The old town of Klin, 70km north of Moscow, is the perfect seasonal destination. Pyotr Tchaikovsky composed the "Nutcracker" in a wooden house in the suburbs and you can visit the Museum of Christmas Decorations, as well as churches, cafes and monuments on either side of the winding River Sestra. Trains leave from Moscow's Leningradsky Station, but it's easier to catch bus No. 437 from Rechnoi Vokzal metro station, which stops right outside Tchaikovsky's house on its way into town. Bus tickets cost 130 roubles each way. "I can't imagine myself living anywhere else", wrote Tchaikovsky in 1885. "I am unable to do justice to the charm of the Russian landscape and the silence which I need most of all". Since Tchaikovsky's day both the charm and the silence have been sorely eroded by Soviet tower blocks and the thundering Leningradskoye Shosse, but the house itself, in its wooded park, is still very much worth seeing. In one wing, there is an exhibition about the nearby Demyanovo Estate, which Tchaikovsky frequently visited. The young Alexander Pushkin had stayed there in 1811 on his way to Tsarskoye Selo. In the late 19th, the house belonged to the Taneyevs, hosts to such diverse characters as symbolist poet Andrei Bely and botanist, Kliment Timiryazev.
You can stroll back a little way along the road to Moscow to have a look at what is left of this estate. Turn right along Proyezd Taneyeva, crossing a bridge over the old ornamental lake to reach the ruined brick shell of the mansion. A scattering of ponds and outbuildings beyond the house complete the desolate, but atmospheric scene. The church has been restored for its 300th birthday. There are information panels inside with a map of the former estate.
Return to the main road, cross through the trees beyond and turn left along the quieter old Petersburg Road (now called Ulitsa Chaikovskogo), which runs along the far side of Tchaikovsky's house. Crossing the River Sestra, look right for a view of the Klin's oldest church, the lovely, single-domed 16th century Assumption, standing on the riverbank beyond a valley full of wooden houses. To visit it, detour right along Ulitsa Papivina, beyond the bridge.
The imposing, but dilapidated building straight ahead is the Trinity Cathedral, converted in the 1950s into a Palace of Culture, and now slowly being turned back into a church. The red brick building to the right is the old grammar school while, to the left, are the late 19th century trading rows, still housing shops and cafes. The Russky Club is a good place for lunch. In a muddy courtyard behind the Trinity cathedral, you can find the remains of another church and its concrete-covered bell tower. This is the site of the medieval, earthen walled Kremlin, in a strategic position above the river.
A statue of Tchaikovsky stands in a square nearby. The central lane of the trading rows has meat and fish shops and an arched exit onto Ulitsa Gagarina. Turn right along this busy road, passing an art nouveau chemist and the elegant 1909 Church of St. Tikhon, to the left. Cross over the Leningradskoye Shosse again at the traffic lights, to reach the town's Historical Museum at 37/1. This gem of a local museum is open Wed.-Sun. 10 am-1pm and 2-5 pm and costs 30 roubles. The usual chronological display of local artefacts and stuffed wild animals is given a distinctive flavour by relics from the post road that passed through the town after St. Petersburg was founded and a great selection of old photos. These include the air balloon that carried Dmitry Mendeleyev to a neighbouring town in 1887 and records of three weeks of Nazi occupation in 1941.
The red brick and white stone Church of the Consolation of All Sorrows, across the road, was built in the mid-19th century. It now stands in a park full of war memorials. Walk through this park and cross back over the carriageway. Turn left along Ulitsa Lenina and left again into Ulitsa Gaidara. This road is named after Soviet children's author, Arkady Gaidar, who lived at No. 17. The charming wooden house is now a museum, which keeps similar hours to the Historical Museum and also costs 30 roubles.
Gaidar, like Tchaikovsky, was attracted to Klin by the pre-war quiet and wrote his popular stories about "Timur and his Gang" in the modest study-cum-bedroom before being killed by the Germans. Passing Gaidar's house and taking the next right into Leningradskaya Ulitsa brings you to the green-roofed Museum of Christmas Decorations, just beyond the crossroads. A tour of the workshop and collections costs 350 roubles (270 for kids). Besides 12 exhibition rooms with decorations from the last 150 years, you get a chance to see skilled workers blowing and moulding the ornaments, stretching the molten glass like toffee, painting on seasonal designs or adding the final touches of glitter. Each tour comes with a free souvenir bauble.
Whether or not you opt for the tour, you can pop into the shop at the front of the building where the finished decorations and artificial Christmas trees are for sale. Retrace you steps to the crossroads near Gaidar's house and turn right, crossing the main road one last time, along Novoyamskaya Ulitsa. The mid-19th century train station is at the end of this road. The bus station is just before it on the right with buses leaving every 20 minutes.