Kazakhstan - A unique holiday destination
Surprise! The chosen methods of transport are Lexus and Toyota, luxury hotels are readily available and the country so safe that after a night out, people confidently hitch rides home with total strangers; and it’s where garlic, apples and tulips originated.
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country and ninth largest overall. The two main cities are Almaty, the capital until 1997, and Astana the new capital. They couldn’t be more different. Almaty is the country’s largest city and home to the amazing wooden Zenkov Cathedral, built without the use of nails. It’s situated in Panfilov Park, home to a memorial to soldiers lost in the two world wars.
Almaty narrowly lost out to Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The nearby Medeo skating rink, at over 5,500ft above sea level, is the world’s highest. The conditions are so good that around 200 world records have been broken there. Visitors to the neighbouring Shymbulak ski resort have included Prince Harry.
The new capital, Astana, is purpose built and has been described as the world’s weirdest capital city because of its amazing buildings, some of which were created by Norman Foster. They include the Khan Shatyr shopping mall whose design can only be described as a wonky cone. There are three levels of shops, mostly familiar brands, but on the fourth floor is the indoor Sky Beach Club, complete with sandy beach and sun beds. So, for around £25 you can spend the day at the seaside in the world’s largest landlocked country. How bizarre is that!
Norman Foster also designed the pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Because the temperature in Astana ranges from 35 degrees in summer to minus 40 degrees in winter, two sides of the pyramid are on roller bearings to allow for contraction and expansion.
Other amazing buildings include the presidential palace, a cross between the White House and a mosque, a nearby turquoise concert hall, Baiterek - which looks like a 300ft high football trophy, an art gallery resembling a huge doggy bowl, and an opera house styled like a Roman temple. The ultra-modern national museum has a Gold Room which includes more than four thousand gold artefacts dating back to the 4th century BC and in perfect condition.
Getting there. The national airline, Air Astana, has been awarded Best Airline in India and Central Asia for the last six years and has direct flights from Heathrow. They offer three nights in Almaty and three in Astana with all flights, transfers and hotels on a B&B basis from £816 per person. This includes tours of both cities. Go to www.airastana.com/uk/en-US or call 020 7644 6121, Mon-Fri, 0900 – 1730.