Yalta has been Russia's southern playground for almost as long as it's needed one. The Romanovs had a summer house built here, where Stalin later brought Churchill and Roosevelt to decide the fate of the post-war world. Chekhov wrote The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard in a villa on the edge of town, Rachmaninoff was a frequent visitor, and the Gorbachevs were just a few miles down the coast when they were arrested during the failed coup of 1991. Part Riviera chic, part Old School Sovietism, and part Imperial lament, it has a street named after Marx, pizza parlours and western chain stores, and a statue of Lenin opposite a drive-through McDonald's and a children's toy shop called Bambi Land.
The seafront had a pebble beach, palm trees and flowerbeds, people eating candyfloss, drunks stumbling along with their eyes closed, pensioners playing chess with their backs to the water and old women attempting to sell home-pickled gherkins. There were sushi bars in full-sized pirate ships parked by the sea, street signs in Russian and English, people dancing in the street, and outdoor stalls where tourists could have their photos taken sitting on motorbikes or thrones, dressed up in samurai armour, Mickey Mouse costumes, a Roman centurion's uniform or 18th century ball gowns.
The main street, Naberezhnaya Lenina feels more like Nice than Ukraine. Pavement cafes, expensive for Crimea but still cheap compared to Odessa or Kiev, the same shops you'd find on an English highstreet and benches looking out to sea. It ends at Primorsky Park, where a path continues to Livadia Palace, where Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met, and the Swallow's Nest, still Crimea's main tourist trap, a turreted castle which juts out of a cliff. "You must take the cable car up Ai-Petri," someone recommended. "Don't miss Livadia," said someone else. "The Swallow's Nest is the best thing to see." "You have to see Uchan-Su. It's Europe's highest waterfall." In the end, with only a few hours in town, I didn't manage to see any.
You could spend weeks here doing nothing, or the best part of a day just ticking off the sights. Whichever you prefer, it's worth the journey.