Many people I met in Russia commented that one of their favourite vacation spots was Lake Baikal, near Irkutsk. Of course, these trips normally take place in the summer because during my visit to this region during January 2011,the temperatures were so extreme that it was an adventure just to walk around there. The Lake Baikal lay like a white desert that was lost in the horizon. Snow was everywhere around the lake, a small village and the mountains, that formed a wall in front of the sea of snow and ice. Climbing some of those hills was an interesting adventure, grabbing the trees to climb and dodging any attempt to "figure skate" on the descent. The little town seemed deserted except for some local and some horses and dogs rummaging for something to eat. The experience of going into one of the houses was unique, accompanying the elderly owner who invited us to have a tea and try some rough Russian cigarettes. A unique place!
Olkhon Island is very dry, basically it consists of low hills, forests of fir, that surround the lake. A long unpaved road goes to the village of Khuzhir, pop 1,500, which is the Nikita's Hotel, very hippie and known by 'Lonely Planet'. Next day an excursion to explore the island. We left at 10:00 in a very old Russian van, very cool and very hard because in the interior there are no proper roads, only dirt roads and very fine sand, with holes that even with a 4x4 can be a problem. The tour takes you to see cliffs and beaches, but sometimes the fog is so thick that you can't see. At the furthest point of the island, there is a cliff with trees full of colorful ribbons (for prayers and good wishes). Near the village there is also a huge rock on the shore of the lake. This is perhaps the most typical picture of the island.
It is the only city in Siberia that has preserved its traditional architecture, "izbas" or old wooden houses, which once were a feature of Asiatic Russia. These wooden houses also called Decembrists, are the result of waves of deportees and exiles who were sent to Siberia, because of the backlash against the Tsar Nicholas I, and the name comes for the month in which the riots took place in San Petersburg. There are not many wooden houses still left standing, as the fire of 1879 reduced much of the city to ashes, but they are well worth a visit.
Listvyanka is a pleasant village, and is one of the famous sites that serve as a base for visiting Lake Baikal, it is reached by minibus from Irkutsk, and has numerous places to stay and pleasant places to eat, especially in the market. It is possible to camp in the surrounding area, and if you want you can enjoy a pleasant hour by boat on the lake.
Here is a video explaining the path from Novosibirsk to Irkutsk (Lake Baikal). Once in Novosibirsk you will have to deal with more Russian booths. If you succeed, you will begin one of the most magical journeys in the world. The train to Vladibostok is very cultural and there are very few tourists (not like from Irkutsk to Ulan-Bator) The people of this train are Russian families you will have the opportunity to meet and live apart from sharing meals and experiences. If you do not bring food, you can buy something in each car. (Normally from rude Russian girls. Though ours was very nice) and the other option is to get off at all stops for minimum 20 mins as village ladies approach the train with homemade meals to sell to travelers. That is the best option! The journeys are very long so be patient :) If you liked this area and you want to continue traveling around Russia look at my profile to choose your path! I'll gladly answer any questions. A GREETING FROM MINUBE!
About forty km from Irkutsk, on the way to Lake Baikal, a small village that recreates habitats characteristic of the inhabitants of the region of a few centuries ago, the Buryats (Mongols of Siberia), and places that the Russians colonized in the eighteenth century. The result is very nice, especially in winter, and is one of the few places of interest in the area. The best way to find the site is asking. Admission is for less than 100 rubles.