If you didn’t know there was a very big lake in Siberia, Lake Baikal comes as quite a surprise. At 640km long, 80km wide and 1620m deep, not only is it the world’s biggest lake, it holds a massive 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water.
In summer, you can spend a day sailing or kayaking on the lake — perhaps spot a nerpa seal or two and check out Olkhon Island, sacred to the local shamans. Swimming in the lake is an awesome experience thanks to the water’s astonishing transparency (be warned it’s chilly). With the visibility in the lake 40-50m, it’s an ideal spot for scuba diving.
In winter, when the lake is frozen it’s perfectly safe to walk on — even drive across — and several slipways lead down from the lakefront at Listvyanka. A small area is cleared to make an ice-skating rink, and adrenaline junkies can hire snowmobiles to zip across the ice at breakneck speeds. Ice fishing expeditions are also popular
By the time gold was discovered in the 1880s, Irkutsk was known as the Paris of Siberia.
These days much of the city’s wealth has departed to the big smoke of Moscow, but it retains an eclectic and cosmopolitan feel thanks to the students of its 11 universities.
Listvyanka is a charming fishing village strung out along the shore of Lake Baikal, and it’s here most of the restaurants, accommodation and tourist activities are based.
There’s a ski slope behind Listvyanka, though cross-country or alpine skiing is a more popular choice. A dog sledding company operates out of the village.