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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

Your Moscow

Green Parts – the North West
Our summer breath of fresh air in Moscow’s expansive green lungs takes us further this month, to the celebrated holiday islands upstream of the city.
Text and photos by Ross Hunter

Serebryanyy Bor

The Silver Forest Park is a unique place, for several contrasting reasons. It is the largest island in the Moscow river. With its long, crenulated coastline and being reached by only one bridge, it has an exotic ambience. Silver Forest? Sylvan it certainly is, with a glorious mixture of trees, including the most splendid oak I have seen in Russia. There are a few shiny birches and grey-leaved willows near the entrance, but the greater part of the island is clothed in elegant redbarked Scots pines, adding a slightly Highland or Yosemite feel to the area.

This is one of Moscow’s favourite resorts. The river is broad enough to feel like a lake. There are sandy beaches around the island and exciting muddy mangroves to explore in the crinkly indented creeks. Access is limited by the bridge and restricted parking, so a fleet of shuttle buses ferry the folk to nearer the beaches. There are even electric ‘eco-taxis’ which whirr quietly around for a modest 20 roubles a seat. And the people do come! There is a continuous line of towel-clad families and friends at the week‑end. On site, there are plenty of places to cook the shashlik, play volleyball, badminton or football, or simply build sand castles. Sunbathers may be found sleeping, chatting, sitting, standing or swimming. When the weather is chancy, the parasol doubles as an umbrella, as mere rain does not dampen a decent day’s leisure.

Swimming is of course essential. Some hardy types swim right across the river, braving the cruise liners and power boats. The young and daring do acrobatic dives or simple ‘bombs’ off the footbridges into the pools, while the sedate settle for a gentle paddle and dip. A refreshing sight is the large number of towels hanging up on the many No Swimming notices, studiously being ignored. Being well upriver of the city, the water is clean enough and pleasantly free of flotsam and jetsam. A place for the masses to relax. A bicycle or, if you must, a motor scooter are ideal ways to cover more ground more quickly. Cycling round the island with a swim at the end is a most agreeable afternoon’s excursion, and gives you the widest choice of beaches. Take a little care, however, as emerging from a deserted forest trail into a naturist colony is a bit of a shock, and may cause a wobble or two.

The bigger picture is more equivocal still. If the littoral is jammed with people, it is partly because a lot of the island is not merely fenced off but hidden behind high walls, often only centimetres back from the beaches. Here are luxury elite homes, standing somberly quiet behind vigilant Okhrana guards. Maybe these spawn the people buzzing about with power boats and jet-skis, missing the point of a spot of peace and quiet, while also terrorising the water birds guarding their chicks.

This piece of paradise is not without controversy. Across the river lie Rechnik and Fantasy Island, making a trio of battlegrounds between the competing ambitions of politicians, developers and residents. These are stormy waters, dangerous to drift into. If it is tricky to judge where right lies, it is easy to see the attraction of these locations, wonderful oases of nature only a short hike from the centre.

Serebryanyy Bor is certainly worth a visit, or several. There is perfect peace in the forest. The beaches are jolly rather than refined. Even if out of earshot, there is a battle going on behind. Meanwhile, the people swim and zizz and the motorboats whizz by. So does time.

How to get there

By standard Moscow river cruise boat, from the city to the beaches, or round the island.

By car out along Zvenegorodskoe Shosse, WNW from Moscow. Parking on the island is limited.

By Metro, purple line to Shchukinskaya, then tram or cycle. Shuttle buses ferry people onto and across the island.

(You can take bicycles on the Metro, not a problem especially at weekends. Depending on how officious the clerks are feeling you may need to pay for the bike and/or remove the front wheel for as long as it takes to pass through the barrier).

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