The name Novy Svit means "New World" and, as one approaches the beautiful little bay flanked by two mountains and edged with dark green cypresses, it’s easy to see how it got its name. Situated on the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula, this little town is a popular resort for holidaying Russians and Ukrainians. Unlike Yalta, the best known of the Crimean resorts, and the slightly quieter but still fairly commercial Sudak, Novy Svit has little to interest tourists outside the summer months and even during the season activities are almost entirely limited to the beach and to climbing its mountains. It’s possible to get a feel for Novy Svit in just one day and many people staying in Sudak come on daytrips. We stayed for two nights and left on the third day.
Although its unlikely to attract many conventional foreign holiday makers, Novy Svit is a fairly popular draw on the backpacking trail and it's an interesting place to visit to see how Ukrainians holiday. The town doesn’t have a train station and to get to it you must take a marshrutka (like a Turkish dolmus, a minibus that leaves when it’s full) from the town of Sudak. When leaving, the only option is to head back to Sudak which is a reasonably sized hub for bus travel. Novy Svit is between Sudak and Yalta.
It’s a scenic (and sometimes hair-raising) journey which follows the coast for part of the way and the road climbs high as it nears Novy Svit which means that you get a glorious view of the bay as the bus gets to the crest of the hill before dropping back into the town. Our bus was packed with families carrying their holiday gear in plastic shopping bags and battered vinyl suitcases; the children clutched buckets and spades.
There’s no bus station as such, just a turning point where the buses stop. As we got off the bus we were approached by a group of noisy old ladies each wanting us to rent a room in their apartment. We agreed a price with a lady who was wearing a lavender coloured shell suit and followed her to her flat.
When the Iron Curtain fell, the financial security of people all over Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union crumbled with it. In towns that attract tourists, many people take in holiday makers and back packers to earn some extra money. This lady was lucky enough to have a three roomed apartment, of which she let out two rooms over the summer. Our room shared a balcony with the one next to it and had a great view of the Black Sea.
There are few hotels in Novy Svit; even families stay with local people, many of them visiting the same week every year so they don’t even need to look for accommodation. A handful of hotels are former sanatoria, huge complexes that used to belong to large Soviet firms. Those lucky enough to work for such a firm would have been able to take their family for a fortnight’s holiday there every summer; they were a bit like holiday camps with additional spa (and I use the term loosely) facilities. Some accept independent guests but most have to be booked in advance and are hard to get into if you are not with a Russian tour group. You can, however, walk through the grounds and take a look at the interesting architecture and beautifully laid out gardens.
We must have arrived quite early in the season as some of the beach side bars and restaurants were still being built. Each year they are erected than taken down again at the end of the season. There are one or two rides for children and a few stalls where you can win a variety of kitsch items, but most of these tents are for the selling of beer and fast food such as burgers and pizzas. There are some temporary restaurants including a couple where, rather than eating your meal at a conventional table, you climb onto a high bed-type structure and eat while reclining on richly embroidered cushions, Tatar-style. In keeping with the Tatar theme the food is mostly meaty, in the form of tasty kebabs with soft cheeses and flat breads.
We ate out one night and at our apartment the other. There’s a small market between the beach and the "town centre" number of traders sell the most delicious fresh produce. We bought the ingredients for a salad which we ate with a big bag of prawns which we shelled as we ate them, while sitting on our balcony looking out to see. We finished with the sweetest strawberries and washed our meal down with a bottle of (very sweet) Novy Svit champagne. A shop in town sells locally made champagne and the assistant will direct you to the most dry (and therefore most palatable to most westerners) variety. A big bottle of moderately priced champagne cost around £2.00.
If you’re interested in champagne and the history of champagne making in Novy Svit you can visit a museum in the house that belonged to Prince Golitsyn, a nineteenth century fop who started the whole business off in this area when, in the 1870s, he acquired some land and had Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir vines planted. The rest is history.
We spent a lot of time on the beach. Novy Svit is notable because it has the closest thing to a sandy beach on the south coast of the Crimea. Admittedly it’s a yellowy grey rather than golden or white but it is certainly more comfortable than either the pebbly beaches at Yalta or the shingle at Sudak. Unfortunately the beach gets so crowded that sitting on it is a bit like being part of a huge breeding colony for seabirds; this is not somewhere to get away from it all. That said, it was very lively and full of entertainment. The swimming is good and there are lots of enterprising locals trudging up and down selling snacks and drinks. The tiny shrimps are deliciously sweet and are so small that you can eat the whole lot without peeling them; we used to call them "krill". The seller carries them in a big tin bucket and starts filling a plastic bag until you tell him to stop.
Away from the beach we explored the town a little but there is not a great deal to see. We decided to do the costal walk instead; this takes you along to the far end of the bay and into a botanic reserve which winds around the bottom of Mount Orel. Part way round there’s a grotto where Prince Holitsyn used to hold lavish parties. Although it wasn’t available when we visited, I’ve since heard that you can pay to swing on a bungee rope over the mouth of the grotto. You can also now pay to don some outlandish costumes (think camp biker, pirate or nineteenth century Russian aristocrat) and have your photograph taken; this is one of the most popular side shows at Ukrainian and Russian seaside resorts. Fortunately this is something that has started since our visit but I’ve heard from friends who have been since that the grotto, which was once a charming and secluded spot, is now very commercialised. Better to put on your walking shoes and walk up Mount Sokil (it means "falcon mountain") instead. While this is higher than the mountain on the other side of the bay, you are allowed to climb this one unescorted.
Mount Orel (the name means "Eagle Mountain" in Tatar) is about 470 metres high and, because it’s a reserve, you must have a guide to climb it. We weren’t able to organise this from Novy Svit but it’s possible you can find someone in the tourist office in Sudak who can help.
Novy Svit is a really pleasant stop off on the southern part of the Crimea and I’d recommend it for either a day trip from Sudak or a stop off while exploring the peninsula as a whole. It’s fun without being brash like Yalta and much quieter than Sudak which can get very crowded. It doesn’t have the historic attractions of Yalta and its environs but it does make a welcome break because it is so laid back. You do have to be quite a self sufficient traveller to stay in Novy Svit; few people speak English and there isn’t a great deal of entertainment. A Russian phrasebook is a useful item to pack and you’ll need a smattering of the language in restaurants and to get accommodation.
This is a stunning part of the Crimea and merits a visit if you are in this part of Ukraine. Some cruises and organised tours do include Novy Svit in their itineraries and, even if they don’t, it’s certainly worth asking whether there is time to include it.