Spa town in Russia
Staraya Russa is a small, historic town in the center of Novgorod Oblast, long famous domestically for its balneological mineral waters resort, but much more famous among international travelers as Dostoevsky's summer retreat, and the basis for the fictional town of Skotoprigonievsk in The Brothers Karamazov.
Staraya Russa is one of the oldest cities in Russia, founded in the tenth century as one of the principal cities of the then-powerful and wealthy trading nation of the Novgorod Republic. It gained greatly in prestige with the establishment of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in the twelfth century. Its salt works made it the regional leader in salt and brine production, driving its economy, and leading to the growth of the town to nearly 5,000 inhabitants by the fifteenth century, when it was incorporated along with Novgorod into the Princedom of Muscovy.
Despite the destruction throughout the years, though, many old wooden houses (including the Dostoevsky residence) and several important churches remain intact, and other institutions, like the balneological resort, have been rebuilt. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the town's population is shrinking (along with the rest of rural Russia), and feels a sleepy backwater—actually, a great change of pace for travelers who have been spending most of their time in Saint Petersburg or Moscow. The residential areas near the rivers are quite peaceful, the locals are friendly and laid-back, and there is a lot to see with all the Dostoevsky sights. Better still, despite the Dostoevsky connection, the place is pretty much devoid of any international travelers outside of the high tourist season in summer, so you'll have the place to yourself.