The Black Sea
Geography, sights, and resorts
Where is the Black Sea?
The Black Sea is a large inland salt-water sea between Europe and Asia Minor (i.e. Turkey) that connects with the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus Strait (see map of Black Sea with bordering countries). Most of the north shore of the Black Sea belongs to Ukraine (sea map of Ukraine). Here are located important coastal cities like Odessa and Mariupol and, of course, famous Crimean towns and resorts such as Yalta, Yevpatoriya, Sevastopol, Feodosiya, Kerch, and others.
A Virtual Tour along Ukraine's Black Sea Coast
Black Sea: Odessa region
Ukraine's Black Sea coastline begins at the Danube river delta on the Romanian border. Here, in this little-visited corner of Ukraine, is located the Danube Nature Reserve and the curious town of Vilkovo. From here northward there is a string of coastal lakes and, near Odessa, an ancient Greek settlement at Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyy. The port city of Odessa, one of Ukraine's metropolises with one million inhabitants, rivals Kyiv in terms of tourism and cosmopolitanism. Here foreign tourists will have an unforgettable experience.
Now, turning eastward, the dry Black Sea coast reaches the broad estuary of the Dnipro river, Ukraine's largest river. Here is the town of Ochakiv, with ancient settlements and fortresses and battles from the Russo-Turkish Wars (here is an encyclopedia article on these wars). The Black Sea coast now heads southeast along the dry steppes of southern Ukraine towards the neck of the Crimean peninsula before turning sharply southwest at the Swan Islands ornithological reserve. At Chernomorskoe (sea Crimea map) high cliffs begin to appear on the sea shore. This little-visited corner of Crimea has some of the best and cleanest beaches.
Black Sea: Yevpatoriya and Saki
Further down the coast is the famous Black Sea resort of Yevpatoriya (Evpatoria). Most of the western shore of Crimea has sand beaches, and the nicest are around Yevpatoriya. The town itself has numerous historical and architectural monuments from antiquity onward. Yevpatoriya and nearby resort Saki are known for their unique therapeutic muds and mineral waters.
Black Sea: Sevastopol area
70 km to the south we reach the large harbor town of Sevastopol, built near the ancient Greek settlement of Hersones. Sevastopol is full of Russian navy officers and contains countless war monuments. It's a great place to get a taste of Russian culture in Ukraine and at the same time enjoy the many beaches and historical monuments.
In the distance you can see the first foothills of the Crimean Mountains, which heavily affect the climate of Crimea's famous South Shore. As we follow the Black Sea coastline around the Cape of Hersones we reach Balaklava, just 10 km from Sevastopol by land but already with a noticeably different climate. Balaklava used to house a secret harbor of Soviet submarines, however, far before that Italian colonizers built fortresses on the hills overlooking the sea.
South Shore of Crimea: Yalta area
Soon we reach Foros, the southernmost point in Crimea with a near-idyllic climate and dramatic mountains rising up behind the shoreline. This incredible scenery and mild climate continues through the beautiful seaside resorts of Simeiz, Alupka, Koreiz, Yalta, and Gurzuf. Late Russian Imperial palaces and Soviet-era sanatorias look out at the Black Sea from among the trees. Near Yalta the mountains step back to create a great ampitheater of peaks of up to 1500 m around this resort town. In addition to palaces and hotels there are wineries, botanical gardens, and churches of many confessions to enjoy during your vacation. Yalta has been Crimea's most prestigious resort for a century. The only drawback are the South Shore's pebble beaches, which are perhaps not so comfortable to walk on as western Crimea's sand beaches.
Black Sea: Alushta eastward
As we bend north past Gurzuf into the Alushta area, Crimea's South Shore officially ends, and the climate becomes ever so slightly more continental and less mediterranean. From Alushta we can see three of Crimea's highest mountain plateaus — Babugan, Chatyr-Dag, and Demerdzhi plateaus. Alushta is nearly three times smaller than Yalta, but has a similar set of fancy old residences and palaces and, of course, scores of health resorts and miles of beaches.
Past Alushta there are no large towns for nearly 50 km, just small resort communities nestled between the sea and the Crimean Mountains. Gradually the mountains decrease in height from 1300 m to 600 m and as we near the Novyy Svet nature reserve, well known for its scenic beaches, grottos, and pine and juniper-covered mountains.
Black Sea: Sudak and Feodosiya
Not far past Novyy Svet we see a imposing medieval fortress atop a cliff. This is Sudak fortress, built by Genoan colonists in the 13th century and now completely restored. Sudak itself is known for being a students' resort, significantly less expensive than Yalta. It surely has the best shoreline walkway and recreational area in Crimea and in places looks like a 'real' European resort. Beyond Sudak the climate grows ever arider, culminating in the desert peninsula of Cape Meganom, with wild beaches and no human settlements.
Further north you can see huge vineyards sprawled across the semi-arid coastal areas. This dry region is where the famous wines of Solnechnaya Dolina and cognacs of Koktebel are produced. Soon we reach Karadag nature reserve, off limits to all but scientists and guided tours. Karadag's volcanic forms and scenery are unique to Crimea. Nearby is Koktebel, until recently a real Bohemian hideaway famous for its naturists and intelligentsia. Now the small town has been commercialized and overrun by tourists, but nudists can still be seen around the fringes, as in many other wild areas of the Black Sea coast.
Finally we reach Feodosiya, the first town since Sevastopol with railroad access and the last coastal town with mountains nearby. Feodosiya is southeast Crimea's cultural center and has interesting museums, ancient and recent churches, estates, and, of course, ruins of a fortress above the 2500-year-old (!) city.
Black Sea: Kerch Peninsula and Arabat
Now, as we gradually bend around the Kerch Peninsula, there are no more mountains to be seen — just miles and miles of windswept steppes with an occasional brine lake or mud volcano. On the tip of the peninsula looking across a 5 km-wide strait at Russia is the city of Kerch, at 160,000 inhabitants among the largest in Crimea. Having been founded in the year 600 B.C., Kerch is full of historical attractions.
Past the Kerch Strait the Black Sea technically ends and the Azov Sea begins. The Azov Sea is shallower and less salty than the Black Sea and is warmer in the summer and colder in the winter (in fact, it freezes over). It is fed by the mighty Don river, which flows through southwest Russia. Beaches on the Azov Sea range from sand to pebbles to mixtures of the two.
As we bend around the north end of the Kerch Peninsula, the steppes continue until we reach exotic Cape Kazantip. Here water and wind have formed grottos, overhangs, and strange shapes out of a fossilized mineral reef. Further west is the unique Arabat Spit ('Arabatskaya strelka') — a thin 110 kilometer long sand spit that divides the Azov Sea and the shallow Sivash Sea to the west. Here a lonely gravel road down the middle and an occasional campsite is all you see till the city of Genichesk at the top of the Crimean Peninsula.
Black Sea: Mariupol area
The long Azov Sea coastline from Crimea to the Ukraine-Russia border runs through Ukraine's continental steppe zone. Notable resorts are Primorsk, Berdyansk, Mariupol (Ukraine's 10th largest city), and Novoazovsk. This coastline is less developed for tourism than Crimea's South Shore and is similar to the Black Sea coastline near Odessa.