Issyk-ata, 75km outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
The days of overpriced detox massages and fancy algae treatments are over. This former Soviet sanatorium will bring you inner peace while satisfying your off-the-beaten-track travel cravings. Hop on a marshrutka from Bishkek’s Eastern Bus Station and, if you survive the winding curves of Chuy Valley, you will arrive to Issyk-Ata in less than two hours. While the town itself is quite ordinary, crossing the hammer-and-sickle crowned gate of the sanatorium feels like walking into a time capsule.
Built in 1891, the resort has capacity for 800 people, although today it is only frequented by a few locals. Explore the gardens scattered with statues of Lenin and the Soviet coats of arms, or sit under green gazebos to try medicinal water from the hot springs. (If you’re not sure about their benefits, some socialist realism-style posters are on hand to explain.) The semi-abandoned buildings of the sanatorium, covered in white and green flowered tiles, include a bar with billiard tables and chess boards, and a library of old Soviet titles, testimonies of the resort’s lost glory. Climb up the hill to admire the view from the sanatorium’s heated swimming pools: whether it’s snow-capped peaks or lush green forests, it will certainly not disappoint. Issyk-Ata may be Kyrgyzstan’s best-kept secret — Buddhist inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century BC have been found near the springs — so head up there if you are looking for a therapeutic day trip with a dash of Kyrgyz history.
— Eat at the town’s only restaurant, run by an Uighur refugee family. Try their lagman, a Central Asian noodle soup.
— For outdoor enthusiasts, the sanatorium is the starting point of a hiking trail across Issyk-Ata Gorge, a vast valley leading to a breathtaking waterfall.