The Volga-Baltic Waterway
Six years after founding St. Petersburg, efforts began to connect the city with Russia’s interior using the existing rivers and lakes between the new capital and Moscow. More than 200 years later, with the completion of major canals in the 1930s and modernization in the 1960s, you can now journey easily between the two great cities. Towns that were long hidden behind the Iron Curtain are now accessible, their impressive monasteries, churches, museums and kremlins, restored and open to the public. Your cruise follows the Volga-Baltic Waterway, an intricate system of lakes, rivers, reservoirs and canals that links the Volga with the Baltic Sea. The Waterway’s course follows the Neva River, a canal along the shore of Lake Ladoga, the Svir River, a canal along the shore of the Lake Onega, the Vytegra Canal to Lake Beloye the Kovzha River and the Sheksna River, for a total length of about 700 miles.
The Neva River
Is a short river, around 43 miles long, that flows from Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest lake, through St. Petersburg into the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. Along its route, small settlements and dachas (villas) dot the banks and in many places life has changed little over the centuries. Lake Ladoga is Europe’s largest lake, stretching 124 miles in length and 75 miles wide into northern Russia and the Kaelian forests. It is known for its contrasts: deep waters in the north and craggy islands, but shallow in the south with sandy beaches. Because the lake’s surface lies frozen during winter, it served as a road during the WWII siege of Leningrad, enabling transport of supplies into the city and providing a means for refugees to escape, hence its nickname “Street of Life.”
The Svir River or “Blue Way”
Flows 140 miles from Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest freshwater lake, into Lake Ladoga. Rich in fish, including salmon and trout, the river is surrounded by lush pine forests. Lake Onega has more than 50 rivers feeding into it, and there are over 1,300 islands in the lake, including Kizhi Island with its famous open-air museum of wooden architecture. Natural beauty and wildlife contribute to the attraction of the Onega region, the lake is renowned for its misty sunrises and beautiful autumn colors.
The Vytegra Canal
Has more than eight locks and eight hydroelectric power stations. Dense forests shroud the banks, interrupted by picturesque villages with brightly painted wooden houses. The Vytegra region is famous for lumber production and logging barges and sawmills are common sights.
Connects the Vytegra Canal with Lake Beloye. There are some places where the forest was flooded long ago and only the skeletons of trees project from the water. The Kovzha flows into Lake Beloye (White Lake).
The Sheksna River
Flows out of Lake Beloye. The name Sheksna is derived from the Finnish language and means “the tributary covered in sedge.” The Volga River. At nearly 2,500 miles long, the Volga is Europe’s longest river. From its source in the remote Valdai Hills it winds its way towards Yaroslavl, eventually flowing into the Caspian Sea. The river enjoys mythological status, having been serenaded and honored in poems, paintings and music.
The Dnieper River
The Dnieper, called Dnipro by Ukranians, is Europe’s third-longest river after the Volga and the Danube. It is 1,420 miles long, rising in Russia’s South Valdai Hills. For about 70 miles it forms the border between Belarus and Ukraine and becomes a Ukrainian river when it flows into a reservoir called the Kiev Sea. The city of Kiev, one of Europe’s oldest cities and capital of Ukraine, sits at its southern outflow and spreads along both riverbanks.
With its tributaries and canals, the Dnieper has long been an important transportation route, connecting the north to the south. For the Ukrainian people, the Dnieper is also an important supplier of hydroelectricity for the cities along its banks. It irrigates farmland, and is loved by anglers for its rich fishing. The river valley is home to numerous archaeological sites, some more than 5,500 years old. The town of Tripolye takes its name from the archaeological finds dating from the Bronze Age to the Tripolye culture of fourth to second century BC.