A Russian dacha isn’t something you’ll find elsewhere. This home away from home is a unique phenomenon in the life of every Russian, a vacation retreat and a Russian lifestyle way to live closer to nature. The dacha is also not a sign of wealth, as every second urban Russian family owns it, no matter how small and shabby. (Photo Credit: crylov/Flickr)
Usually deserted in winter dachas come alive in spring and summer. During summer weekends people pack trains and roads to leave the heat and smog of the cities for a holiday retreat. The elderly and children often retreat to the dacha for the whole season, which begins in May and lasts until October. (Photo Credit: flydime/Flickr)
The average Russian’s love affair with the dacha goes through all his life. Many Russians know their dachas from their childhood, when grandparents lived there. The dacha is obviously everywhere in Russian literature and painting.
Today the Russian word Dacha is used for a seasonal or year-round second home, but in old Russian language it meant a gift or something given, stemming from the time when a tsar would give a house with some land to a loyal subject. The tradition of giving dachas started with the reign of Peter the Great and exists for centuries, surviving revolutions, purges, and falls. The dacha’s history has experienced a large number of shifts in usage and meaning, while demonstrating its importance as a part of the Russian lifestyle and culture. (Photo Credit: mutbka/Flickr)
In Stalin’s time the dacha was a privilege granted to the elite, a reward for loyalty and service. Later, ordinary Russians got a piece of the action, getting dachas for free from the state according to one’s social status and occupation. Most of them were distributed by the trade union organizations at the major industrial enterprises.
The typical size of land given by the state to a family varied from 600 to 1200 square meters. Dachas could be sold, rented out or inherited. Often ill-equipped and without indoor plumbing, dachas were nevertheless the ultimate solution for millions Russian families to having an inexpensive summer retreat.
A dacha includes land, houses and outbuildings, and comes in all shapes and sizes, from modest huts to large, modern homes. Many dachas were built of stone or wood by their owners, some of whom have taken great care over the external decoration. (Photo Credit: MelvinSchlubman/Flickr)
Most dachas have electricity, but the heat is often provided by the stove. It may have no running water, and the toilet is often in a separate building in the yard, as well as a Russian-style bath house, banya. There are “winter dachas” – proper country houses with central heating, lived in all year round. Rising living standards in Russia has given many dacha owners the opportunity to spend more on their home away from home improvements.
A dacha usually lays a 1-2 hour car ride away, located 6 to 100 miles from the main family home and accessible by local train or other public transport. Most of them are situated in special dacha settlements around big cities, which consist of dachas, a little general store and maybe playgrounds for kids. Some people prefer dachas in remote villages, which are more rural and authentic, with clean forests and rivers. (Photo Credit: carlfbagge/Flickr)
Russians say that dacha is where one goes to relax. Gardening is a major activity and almost every respectable dacha has a large garden with flowers, berries, fruits and vegetables. The most common dacha fruits are apple, blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, raspberry and strawberry. Anyone who permanently dwells a dacha is colloquially called a dachnik.
If you accept an invitation to a dacha from your Russian friends, be aware that you will be experiencing a very special aspect of Russian lifestyle. Dacha mostly provides an inexpensive weekend respite for families to indulge in heavy eating, heavy drinking, and trips to the banya. It is a traditional place for shashlik (Russian-style BBQ, basically the most consumed food on dacha) parties, samovar tea parties, singing songs with guitar, mushroom picking, fishing and swimming in the rivers or lakes.
In modern times, the rise of “new Russians” in the country has added a new dimension to the concept of dacha. With construction costs often reaching into the millions of US dollars, the dachas of the new Russians bear no resemblance to Soviet-era small garden houses. Many of Russia’s oligarchs and successful entrepreneurs, athletes, pop musicians and mafia bosses now choose their dachas as their primary residence. (Photo Credit: Maarten/Flickr)
Anyway, dacha remains the best home away from home for most Russians, a vacation retreat and a part of Russian lifestyle.