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Russia January 3, 2008
Winter Vacation Guide: Tropical Wonderland In Podmoskovie
By Yasha Levine Browse author Email

Last Saturday, I woke up next to my girl in a hotel room to the muted thump of techno music. Still sleepy, I thought my next door neighbors had their TV set tuned to some Russian music channel. I was wrong: I was in the Russian tropics. As we suited up and made our way over the icy, dirt-encrusted footpath to the Tropic Hotel's main restaurant building, the techno got louder. It was coming from a single speaker on the restaurant's second storey balcony, turned up to ear-piercing distortion levels. The techno announced that the free buffet lunch was open for service.

Thus began my weekend trip into the heart of Russia's unique hotel heritage: the baza otdykha.

These all-inclusive "resorts" have their roots in the Soviet times, when they were built by various factories and state bureaucracies as vacation retreats for their workers. Standard bazy otdykha activities include: getting drunk at a banya, undergoing a special water treatment regimen for heart disease and obesity, cross-country skiing, and swimming in a lake and/or pool.

Most bazy otdykha have since been privatized, but most still stand untouched in all their Soviet mass-produced glory, a cross between a roadside motel and condemned hospital, with drafty rooms and stomach-churning cafeteria food. But some had undergone evro-remont. Competition for cheap third-world vacation tours to Turkey and Egypt should have put these bazy otdykha out of business a long time ago. (A week-long all-inclusive vacation in Egypt or Turkey can easily be bought for as low as $700, including airfare). But not in Russia.

In early December, my vacationing partner and I spent days looking for a vacant "resort" in podmoskovie, but almost every place was booked solid. Finally, we got lucky. According to Ludmila, my travel agent, Tropicana Hotel represented a whole new "Westernizing" trend in the baza otdyka sector. Instead of remodeling older Soviet resorts, new Putin-era resorts were now being built from the ground up on virgin tracts of podmoskovie forest. While retaining the usual spectrum of baza otdykha services Russians have come to expect, these new resorts added European standard amenities, allowing them to appeal to a younger, hipper and more Westernized crowd.

Located in a pristine forest 15 miles north-west of Moscow, Foresta Tropicana Hotel promised the "Tropics Nearby." It features two discos, four restaurants, private banyas, a spa complex offering treatments for various cardiovascular disorders, a bowling alley, a large billiard hall, a sushi bar, hookahs, 24-hour room service, an artificial lake with special VIP bungalows for grilling shashlik in any weather, and themed honeymoon suites.

As Ludmilla put it, it is for Muscovites that "work hard and relax hard."

But despite its high level of service, Tropicana Hotel retained a budget-oriented philosophy. At 4,000 rubles per night, its most basic room (which included a free breakfast and lunch) was about the same price as many old-style sovok resorts. Could such a bargain be possible in Moscow these days?

In a word, yes.

Large balconies in every room offer breathtaking views of the muddy chain-link fence and service road.

Major point of interest: this unique Soviet-era WWII monument is just a short 45-minute walk away. But it’s worth it.

Did we die and wake up in tropical heaven? The Tropicana Hotel sells marinated meat for its VIP shashlik huts, shown above.

“Lover’s Island.” Numerous benches and frozen ponds offer the perfect setting for vacation photos.

Misfortune in paradise. Not even a blown tire could ruin this perfect tropical weekend getaway.

"Bowling Sushi" is just around the corner. Too lazy to walk there from your hotel room? Let Tropicana bring the sushi to you with their 24 hour sushi room service.

Party time! Three a.m. and the party’s just getting started as Tropicana’s resident DJ warms up the eager crowd with a Russian techno favorite: "If you want to be my friend / Put my dick in your hand / Move it left, move it right / Try to lick, suck it right" (actual lyrics heard that night).

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Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at
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