The Perfect Weekend
- Put It in Park.
Almaty’s 44-acre Panfilov Park offers an abundance of historic sites that pay homage to Kazakhstan’s heroes and heritage. Start at Ascension Cathedral, the ornate, tsarist-era church that’s one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, and then wander through the Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments, which contains exhibits and information about more than 50 different native instruments. And don’t miss the memorial statues in honor of the “Panfilov Heroes” and the soldiers of other military conflicts.
- Enjoy Really Local Produce.
The apple genome has been traced to groves outside Almaty, now recognized as the origin of all apples throughout the world. Wild apple forests still thrive in protected areas of nearby Ile-Alatau National Park, but you also can find apples aplenty throughout town — including at the Green Bazaar, a two-story food emporium that also sells fresh and dried fruits and exotic meats.
- Discover Your New Candy Crush.
For more sweet souvenirs, stop by the Rakhat Chocolate Factory, a Kazakh confectioner that has been in business for more than 70 years.
- Make an Alpine Getaway.
Big Almaty Lake provides the city’s water supply and is a source of hydroelectric power, so visitors to Ile-Alatau National Park are able to appreciate the lake’s splendor only from afar, not its actual shores. Its backdrop includes three stunning peaks of the Tien Shan range that create picture-perfect reflections on the lake’s water, which changes from turquoise to ice-covered midnight, depending on the time of year.
- Hit a High Note.
The troupes at Abay State Opera & Ballet Theatre perform several shows a week, interspersing international classics such as “Swan Lake” and “Carmen” with modern dance performances and operas written by Kazakh composers in the late 1990s.
- Catch Up on Current Affairs.
Almaty has more than 100 fountains scattered throughout the city, and one of the most elaborate is even more fascinating when the lights turn on after sundown. The Oriental Calendar Fountain features carved sculptures of the 12 animals in the Kazakh zodiac.
- Grab a Gondola (or Three).
Medeu, the world’s highest ice-skating rink, is a destination in its own right each winter, but today you’re headed to even greater heights. Three sequential aerial gondola rides will deposit you first at the base of Shymbulak ski resort, then up to its summit more than 10,000 feet above sea level. The eight-piste Shymbulak is a major destination in winter, of course — Prince Harry was a guest in March 2014 — but the summer views of the Kazakh steppe and Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range from the Medeu Valley are just as breathtaking.
- Body Work.
The elaborate bathing complex at Arasan Wellness & Spa includes a Finnish sauna, a marble Turkish hammam and even a Russian parilka steam room, complete with switches to provide the light lashings meant to increase circulation. If you prefer your experiences more spa than spartan, recharge your human batteries at Six Senses Spa Almaty — first with a signature massage, then by settling into one of the relaxation pods designed to enhance the post-treatment renewal process.
- Meet the Golden Warriors.
A national emblem of Kazakhstan is the representation of a Scythian warrior, after the remains of a young man in an elaborate conical headdress and lavishly gilded garments were uncovered in the late 1960s along with more than 4,000 gold objects he was buried with. A representation of “Golden Warrior”-era finery is on display at Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, while a statue of the man honoring the man himself stands high atop the Monument of Independence in Republic Square.
- Go Out on Top.
One last gondola carries you up to Kok Tobe (translation: green hill), the highest park in the city. Drop a coin in the apple-shaped granite fountain and grab a shot with the life-sized statue of the Beatles before heading to Abay Restaurant, where you’ll dine on elegantly presented cuisine in a bright, spacious room inspired by the yurts that Kazakh nomads once called home.