Once upon a time there was a small village named Verkhnie Mandrogi, or "Upper Falls" in the language of the locals. It lay 170 miles north-east of St. Petersburg, on the bank of Svir, a beautiful river running from Lake Ladoga to Lake Onega, right on the way from the Baltic to the Volga. The village was completely ruined during WWII and disappeared from maps for long years.
In 1996 Sergei Gutzeit, St. Petersburg entrepreneur and patron of the arts, was struck with the idea to revive the village and make it a tourist destination for the many people taking river cruises from St. Petersburg to Moscow and Kizhi.
First he built a small hotel. Made of pine logs, with a real Russian stove, and decorated with handmade woodcarvings, the hotel is unbelievably Russian in flavor, but is also equipped with private bathrooms, telephones, and direct Internet access that rivals any Western standard. It deserves to be in a list of the most unique hotels in Russia.
In six years Verkhnie Mandrogi developed into a street of 5 log cabins, each one nicer than the previous. The local museum of vodka counts more than 2000 bottles from all over Russia. Talented potters, weavers, carvers and painters work in their shops in the house of crafts and live upstairs in cozy dormitory rooms. They have a little zoo, horses, and a real moose farm, aiming to produce healing moose milk. Soon a post office with an Internet cafe will be finished. Among the plans for future development lie a fish hatchery, a museum of bread, and a nesting doll factory.
This preserve just recently got official "village" status. So far all locals there work for the same company and live as one team.
Driven partly by my interest in a nesting doll factory, I and my wife Olga went to visit the village. It was hard for us to believe that there is a place in the Russian countryside where nature and civilization could exist in such harmony!
Crispy air made me feel a bit dizzy. A clean road, green grass - not typical details for a Russian village. Smiling people say "Hello!" Are we in America? This feeling got stronger when I saw local men spending their evening time in a pub.
Why not to move there? The village enticed me with its rustic, romantic flavor.
After I spent the night there another feeling appeared. For living, I felt a lack of something in this village. That was independence. It feels great to be a tourist there. For an employee of this "Mandrogi company" the social benefits and a good salary are excellent. But for many people, the choice of whether to eat in the restaurant (even for free but on the company schedule) or buy food with your own money and cook it yourself in your own kitchen, has became natural over the last 15 years in Russia. One needs to be able to choose an employer and also have the option to run one's own business.
Verkhnie Mandrogi has great potential to become a new type of modern-historic village where I, personally, would like to move. As for today, I'll remain in St. Petersburg. But this new village offers a unique environment and is absolutely worth a visit.