hidden europe 63

Ice caves: a rare subterranean spectacle

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Kungur ice cave in Perm Oblast, Russia, is a fine example of a rare natural phenomenon (photo © Sergey Ilin / dreamstime.com).


The great Siberian cartographer Semyon Remezov approached the ice cave on the bank of the River Sylva with Christian reverence and a map maker's precision. We follow Remezov to Kungur in Russia to discover one of the finest European examples of a cave with perennial ice.

We are on the hunt for a place where, even in the summer heat, there is still permanent ice. The instructions were very clear. “Alight from the train at the very last station in Europe.”

That last station in Europe turns out to be at Kungur. It’s here that the train to Siberia joins the Sylva Valley, and the railway then starts to climb gently up towards the Urals. Some might be inclined to call them mountains, but here there is no more than a gentle rise in the undulating forests. For travellers on the premium trains to Siberia and Russia’s Far East, the next stop after Kungur is in Ekaterinburg on the far side of the Urals and so in Asia.

The railway station in Kungur is painted in a shade of lemon that doesn’t seem quite serious. None of the gravitas of Habsburg Kaisergelb. But few who arrive at this easternmost outpost of Europe come just to admire the railway station. Those tourists who make it to Kungur are here for the ice, which is to be found over on the far bank of the River Sylva in a city suburb called Fillipovka.

Kungur’s ice cave is a magical spot, one of the finest examples in the world of a temperateregion cave that has perennial ice formations.

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