If one such tale is to be believed, in the 19th century, just as Crimea’s southern coast has established itself as the Russian Riviera and a favorite of Russian royals and international nobles, it started to gain a bit of ill-repute as…well, in today’s terms, as a sex tourism hot-spot.
But this was no ordinary debauchery-by-the-sea destination. What was different about Crimea was that the customers of these special services were women – and ladies of the highest echelons of Society at that. While taking their daily promenades on the embankments of Yalta, Alushta and Sudak, madames and mademoiselles would be entertained by the Tatar dzhigity – highly skilled horsemen – showing off their, um, mastery and stature. Crimean Tatars, who were native to the peninsula and made up its largest ethnic group until the end of the 19th century, were virtually raised on horseback and their equestrian mastery was world-renowned. The rugged, wild, exotic locals with their fit bodies and commanding presence appealed to the corseted dames of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Eventually a lady would pick a dzhigit she liked best and hire him for a guided horseback excursion into the mountains and a picnic. What looked like an entirely appropriate activity came with far less Society-approved fringe benefits, dispersed in the shade of a cherry tree.
Duchesses, countesses and simple bourgeois wives squandered their husbands’ fortunes on these wilderness rides, generating waves of gossip, scandal and an occasional darker-skinned off-spring in the process.
Tatars continue to raise horses in Crimea to this day, but, for better or worse, my trek with them into the mountains of the Sudak region involved no extracurricular activities of the 19th century variety.
Instead it was 30 kilometers through some of the most beautiful and varied landscape I have ever laid eyes on. Pine forests, deciduous groves, wildflower meadows and apple orchards all the way to the top of mountain ridge, the views from which stretched all the way to the Black Sea.
I sincerely hope that the corseted ladies of yore weren’t too busy with their carnal divertissements to enjoy the real treasure of Crimea – its gorgeous landscape.