During World War II, Samara was designated as the alternative capital were Moscow to fall, and a bunker was duly built for Stalin outside town. Vostok rockets, that sent Yuri Gagarin into space, were later built here.
No wonder, then, that Samara was a closed city, its football team, Krylia Sovetov, only qualifying for Europe post-Soviet times.
Just as the flagship club has retained its titular links to the political past, so the newly built World Cup stadium, the Cosmos Arena, harks back to the Gagarin days.
Krylia having moved out of the old Metallurg Stadium, there was a sigh of relief when they regained top-flight status this year – though fans may not take kindly to the long trek north of the city centre to the club’s new home.
Downtown Samara is pleasant, stretched along the Volga with a beach near the city centre. Further round the bend is Togliatti, where Lada cars are made.
Kurumoch airport is 35km (22 miles) north of the city centre, 45min away by minibus (120 r/₤1.50 from the kiosk inside the terminal). A taxi to town are should cost around 1,000r/₤12.
The rail station, where trains come in from Moscow 16hrs away, is south of the centre. The city’s solitary metro line doesn’t serve the station or the stadium, best reached by taxi.
Navigating the city is best done by metro or trolleybus. The bar hub is the river bank and beach, close to Alabinskaya metro.
Samara has a very limited hotel stock, which makes its selection as a World Cup venue even more baffling.
Close to the Cosmos Arena, Dubki (ulitsa Dalnyaya 45A) is cheap but will have no availability on match nights. You’re also miles from the centre.
In town, Hampton by Hilton at ulitsa Lva Tolstova 131 (6,300r/₤75) is down the road from the station, with a few beds left on certain dates.
On ulitsa Alexei Tolstoy one in from the riverbank, Holiday Inn Samara (No.99) is a swish official World Cup lodging but may have rooms after the group stage. Budget-class Wave (No.35) is charging an outrageous 12,000r/£143 for a basic room.
Near the beach, the vintage Volga (Volzhski prospekt 35, 6,000r/₤75) provides a Soviet resort experience while the classier Equator (ulitsa Sadovaya/Potapova) and Best City Hotel (ulitsa Osipenko 3, +7 846 240 9109) are located at the start of the metro line, with rooms in the 5,000r/£60 range.
Volzhski prospekt on the river has plenty of options, most notably Na Dne craft-beer bar (No.4), with screens for football. Art&Fact (No.19) offers a large terrace beneath an aviation monument, with a huge screen within.
Facing it from the pier of Ulyanovskiy spusk, the floating Beluga terrace restaurant is atmospheric. Also close to the beach, Shannon (ulitsa Krasnoarmeyskaya 1) provides a pub experience while a few blocks inland, Hali Gali (ulitsa Frunze 101) is more bar-like but serves great pub grub, with decent beers and TV sport on tap.