When Koen and I decided to make a stop in Siberia, Irkutsk was the obvious destination to spend a few days because of its proximity to Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake, containing 23% of the world’s fresh surface water (also the world’s deepest lake, the world’s clearest lake, and the world’s oldest lake)! There were a few options of which city to visit to see Lake Baikal, and in the end we chose Listvyanka, the ‘French Riveria of Siberia’.
We arrived at Irkutsk very early in the morning and took a taxi directly to Listvyanka with our new friends Nicole and Adam who had a room on the same train car as us. Because we were in Siberia, we were wearing heavy coats, gloves and hats which we quickly took off because it was a warm, sunny day!
Listvyanka is small and easy to explore, plus it’s less than hour from Irkutsk (so if you’re only a few days in Siberia before traveling further it’s a very manageable day trip). The city is basically one long street following the edge of the lake. There are also mountains and paths to hike that will offer beautiful views of Lake Baikal. We stayed at the Mayak Hotel which was a great choice! The hotel is only 5 minutes from the market and offers a private sauna that you can rent for an hour at a time. So perfect and relaxing!
Lake Baikal is home to thousands of endemic plants and animals, meaning you can only find them at Lake Baikal. I think the most famous example is ‘omul’, a white fish related to the salmon family. We actually tried omul caviar in Moscow and were looking forward to trying it in Listvyanka! While walking around literally every few houses there were people dry and smoking omul, all available to purchase!
They also say if you touch or swim in the waters of Lake Baikal, 25 years is added to your life. We made sure to take off our shoes and wade a bit in the waters. Everything helps!