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One completely refreshing day trip from St Petersburg takes you to Russia s most Scandinavian town, little Vyborg (population 81,000) on the Finnish border. This ancient place has a melancholic, rather forgotten feel to it (the atmosphere of most Russian provincial towns in fact), but is still charming with its quietly crumbling old town, winding cobblestone streets and magnificent fortress.

Movie buffs may be interested to know that the critically acclaimed film The Return (Vozvrashcheniye) was filmed partly on location here in 2003, with the opening scene taking in the fortress as the young protagonists run through the town.
Before you go, learn to pronounce the town in Russian – vi-berk – you must stress the first syllable and try to sound like an aggressive frog.

Only by pronouncing it this way will anyone be able to understand where you want to go.
Vyborg is built around the romantic, moated Vyborg Castle, built by the Swedes in 1293 when they first captured Karelia from Novgorod.

Since then borders have jumped back and forth around Vyborg, giving the town its curiously mixed heritage and explaining the Finnish influence visible in everything from architecture to attitude.
Peter the Great took Vyborg back for Russia in 1710, shortly after establishing St Petersburg as his capital and wanting to secure the region around it. A century later it fell within autonomous Finland and after the revolution it remained part of independent Finland (the Finns call it Viipuri). Stalin took it in 1939, lost it to the Finns and Germans during WWII and on getting it back deported all the Finns.

Today it’s a laid-back, Finnish-looking city full of Russian fishers, timber-haulers, military men and the usual border-town shady types.
Coachloads of Finns arrive for the cheap alcohol every weekend and drunken tourists are something of an inevitability here.

Vyborg Fortress, built on a rock in Vyborg Bay, is the city’s oldest building, though most of it now is 16th-century alterations.
Inside is a small museum of local studies. Across the bridge is the Anna Fortress (Anninskaya Krepost), built in the 18th century as protection against the Swedes and named after Empress Anna Ivanovna. Behind this is the Park Monrepo Reserve, a massive expanse of wooded and lake-dotted parkland one could spend a whole day in. Laid out in a classical style, it also has a forest feel to it – as pretty as Pavlovsk’s park only wilder. Curved bridges, arbours and sculptures complete the picture.

There are lovely streets with centuries-old churches, bell towers and cathedrals, especially along and off ul Krepostnaya, as well as a wealth of style moderne buildings that are in a similar state of disrepair. A short walk from the 16th-century castle takes you to the Kruglaya bashnya (Round Tower) and the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Sobor (Cathedral of the Transfiguration, 1787), all of which are worth visiting.

Distance from St Petersburg 174km
Direction Northwest
Travel Time Around two to three hours
Bus Hourly buses (2Vi hours, R70) run between St
Petersburg and Vyborg from the bus stop to one side
of Finland Station.
Train Suburban trains (three hours) run roughly every hour from Finland Station to Vyborg’s train station,
but they are slow and stop freguently. It’s best to take one of the rarer express services between the
two towns (two hours, three times a day) from here or a Helsinki-bound express from Ladozhsky Station,
all of which stop in Vyborg.

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