The ponds that belonged to Tsar Boris Godunov are an oasis in Moscow's industrial hinterland - ripe for a visit as tulips open in the spring sunshine and the old orchards start to flower. The first of the four churches along this route is right outside the metro at Marino. The last patriarch, Alexy II, consecrated this huge, neo-Byzantine edifice in 2001. The grand church of the Icon of the Mother of God "Assuage my sorrows" is typical of the new houses of worship appearing in Moscow's suburbs and surroundings, replacing the small, wooden churches that sprang up in the 1990s. It's worth going in (women should cover their heads) to see the beautiful colours of the interior. The choir - if you're lucky enough to catch a service - is exceptional.
Go back to the bus stop on the far side of the busy Lyublinskaya Ulitsa, next to the metro (exit near the front of the train and turn right) and catch bus No. 623 across the Moscow River. Give 28 roubles to the driver for a ticket.
The first flowers are blooming under the bridge in the riverside gardens laid out for Moscow's 850th anniversary. Hop off at the second stop, Ulitsa Musi Dzhalilya 5, just after the bus turns right and away from the main road. Turn left along the little river Gorodnya until you reach the 19th century Church of the Life-Giving Trinity on the shore of the huge Borisovsky Pond.
The area around the church was once the village of Borisovo, owned in the 16th century by Boris Godunov and his sister Irina. The Tsar created the chain of ornamental lakes in the 16th century.
Go on along the edge of the lake, beyond the church, keeping the water on your right. You will pass steps down to a fresh water spring (drinking from it is not recommended) and a polar grove with nesting starlings, avenues and orchards in bud. Although the surrounding tower blocks are ever-present, the park grows wider and more rural. On the opposite bank, you can see the coloured umbrellas of a beach. The next church - another, towering Trinity with turquoise domes that can't be missed - is on the hill to the left.
Walk down from the church to the lake again, go under the bridge and continue along the riverside path past old orchards. As the main track leads left, take a small fishermen's path along the muddy bank towards a bridge with a weir. Cross the road and go on along the left bank of Lower Tsaritsinsky pond beyond. Just before you reach the dachas (6) on your left, turn away from the pond and skirt around the wooden houses, cross-country, to emerge on Novotsaritsinskoye Shosse near a bus stop.
From the top of the slope above the wooden houses you can see the palaces at Tsaritsyno ahead. These buildings were part of a controversial reconstruction project two years ago. Catherine the Great's elaborate, crumbling follies were smartened up into a Disneyland venue and museum as part of Mayor Yury Luzhkov's citywide beautification scheme.
Cross the road near the bus stop and enter Tsaritsyno Park via the Chyornogryazskoye Gate. This gate recalls the area's original name, which means "black mud". A broad path bordered by beds of tulips leads to Orekhovo metro station, with views of the church and palaces across the valley to the right, passing the All-Russia School of Apiary in a small cabin near the orangeries. You might want to visit the café, straight on from the Chyorno gryazskoye Gate. More modest than the nearby Usadba restaurant, this cosy eatery has already opened its summer terrace. You can admire the view while eating fresh "Byzantine" salad or buttery cherry vareniki.
Afterwards, you might feel ready for a detour across the bridge or even a trip to the palace museum (open Wed-Sun, 11am-6pm, tickets cost 150 roubles), where you can see local archeological finds and photos of the park before and after restoration. The green and white church of the icon of the Mother of God "Life-giving spring" is the oldest building in the present-day ensemble at Tsaritsyno. Prince Dmitry Kantemir built it in 1722 near a spring that was thought to have healing powers.
Catherine the Great bought the estate in 1775, at which point it was renamed Tsaritsyno in her honour.
A series of ornate buildings was designed for the estate by the leading architects of the day: Vasily Bazhenov and his more successful pupil, Matvei Kazakov. You can see statues of the two of them outside the entrance to the museum.
To see more wooded hills and lakes, go on beyond the palaces and wander with the weekend crowds through landscaped grounds, past the island, bridge and summerhouse. For a shorter route, you can start from Tsaritsyno metro station and walk down through the flowerbeds and musical fountains to the lakes and palaces.
Landmark of the week
The Church of the Life-giving Trinity in Orekhovo-Borisovo
This neo-Byzantine edifice, visible as you drive south to Domodedovo Airport, is a perfect symbol of the newly-dauntless Russian Orthodox faith.
Completed (a little behind schedule) in 2004 to celebrate a millennium of Russian Christianity, the towering blue-domed church on the banks of Lake Borisovsky is Moscow's second largest place of worship. Three thousand believers can pray together in the cavernous central hall with a gilded porcelain iconostasis.
Outside, double-headed bronze eagles look down from the roof, a reminder of the church's links with the Romanov royal family, canonised in 2000 along with 1,150 other new saints.