Old churches, views across the Moscow River and a wonderful flooded quarry - these are some of the treats in store in Lytkarino, a Soviet-era town, 25 kilometres south-east of Moscow. A fleet of yellow minibuses (No. 538), waiting near the Kuzminki McDonald's has made this a popular destination. All you need to do is get on and give 45 roubles to the conductor, then sit back and enjoy the trip out of town. After 20 minutes or so escaping from the traffic and urban sprawl, the minibus turns off down a quieter road through the woods, terminating on Peschanaya Ulitsa ("Sandy Street") near a row of shops. Go on along Peschanaya Ulitsa in the direction the bus was headed and turn right into Ulitsa Kolkhoznaya ("Collective Farm Street"). Here on the edge of this urban settlement, you can look out over the countryside with views that improve as you continue up the slope ahead.
This road is lined with apartment blocks on the right and wooden dachas on the left. Gradually it curves to the right until you reach the early 19th-century brick Church of Peter and Paul, built by the Demidov family who owned a huge iron works and an estate here at the time. Entering through a gate behind the church, you can walk past the domes and porticos to the main entrance (have a look inside!) and then come down the steps to exit through another gate at the foot of the slope.
The next landmark is already visible. You just need to aim for the diminutive white spire of St. Nicholas among the tower blocks ahead. Boyar Ivan Miloslavsky built this lovely church in the 1680s, on a cliff above the Moscow River. Miloslavsky was an opponent of the young Peter the Great and the church-building reforms of his reign. The deliberately old-fashioned architecture of St. Nicholas, with its tent roof and layer of kokoshniki gables, was an ideological symbol of the boyar's preferences.
You can't usually get inside the church (it's rather disappointing if you do), but - much better - there is a wonderful view across the valley to the Transfiguration Church at Ostrov. The village of Ostrov ("island") owes its name to its location on a hill in the Moscow River valley. If you want to have a look at the mansion of the Demidov family, simply turn right at the church and make your way through the tower blocks on the edge of the valley, through what was once the parkland of the Petrovskoye Estate. The house is painted bright blue and half-hidden in trees. Recent renovation work has restored some of the original features. It was built according to a design by the architect Matvei Kazakov.
Several kilometres of forest stretch away beyond the house and it should be possible, with time, energy, a compass and mosquito spray, to head northwest towards the neighbouring village of Dzerzhinsky with its monastery. Once you leave behind the picnic rubbish close to town, the paths become quite beautiful. The main problem is the lack of any kind of signposting so that it is quite possible to wander for hours among the wild strawberries and ferns. Since the paths do not run straight, you can easily end up walking in circles.
A shorter and less frustrating route is to retrace your steps back to the edge of modern Lytkarino and head for the lake. Founded in 1957, the town's chief factory manufactures optical equipment. This industry has given the town its chief treasure in the eyes of many over-heated city-dwellers. A former quarry, once mined for optical quartzite, has now become a beautiful woodland lake with sandy beaches. This flooded quarry is at the far end of the track that runs left after cottage No. 27 on Ulitsa Kolkhoznaya. Don't be put off by the derelict industrial buildings or the rubbish near the start. Follow the track along the side of a woodland cemetery, down a muddy lane through the trees and then along a sandy path that emerges behind one of the lakeside cafes.
Here you can swim in the blue-green waters of the Volkusha Lake. The water is up to 20 metres deep, making it pleasantly cool. On sunny weekends, the shores of the lake are packed and you should have no problem finding your way back again through the pinewoods, along a sandy track to the town. Simply follow the crowds, (right at the café and right again soon afterwards through the trees) until you come out on a road near another café.
The bus station is almost straight ahead along Pervomaiskaya. You can catch a bus from here or go round the corner at the end to find the stop for the No. 538 marshrutka minibus again.
You might want to head straight for the beach. After the bus turns right down the forest road to Lytkarino, but before you reach the town, there is a stop in the middle of the woods, from which you can take a short cut to the lake. Just follow the half-dressed teenagers carrying towels! This is definitely not the most attractive approach. There is a lot of rubbish, some cars and quadbikers and a pipe. But this didn't stop our nine-year-old giving the area top marks: rusty pipes to balance on, piles of sand to roll down and a beach café that sells ice creams - what more could any kid want?
Landmark of the week - The Preobrazhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church, Ostrov
This beautiful limestone building is visible for miles around. Master craftsmen from Pskov built it during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Some people even say Ivan founded it, having visited the hunting lodge here belonging to his father, Vasily III. The Transfiguration Church is decorated with more than 200 kokoshniki, radiating around the spire like the petals of a flower. The soaring spire, is second only to the Ascension Church at Kolomenskoye as a brilliant example of 16-century church architecture.