When you click on Lonely Planet's guide to Crimea, you get a warning advising against all travel to the area. Which shouldn't be surprising to anyone following the news lately. But before Crimea became the center for Vladimir Putin's volatile standoff with Ukraine, the peninsula was actually considered a hidden gem of a tourist spot.

A beach in Koktebel, Crimea. | (CC BY: Tiia Monto)

During the Soviet era, the Mediterranean-like locale became the ideal holiday retreat for Russian monarchs and ordinary workers alike. Since Ukrainian independence, the area has shed its working-man reputation, but it has continued to lure Russians, Ukrainians, and even a growing number of Westerners looking for quiet, beach-side rest and relaxation. In 2013, National Geographic rated it one of the best trips of the year.

Crimea boasts an impressive range of vistas, from mountain ranges and limestone plateaus to volcanic formations and pebbly Black Sea beaches. Here, a brief tour of the rather picturesque sites of this unique paradise.

Swallow's Nest: This decorative castle, built in 1912, sits atop the Aurora Cliff overlooking the Cape of Ai-Todor on the Black Sea coast. | (CC BY: Derevyagin Igor)

Uspensky Cave Monastery: Built into the side of a seaside cliff, the monastery dates back to at least the 15th century. In 1921, the monastery was closed by the Soviet government. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian independence, the monastery was reopened to the public. | (Rob Howard/Corbis)

Black Sea coast: "The coast is a hitchhiker's dream," Oksana Yakovenko of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation tells CNN. "There are endless dramatic cliffs, breathtaking sea views, impossibly beautiful sunsets — the full works!" | (FotoS.A./Corbis)

Livadia Palace: A summer retreat for the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II, Livadia hosted the Yalta Conference in 1945. It was here that President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Joseph Stalin carved up postwar Europe. | (CC BY: Voevoda)

Genoese Fortress: Located in the city of Sudak, the Genoese Fortress is considered one of the most grand fortifications of medieval Crimea. Situated on an ancient coral reef, Genoese spreads across more than 70 acres of land. | (CC BY: Qypchak)

Yalta at dusk: Crimea's most well-known city on the peninsula's southern tip. | (CC BY: ahenobarbus)

The Crimean countryside | (Rob Howard/Corbis)