Russia on Four Wheels: Anita Rani’s top tips for visiting the world’s largest nation

As part of a new BBC2 travel show, presenter Anita Rani joins Justin Rowlatt on a motorised journey across this vast landscape. She offers up tips on what to see if visiting during the upcoming Winter Olympics...


Tonight on BBC2’s Russia on Four Wheels, presenters Anita Rani and Justin Rowlatt will drive thousands of miles across the former Soviet nation. Ahead of the show, Rani shares her adventures and gives advice on discovering this vast country…


To really get a taste of Russia, what should people do?

Go on a long weekend to St. Petersburg because it’s beautiful, romantic, it’s grand, the [Winter Palace] is there, and you can go and see some amazing art. I took a boat ride around St. Petersburg at midnight. You can do this because the river that runs through St. Petersburg is a gateway from the heartland of Russia towards the West, and it has been a trade route for a long, long time. At night, all the cargo ships sail out so they lift all the bridges and as a tourist, you can go and experience it. It’s such a beautiful way to see the city, I would highly recommend it. If people crave adventure, I would tell them to go north – just to say you’ve gone beyond the Arctic Circle. The road up there is stunning. 

What kind of landscape will people see along that route?

The beautiful forests. In the middle, there’s a lot of old, old trees. The further north you get, the trees get really short. I would go in autumn, the colors are just gorgeous. You will see on [Russia on 4 Wheels] how beautiful it is.

Is lots of fur needed? 

It’s interesting that you mention fur because on the show I go into a fur boutique and try on a very expensive coat worth £100,000. It was made out of some sort of rodent. I’m probably going to get a few complaints, because people are going to see my eyes light up when I put this coat on. But really, the country has a long tradition with fur, so you do see a lot of Russians wearing fur, yes.

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Did you have any trouble driving?

We went in autumn, so it was cold. It was getting colder. Had we gone one month later, everything would have been covered in snow. We started in subtropical [Winter Olympic city] Sochi, where the temperature is in the 20s, and then we went to other parts where the temperature wasn’t quite freezing but it was getting there. It’s just the vastness of the country. We think of it as such a harsh place because the weather is so harsh and it makes it hard to deal with the landscape.

How does Russia compare to some of the other countries you’ve travelled to during the series?

Oh, this was the hardest country. The other places I’ve been to, India and China, are both further away geographically, and people would think they are culturally far off as well. But for me, the most furthest away culturally was Russia. It was the most different. I do the modern stuff, so I don’t go into the back waters like Justin [Rowlatt]. But India and China were really developed and modern. There are clubs, hotels, lots of stuff that we would expect. Russia, no. It was hard. If you turn up in the middle of nowhere, there’s probably one restaurant.

What was the most surprising thing about Russia?

The food. I was expecting boiled potatoes, fish, and no yummy food at all. Actually, I was really pleasantly surprised. They eat a lot of dill. Don’t get me wrong, I was craving curry like no one’s business. There were loads of British people coming back on the flight from Moscow. I overheard so many people on the flight saying, “The first thing I’m going to do is order curry when I get back.” We have very developed taste buds in Britain. But Russian food was actually surprisingly good. Their soup was good, their salad was good, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

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What did they make of you being Asian British?

You hear about it being this racist country, but I didn’t feel any backlash towards myself. Not at all. The people are absolutely lovely. There was no hostility whatsoever. People were very open to talking to us actually. 

What’s your best piece of travelling advice?

My travelling advice is really simple: just go with an open mind. Get into the rhythm of the place. Doing what I do, I think people respond best when you’re charming. Charm can get you a long way. I’m the sort of person who likes going to a pub in the middle of nowhere or some bar in Africa. That’s my attitude to travelling. Don’t go in with your preconceived, Western ideas about anything. 

What do you never leave home without?

Oh, it’s so tragic that I say this, but my phone. It has everything on it. It’s got my music, it even has my literature on it if I need it. Who would have thought 10 years ago that we’d have in our hands at all times a portable computer. So, I have to have my phone, my earbuds, and eyeliner. I can’t go anywhere without my eyeliner. 

Watch Russia on Four Wheels at 9.30pm, January 20 on BBC2

Visit Russia with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details