Start: Luzhetsky Monastery, MozhaiskEnd: Borodino Station Distance: about 8km on foot The Battle of Borodino, on 26th August 1812, is re-enacted every year on the first Sunday in September. Thousands of Muscovites make the 120 km trip out of town to watch as the uniformed troops of Napoleon and Kutuzov ride horses and fire canons across the grassy slopes of a natural amphitheatre. Far fewer people bother to stop off in the neighbouring town of Mozhaisk to enjoy the quiet beauties of its few surviving churches. Whether you choose to join the crowds on September 5th or take a more peaceful solitary stroll across the empty battlefields, this route introduces you to some of the area’s treasures.
Trains to Mozhaisk leave from Moscow’s Belorussky Station and a return ticket costs 396 roubles. The scenic journey takes two hours, enlivened by the usual stream of vendors, selling everything from beer to bathroom accessories. A taxi from the station to the Luzhetsky Monastery (1) will cost about 200 roubles. This lone survivor of Mozhaisk’s once thriving monastic community is an atmospheric white-walled compound on a high bank of the Moscow River. Founded in 1408, it takes its name from the luga (“meadows”) round about. The gold-domed Nativity Cathedral was built a century later. The 17th century belfry, to the right of the gates, also has a small chapel inside. The Luzhetsky was the most important of Mozhaisk’s monasteries at the time when, in the 15th century, the town was one of the holiest places in Russia.
Outside the walls, there is a spring under a domed canopy near the river. The handsome, yellow mansion (2) behind a fence on the left used to belong to the Soviet artist, Sergei Gerasimov. Follow this fence and take the first little lane on the right between dachas with flowering gardens. Before you turn away from the river, you can admire the domes of St Elijah’s (3) among the trees on the further shore. Follow peaceful Strelkovaya Ulitsa with views of the convent to the right across a field with goats and cow parsley. Just before house 23, turn left down a narrow tarmac path leading to a concrete bridge across the little Mozhaika River, a tributary of the Moskva. Go on up the path on the far side, over a crossroads towards the Church of Saints Joachim and Anna (4). The small brick church next door is an older building, incorporating a section of the original 15th century limestone wall, a fragment of the glorious past. The tall, brightly coloured church was built nearly 500 years later. Go on along Ulitsa Krupskoi, past the church, and turn right at the end to reach the tiny town museum (5) on Komsomolskaya Ploschad, open until 4pm except Mondays. It costs just 20 roubles to look round. The current exhibition is dedicated to Mozhaisk in the Second World War, when it was occupied by the Germans for 101 days. There are pictures by local artists and collections of wartime artefacts, including a Nazi belt buckle inscribed with “Gott mit uns”. The next exhibition, of paintings by Gerasimov, is opening to celebrate the artist’s 125th birthday, at the end of September. Diagonally right across the square, you will find the comfortable ‘Taverna’ Café (6), serving a great value business lunch on weekdays and pints of draft beer for 80 roubles. Take the next little road on the right to reach St Nicholas’ Cathedral (7). The gothic red and white spires are visible across the valley, perched on the steep grassy slopes of the old Kremlin. The small building next to it is a replica of the “old St Nicholas Cathedral”, renamed the Peter and Paul Church. You can walk down the slope behind the cathedral to find a wooden chapel over another holy spring, next to a pond. Climbing left over the hill, past a war memorial, you can loop back round to the cathedral and out of the gate. Turn right to reach the Moscow Road, part of the old Highway to Smolensk. From the corner here, you can pick up a taxi, or a bus from the main road, to take you on to Borodino or back (from across the road) to the station. If you can’t find a car, try calling ‘MIG’ Taxis on 89629952393. They boast the “lowest prices in town” and charge 240 roubles for the 12km trip to the Borodinsky Museum (open Tues-Sun 10am-4pm, 50/100 roubles for Russians/foreigners). Here, you can buy an English map of the area for 25 roubles, which labels most of the 50-odd memorials scattered through the landscape. Opposite the museum, you can see the gold-topped monument at the Rayevsky Battery, where the French and Russian troops battled for fifteen hours. Prince Bagration is buried behind it while the strange trenches nearby commemorate the Second World War, when there was also heavy fighting in the area. Battle-nerds will be in heaven. Even for those who find the whole thing less compelling, the rolling fields and lines of birch trees make a beautifully tranquil change from the dusty metropolis. Standing on the road with your back to the monument, turn left. Borodino station is about 4km away, but the long straight road is fairly quiet and punctuated by memorials. You pass through the tiny village of Semenovskoe, described in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” as “smoking ruins”.
Looking right at the next junction, you can see the Saviour Convent, founded by the widow of General Tuchkov. Tolstoy stayed in a small, brick hotel opposite the convent, when he was researching the scene for “War and Peace”. There are also several small museums in the convent. Return to the main road if you make a detour down here. Trains back to Moscow currently leave from Borodino Station, at the end of the road, around 2pm, 5pm and 8pm. Landmark of the week – St Nicholas Cathedral in Mozhaisk A pupil of the 18th century architect, Matvei Kazakov, built this impressive cathedral. It incorporates an older gate church