The history of the twinning link with the Black Sea resort of Sochi in Russia dates back to the 1950s, when there was a strong drive towards forming twinning links with towns and cities in the former allied countries. The city of Sochi was chosen by the Soviet Embassy as a potential twin for Cheltenham, as both Cheltenham and Sochi are spa towns. The first official visit to Sochi took place in 1959.
Sochi has a population of nearly 400,000 and lies at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. Its’ administrative area stretches 145 km along the Black Sea coastline neighbouring Georgia. It enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate, with warm sea and lush vegetation.
Sochi was of little significance until after the 1917 Revolution when Lenin decreed that resort facilities for working people should be provided. Soviet Trade Unions played an important part in running and developing the resort network. Today Sochi is a famous health resort and provides treatment and recreation for over 3.5 million visitors a year.
In common with Cheltenham, Sochi was founded in the 19th century; has a young developing university and is twinned with the same Chinese partner, Weihai.
Sochi is also a major international tourist centre. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Caucasus mountains, relax on the beach, visit the botanical gardens and enjoy the many festivals, cultural and sporting facilities, including the recently developed winter sports complex.
Sochi was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and in April 2010 a business visit to Sochi took place for local companies to explore the possibilities of assisting with the delivery of the games.
The economy of Sochi is diversified and centred on providing services for the people who visit Sochi for medical and curative treatment and recreation. It has a well developed food industry and nearby tea plantations are particularly famous.
One of the features of Sochi are the Trees of Friendship which are made up of citrus trees with buds grafted on by visitors from all over the world as a symbol of peace and friendship. Appropriately, visitors’ names from Cheltenham can be found on these trees.
Regular visits and exchanges with Sochi have dwindled over recent years, however, musical contacts have been particularly strong and the LUBO folk dance ensemble participated in the Olympic Torch relay celebrations in Cheltenham in 2012. Youth exchanges developed in the 1990s following visits from Gloucestershire County Council Youth Team and it is hoped these will continue in the future. 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the link.