The historian Nikolai Karamzin described a party he attended at Kuskovo: "Music was roaring in the gardens, people were crowding in the alleys and a gondola with multicoloured flags sailed on the still waters of the lake."
From Ryazansky Prospekt Metro, exit near the front of the train. You can either choose to walk along 4th Veshnyakovsky Proyezd (away from the main road), under the railway and road (follow the track left from the church) and then right through the woods to the lake. Or you can simply catch bus Nos. 133 or 208 to the palace gates.
One thing you miss, arriving by bus, is the beautiful panorama of palace, church and avenues from across the lake, a view that has not changed much in the last 250 years (if you ignore the tower blocks that have crept along the horizon to the right). You can always get off one stop early at Ulitsa Moldagulovoi and walk diagonally right through the woods to the viewpoint at the end of the canal. One 18th-century visitor described Kuskovo as "a scaled-down transfer of Eden". To enter the lovely landscaped gardens, you only need to pay for one of the seven possible buildings that are open to visitors at Kuskovo. The cheapest are the miniature Dutch and Italian pleasure palaces, which cost 100/50 roubles for foreigners/Russians. The buildings and museums of ceramics are all worth visiting and you can easily spend a whole day here. Beyond the outbuildings, church and palace, picturesquely ranged along the lake, the brick, gabled "Dutch house" has been recently restored. Built in 1849, it features three rooms that are decorated with delft tiles.
Heading back to the main gate, you pass many of the more than 50 statues in the palace grounds, mostly 18th century Italian figures. The statue of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, on a column between the Hermitage and the Aviary is a reference to Catherine the Great's status as "the northern Minerva".
Go on past the Italian house, the Grotto (encrusted inside with hundreds of seashells) and a reconstructed menagerie, ranged around a small pond. Crossing over the road outside the park, you reach a café beside the "Italian Lake". Follow the chain of lakes, cross the road at the far end and go straight on along Kosinskaya Ulitsa towards the historic village of Kosino. Cross underneath the Moscow ring road and turn left down a little track just past the dog training area to find the underpass and emerge into woodland near the shore of the Chyornoye Ozero or "black lake".
Walk down and left towards the water and turn right, parallel with the shore, to reach the adjoining Beloye Ozero ("white lake"). In the 17th century an icon that was said to work miracles was found floating here and local villagers have, since pagan times, attributed healing properties to the water. A great view opens up towards the monastery on the far bank. Go on around the lake, passing a beach and café, along a tree-lined embankment towards the churches. This picturesque ensemble was built in the 19th century and comprises St. Nicholas (with the bell tower), often the only one open, the domed Ascension church and the wooden St. Tikhon. The walls are punctuated by white-washed towers and the atmosphere of the cloistered garden is enhanced by the lakeside location.
Near the gates you can catch a minibus or bus to Vykhino metro station (at one end of the "purple line"). Don't miss the market, packed with fresh produce at bargain prices.
The palace and museums have plenty to interest children, but the beach on the White Lake is also one of the biggest attractions here. The water quality has deteriorated in recent years, but it can still be a great place to hang out. There is a playground, pleasantly sloping soft sand, a friendly café selling cheap ice creams and frequent buses back from the nearby Novoukhtomskoye Shosse to Vykhino metro. The only drawback is some noise pollution from the Moscow Ring Road, but it's still fairly idyllic.
Landmark of the week
Kuskovo Palace, 2 Ulitsa Yunosti
This wooden palace, overlaid with pink and white plaster to look like stone, was built in the 1770s. The architects were serfs owned by the Sheremetev family, including members of the talented Argunov family. The palace is designed with sphinx-guarded ramps so that carriages could be driven right up to the front door. Inside, the 18th century furniture and paintings have been carefully restored.