The Chelyabinsk Region is known as the Land of Three Thousand Lakes, and it does, indeed, have a wealth of bodies of water, which cover a total area of over 2.2 thousand square km. Scenic views, pristine nature and a robust infrastructure: all of this appeals to active tourists and those who are just here to relax.
Turgoyak, one of the purest lakes in Russia, is nestled between the Ural-Tau and Ilmensky mountain ridges. You can see the bottom even 17 metres down! People often refer to Turgoyak as "Baikal's younger brother". It's a great spot for a family vacation on the beach or at a spa. Don't like lazing about all day? You can sail a yacht or a boat, or ride a wakeboard, a catamaran, or a stand-up paddleboard.
The magnificent Zaozyorny mountain ridge rises tall and proud over the mirror-smooth surface of Turgoyak. If you climb it, you will get to enjoy a breathtaking view over the lake and Mukhorinskaya Kurya Bay.
There are about 10 islands scattered across Turgoyak; some of them become peninsulas when the water level drops. Vera Island is the largest, and many tourists believe it to be a confluence of spiritual energy.
The island was named after a local hermit. Legend has it that Vera fled to this island when her father tried to force her into a marriage with a man she did not love. She lived here all on her own in a small stone cell and was highly regarded as a healer and seer.
Vera's Island abounds with archaeological finds. When exploring this tiny plot of land — a mere 8 ha—scientists found a prehistoric campsite, left behind by Neanderthals approximately 60 thousand years ago. There are also ancient dolmens on the island, along with megalithic structures and stone quarries that are believed to be 6 thousand years old. The megalithic structures have complex corridor patterns; the stones are held together without any mortar. Remember that entering the corridors is dangerous and therefore forbidden!
The island boasts perfectly preserved rows of menhirs: elongated vertical stone slabs. The menhirs in one row face east and west, while the menhirs in another row face north and south. Scientists believe that the menhirs were associated with burial rituals.
A special eco-route was launched on Vera's Island in 2018. It is marked with a boardwalk and goes past the key cultural heritage sites.
Vera Island is easiest to access in winter, when you can simply walk towards it over the ice from the town beach. The trek takes about one hour. But in summer the island is obviously more beautiful. You can get there by hiring a trimaran at the town beach (cheaper for groups). Be mindful of restrictions: watercrafts with internal combustion engines are not allowed on Turgoyak.
The lake borders two ski resorts, Solnechnaya Dolina (Sunny Valley) and Rider which offer state-of-the-art slopes, ski lifts, recreation areas and hotels. A team of experienced instructors will be happy to help you get started or hone your skiing and snowboarding skills. Sunny Valley resort also hosts a number of events: the Ilmen Festival of Song Writing; international ski cross, freestyle and snowboarding competitions; and many more.
Less than an hour's drive away from Turgoyak, you will find another important landmark of the Chelyabinsk Region: Lake Chebarkul, which earned worldwide fame after a meteorite fell there in February 2013. It was lifted from the bottom of the lake in 2015 and is now on display at the The State History Museum of Southern Urals. There is also a memorial stele on Chebarkul's shore. Its outline recreates the silhouette of the lake, and there is a hole in it to mark where the meteorite fell.
Location: 120 km to the west of Chelyabinsk.
How to get there: by car from Chelyabinsk along the Ufimsky Highway until you reach Miass, then along the Turgoyaksky Highway. Travel time is 1.5 hours. There are also intercity buses running between Chelyabinsk and Miass. Travel time is over 2 hours.
Uvildy is a true gem among Chelyabinsk's lakes, and the largest lake in the Ural region, reaching almost 70 sq. km in size. Its tectonic origin has given its waters healing properties, thanks to a unique cocktail of selenium, magnesium and iron. If you are looking to improve your health or give yourself a boost of energy, come visit the surrounding health resorts with radon-rich springs and sapropel mud baths. Or maybe you would prefer to go fishing or scuba diving! Uvildy has a lot to offer its guests.
"Here, the eye beholds the prettiest of views: the entire lakeshore is like a woven carpet of dense sedge grass and floating islands, while the dark-blue water peeks through its green frame, forming all manners of whimsical patterns," reminisced the famous Ural-born writer and explorer Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak.
In the summer season, Uvildy is safe to swim in, and not only that: you can actually scuba dive here, accompanied by a professional instructor. In some places, the lake is 38 m deep.
The famous Uvildy resort lies on the lakeshore. It offers detox programmes, health treatments and simply a chance to wind down.
Price: from RUB 3,000 per night (twin room). Ask about the prices for courses of treatment. SUP rentals: from RUB 500 per hour.
Location: 90 km to the west of Chelyabinsk.
How to get there: by car from Chelyabinsk along the M5 Highway, passing through Argayash and Kuznetskoe. Travel time is 1.5 hours. There are also buses running between Chelyabinsk and the village of Uvildy (bus No. 670). Travel time is 2 hours.
Lake Itkul is a perfect place to recharge in an eco-friendly way. The lake and the surrounding area are designated a specially protected natural heritage site. The Itkul waters are remarkably pure, and so clear that you can see 4–5 metres down. The Kaslinsky Ridge slopes approach the lake from the west, while the Zauralskaya Plain stretches to the east. The Itkul shore has plenty of spots where you can pitch a camping tent.
The lake's name is believed to originate from the Bashkir language; it means "meaty lake" (i.e. rich in fish). You can't fish here, but you can enjoy various water sports like stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), wind- and kitesurfing and diving.
The lake's main landmark is the Shaitan Rock, a curiously shaped boulder that rises 20 m out of the water. According to local legend, there is a giant serpent (known as Poloz) living near the rock. The serpent is said to possess magical powers and to safeguard the gold deep within the earth. "Poloz has great power over these lands. He is the master of all the gold here: if anyone has it, he will claim it for himself," says a passage from Pavel Bazhov's retelling of a traditional story (skaz) called The Golden Hair, which features this character from Bashkir mythology. The only way to escape Poloz is to hide in a secret cave inside the Shaitan Rock.
There are several vacation centres along the shores of Lake Itkul. Guests can rent a spacious house for a large group, or a cosier, more intimate cottage for a family vacation. You can also order a boat tour, see the Shaitan rock up close and take a walk along the shore.
Once you have explored the local sites, we recommend climbing the Bolshoi Kamen rock complex near the town of Verkhny Ufaley, or take a road trip to the scenic Cheremsha Quarries, which resemble a colossal amphitheatre.
Location: 120 km to the northwest of Chelyabinsk.
How to get there: by car from Chelyabinsk along the Yekaterinburg route; once you pass Tyubuk, turn towards Kasli and keep driving until you reach Verkhny Ufaley and Lake Itkul. Travel time is just under 3 hours.