Come for the baths, leave for the government officials
Stay: Russo-Balt North Adventure, Kamchatka
Kamchatka isn’t just that territory in Risk where Alaska’s always leaking through to ruin Asia’s dominant 8-player bonus. Nope, it’s a real place, one that combines the enormity of the Canadian Tundra, Hawaii’s volcanic peaks and Iceland’s hot springs. Little does anyone know, you can technically vacation there, and not just if you’re heading to Mr. Putin’s Gulag Resort No. 1. No, if you happen to have connections with the Russian government (we aren’t kidding), you can stay at Russo-Balt North Adventures Kamchatka instead, where lonely serenity meets luxury and soaks in thermal hot springs until it’s turned nearly to jelly.
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The Russo-Balt is a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow, but that’s only for normal types who enjoy inane things like civilization and street signs. Its weird older brother lies just a scant 4,000 or so miles to the east, in Kamchatka; for reference, that’s a distance of about one and a half Americas. To be sure, North Adventure — a “balneological resort”, that is, a compound based on therapeutic bathing — is far from a Ruski hunting cabin. It just takes the Russo-Balt’s extraordinarily breezy mien and plops it into one of the most remote locations in the world. Seven spacious “apartments” and five smaller suites surround North Adventure’s heart, its spa and geothermal pool. Those lodgings are filled with natural wood and stone and all the trappings of a northern alpine dwelling, including gaping fireplaces and mounted foxes, wolves, rams and other past residents of the animal variety. Each apartment has its own geothermal pool (“splish, splash” is apparently what the fox says).
Those are but volcano-fed puddles compared to the spa’s expansive open-air pool, which is packed with volcanic nutrients. The Russo-Balt promises that water will rejuvenate your skin and strengthen your health; whether it will or not, the very low number of other hotel residents almost guarantees it hasn’t been peed in. The spa has all the standards plus “cosmetic procedures using local curative muds, herbs, and sea urchin caviar”, which sounds plenty neat to us. And then there’s this to consider: a travel agent advertising a stay at the Russo-Balt recently told Gear Patrol that the hotel is owned by the Russian Government, and that as such, visitors always run the risk of being booted should Mr. Putin or his
cronies government officials decide they need a place to shack up between shirtless Moose-riding photo shoots. Though, if there ever was good reason for travel folly, “because Putin said so” may be it.
So no, we can’t with clear conscience recommend booking a night at the Russo-Balt North Adventure, partly because it’s probably not possible — but go for it, if you have the necessary connections and are into subjecting yourself to the whims of a corrupt autocracy. Otherwise, a cruise tour is a good alternative, providing all of Kamchatka’s joys — hot springs, unending wilderness, lots and lots of bears — and less risk of Gulag imprisonment.