“The pearl of the Russian North” and the Republic of Karelia has long been called the island of Valaam.
With all the beatiness and banality of this metaphor, it nevertheless best expresses recognition of the peculiar beauty of the island. It is here that the wild and harsh nature of stone islands covered with centuries-old forest is most consonant with the vast expanses of Ladoga waters.
On the tourist routes of the north-west of our country, this island rightfully competes with the world famous Kizhi.
Located in the central part of the lake, where the largest depths of Ladoga are located, Valaam rises from the bottom of the lake with a huge stone rock. From a distance it seems that this is a single large island. In fact, it consists of many islands, the largest of which is Valaam, which gave the name to the entire archipelago. The Bayovye and Krestovye Islands, Honkasari and Hanhipipasi also belong to it, together with which there are more than fifty islands in the Valaam archipelago.
“Valamo” in Finnish means “height”. And, indeed, the rocky islands rise 61 meters above the lake. In some places, the coast of the island stands as impregnable sheer walls and also plumb into the water tens of meters. On Nikonovsky Island, such a stone wall sinks into the abyss of water for 200 m.
The islands are composed of dark gray and reddish granite. Sometimes almost black granite with greenish and red dots is found. Polished, it gives a great play of colors in sunlight.
The island of Valaam is covered with centuries-old coniferous forest. Valaam granite is easily cracked, cracks are filled with fine wood. Trees take root along these cracks. Due to the poverty of the soil, they grow slowly.
Sometimes the roots of trees, especially pines, sprawl over stones like tentacles, clinging to protrusions. Strong winds often fall trees, turning upside down. In addition to pine and spruce, there is a lot of juniper, often a birch or a bright mountain ash flashes.
In the depths of the island there are several small lakes up to 10 m deep. In the very first warm spring days in those smaller ones, the water heats up so much that you can swim, although ice floes are still floating on Lake Ladoga.
The nature of the Valaam Islands is rather harsh. Open shores are especially inhospitable in storms. But deep in the island, the forest protects from the fierce winds, creating a special microclimate.
The first green appears on Valaam in the middle of May, then ice melts. Ladoga near the Valaam Islands almost does not freeze – the winds break the ice. Ice cover occurs only in severe frosts in calm weather.
The captivating landscapes of Valaam served as the source of a whole series of sad and poetic paintings of northern nature, painted by Russian artists.
In our country there will be more ancient and more glorious monasteries, buildings and ensembles created by great architects and making up our national pride, we have many beautiful corners of nature.
However, Valaam stands out among them with a unique combination of nature, landscape and architecture, forming an organic unity here. Severe cliffs coexist with fragrant fruit-bearing gardens, stormy Ladoga – with quiet inner lakes.