Road Trip through Ukraine
Ukraine, the country famous for Steven Seagal from visiting, is opening up to tourism with travel. Add to that direct flights from the UK and the fact that it is still remarkably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We suggest you get behind the wheel or a hire car to hop on a train.
Situated in the far west of the country, just 50 miles from the Polish border, Lviv was known as Limburg when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1772 to WW1. That’s reflected in its quaint cobbled streets, proliferation of churches and architecture reminiscent of those other Hapsburg cities like Vienna and Budapest. Of course it also has trams, trolley buses and coffee houses they say that the first coffee shop in Vienna was opened by an Ukrainian from Lviv.
It’s a pleasant place to wander round, with street musicians on every corner, and the Market Square in the old town is lined with renaissance houses. The elaborate Lviv Opera House still stages productions of opera and ballet and imposing Cathedrals beckon you inside. My visit coincides with National Embroidered Blouse Day so everyone is sporting one, men and women alike.
Outside the old town, the 18th-century Lychakiv Cemetery has ornate tombs, chapels and shrines plus a special section dedicated to those who are still being in the armed on Ukraine’s Eastern borders. Most Ukrainians I speak to believe that it’s Russian mischief making and can’t understand why their former ally is making trouble. Central and Western Ukraine show no signs, so travellers shouldn’t be alarmed.
The Carpathians form an arc running roughly 1000 miles across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe. They occupy the South West of Ukraine, separating the country from Romania, with the highest peak, Mount Hoverla, reaching over 2000m. Life carries on here much as it’s done for centuries and during the Soviet period was left almost untouched. Even guerrillas fighting their Russian oppressors stayed holed up here for years.
It’s a three hour drive across the Ukrainian steppes to Kolomyia, famous for the world’s only Pysanka or Easter Egg Museum. Of course it’s built in the shape of a egg and houses an impressive collection of intricately decorated specimens from all over the world. Nearby is another museum dedicated, the largest ethnic group in the Carpathians, scattered through both Ukraine and Romania. It’s an excellent introduction to their culture with an exhibition of ethnic costumes, arts and crafts.
The landscape begins to change as I climb up to the town of Yaremche at 580m. The wide cornfields give way to forested hills, wooden houses and quaint chapels by the side of the road. The River Prut runs through the centre of town in a series of rapids, and there’s a rather tacky craft market on either side of the ravine. However if you’re in the market for woolly slippers or dodgy fruit wine, this is the place for you.
Another 40 minutes of climbing brings me to Bukovel, the largest Ski in Eastern Europe at 900m. It opened and has 16 ski lifts with roughly 30 miles of pistes, and more are promised. There’s a boating lake but otherwise there’s not much character here. A few of the ski lifts remain open and, at the top of one of them, there’s a rather Roller Coaster Zip line which hurls you high through the trees. I prefer a spot of gentle hiking.