The landscape is the star in Crimea; even those initially lured by the peninsulas fascinating history eventually agree. The sheer mountain cliffs rising behind a coastline covered with cypress, juniper, and grape vines lend this former Tatar homeland a beauty bordering upon the exotic. High limestone plateaus, expansive vistas, bizarre volcanic formations, and Byzantine cave cities all lie inland from such historical landmarks as Balaklava, Sevastopol, and Livadia (where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin carved up postwar Europe). When planning a CrimeanSo, all in all, walking shoes are just as important as your swimming costume.

Once a stop on the Silk Road from China and, then, in turn, occupied by Greeks, Genoese, Mongols, and Tatars, Crimea came under Russian rule in the late 18th century. Inevitably, these northerners found the Mediterranean-style climate to be perfect for a holiday retreat. During the 1860s, the Russian monarchy began spending summers just outside Yalta. During the Soviet era, millions of ordinary workers somehow scratched together the wherewithal to vacation here as well. That heyday as a workers paradise is long past. Yet, only now, nearly two decades after Ukrainian independence, is Moscows influence on the Russian Riviera beginning to dim. More than 60% of locals are of ethnic Russian descent. Many tourists are still Russian too, and pa Rooskie is often spoken on Crimeas streets. Gradually, the Crimean Tatar influence is reappearing, and especially gratifyingly for visitors, is its food.