THE RUSSIAN SECRET SPOT
Plyos, a medieval town in Russia, is a vacation spot where you’d be sure to run into Putin’s pals
Many towns in Russia’s Golden Ring - a compact network of ancient, fairy-tale villages northeast of Moscow - have connections to the country’s emperors and czars. Ivan the Terrible vacationed in the 11th century town of Yaroslavl; Peter the Great grew up in Pereslavl; the Romanovs were said to have links to the town of Kostroma.
“Everywhere you look here there are stories about power struggles or political intrigue,” a local monk told the South China Morning Post magazine in 2015.
But one Golden Ring town has been exempt from a politically charged history… until now.
Plyos, a medieval merchant town on the Volga with just 2,000 permanent residents, has scarcely been in the spotlight since it was settled by Slavs in the 10th century. Its claims to fame have typically ranged from the obscure (talented linen producers! Excellent smoked sea bream!) to the culturally significant - the town was a source of inspiration for the great landscape painter Isaac Levitan.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Plyos is occupying an increasingly large share of national interest. For one thing, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has been regularly vacationing in a sprawling compound just a few miles beyond the town’s main road - complete with a ski slope and chairlift, a man-made lake, multiple helipads, and a 20ft tall fence to conceal it all. (Officially, it’s a guarded, governmentowned residence.)
And Medvedev is just one of a growing number of prominent local vacationers. The former Russian ambassador to Washington has a dacha in Plyos, as does a former governor of St Petersburg and President Vladimir Putin’s national security adviser. (The town is equidistant to Russia’s two largest cities.) No surprise, the country’s richest businessmen are now sweeping up weekend homes. Even Putin himself was rumoured to be commissioning a house in the area.
So what’s drawing the Russian elite to this burgeoning Hamptons on the Volga?
A Seven-Figure Cash Injection
Plyos’s revival is the result of one (very wealthy) man’s crusade: Alexey Shevtsov. When the Soviet Republic collapsed in 1991, Shevtsov navigated the rocky economy and became one of the country’s most renowned financial consultants.
Emotionally, Shevtsov was invested in Plyos as a place of great nostalgic value - his grandmother had owned a home nearby, and he’d always dreamed of having his own dacha in the town that claimed his best summertime memories. So with a few decades of financial success under his belt, he returned to Plyos in the early 2000s to discover a run-down town in need of a serious cash injection. “I decided to leave stocks and bonds for younger people,” Shevtsov said of his decision to switch gears from finance to architectural preservation. “Plyos was in poor condition, and I wanted to do something for our Mother Russia.”
So in 1998, Shevtsov bought a plot of land along the Volga River, in the middle of downtown Plyos, and got to work figuring out what had been there before. With the help of historical records, he learned the ins and outs of the town’s distinct architectural heritage - and was able to re-create the former home on his land.
Plyos had its ups and downs until a trading boom in the early 1800s inspired a wave of ambitious development, largely in the form of highly ornamented wooden houses and churches. “These fragile wooden details, they need to be restored like they restore temples in Asia, every 25 years of so,” Shevtsov said. “It’s complicated work and expensive one, to keep this magnificent wooden town in all its splendor.”
But Shevtsov accepted the responsibility, buying one building - then another, and another - until he amassed more than three dozen restoration projects within a roughly 1 mile radius. (Plyos, explained Shevtsov, is comparable in size to New York’s Central Park.) When asked how much this has cost him, he laughed. “Many millions I have spent.” More laughter. “Many, many millions. An important percentage of what I have.”
Plyos has had its fair share of posh visitors, past and present. “Levitan saved Plyos from oblivion when he created several well-known masterpieces,” explained Shevtsov. The artist was alive in the latter half of the 19th century and was at the peak of his fame in the 1880s and ’90s. “And after that, Plyos became fashionable among painters, opera singers, actors, bourgeoisie, and intelligents.”
Plyos’s chicness subsided until Shevtsov’s work started to reclaim the town’s reputation. By 2008 a reporter revealed that Medvedev was developing a compound nearby - and had stopped into a local restaurant for lunch with two governors. Overnight, Plyos’s star reemerged.
“A community has formed here: diplomats with well-known names, businessmen, important people, and interesting, intelligent, successful people,” explained Shevtsov.
A houseboat on the Volga River pulls into Plyos
Details from a traditional wooden house in Plyos, fresh off a restoration The domes of the Resurrection Church, with the town of Plyos in the background The Levitan museum in Plyos, which showcases landscape paintings inspired by the town
In Russia’s early history, czars would arrive to Plyos on the Imperial Yacht