Nalchik is the capital city of Kabardino-Balkaria, a republic located in the very south of the Russian federation.
During Soviet times, Nalchik developed into a spa town, with many sanatoriums and artificial lakes and parks. The main avenue, Lenin Prospekt, is wide, friendly, boarded with bleached white buildings of 5-6 floors. Nalchik has largely escaped, possibly due to its touristic vocation, the Brezhnev era grey concrete buildings that are common in most other Russian cities.
As of the 2010 census, the population was 240,203 people, of which 42.3% were Kabardians (Adiga - muslims), 28.3% were Russians, 15.2% were Balkars (Taulu - a turkic speaking muslim population), and 13% were other ethnic groups.
Nalchik is named after the River Nalchik on the banks of which it is built. The word nalchik means "small horseshoe" in Kabardian language. It is possibly due to the shape of the mountain range surrounding the city / river.
The region in and around Nalchik was inhabited early on by Kabarda and Balkar population groups.
In 1818, Russians created a fort at the location of present-day Nalchik along with settling Mountain Jews.
For nearly a century, Nalchik remained a backwater military garrison town. In 1921, 4 years after the October revolution, Nalchik was registered a city.
In 1942-1943, during World War II, the city was occupied by Nazi Germany and Romania and the population of Mountain Jews suffered as a result.
On October 13, 2005, a group of fighters took over the city, attacking the police and army headquarters. The city was finally assaulted by the russian special forces. Some 136 people died in the event.
Mineralnye Vody Airport (IATA: MRV) is 105km north of the city and offers many more flight options.
Nalchik is easily explored on foot. Minibuses are also available.
The city of Nalchik does not have that much to offer and is mostly used by tourists as a convenient base to explore the region and the North Caucasus.
Lenin Prospect is the main street.
Central Park of Culture and Recreation includes many artificial lakes, an amusement park, and paddle-boat rental.
A chair lift is available to the top of a hill to a restaurant with a nice view.
Take the gondolas / cabins to the top (2nd station). The snow-cat will take you right to the Elbrus base camp at 4200m.
The Bezengi valley and Chegem valley are a 1 hour drive from Nalchik. The mountains there are not as high (more pre-alps type) but the sceneries and the flora are just as beautiful and you will not a meet any tourist (at least after you pass the chegem waterfalls).
Don't expect nicely marked paths. Just get yourself a good map in a bookstore. Alternatively simply drive to the valley and choose a path going sideways. The mountains are used for livestock rearing in the summer so that there are always plenty of shepherds and cowboys. You will find tracks made by the animals and paths. These may not always lead you to the summits but will get you to the passes.
In winter you can do snow-boot hiking. It is safer to stick to the Cheget / Elbrus area which is more populated in winter.
In winter, you can ski at either Mount CHEGET or Mount ELBRUS, which are less than 10km from each other. Lifts are generally quite old and run down. Cheget is a more challenging ski resort than Elbrus. The snow tends to be better on Elbrus side, which has a higher altitude, and the trails are prepared at Elbrus. Both ski resorts have only 2-3 lifts.
In both places you will find rental equipment but you will have more choices in Cheget. A daily ski lift pass costs around RUB800.
If you intend to spend a night at the ski resort, sleep at Cheget. It is friendlier, hotels and restaurants are better, and has more of a resort-feel than Elbrus. Cheget has a few restaurants, a disco bar under the big ugly hotel Cheget, a small market with traditional products and an ice-ring.
The kabarda (and balkar) are famous horse-riders. They have successfully bred their own type of horse "kabardin", which has achieved a certain fame. It is considered a very resistent, sturdy, hard working, small-sized horse. Locally, these horses are used for livestock rearing in the mountains. If you are a proficient rider, go to the hippodrome in Nalchik and directly rent a pure-breed competition horse. If you are less proficient or prefer to take a ride in the nature on a somewhat quieter animal, horses can be found in the winter months in the plain immediately around Nalchik in many farms; ask locals for advice. In the summer, the horses are typically brought in the mountains. A good bet is to try in the area past the Chegem waterfalls in the Chegem valley. Many of the farms will be willing to rent you a horse for half a day for RUB500.
There are four large supermarkets.
Shashlik (grilled brochette of meat) is commonly found at most cafes.