Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
|BETWEEN||Minsk, Belarus and Chisinau, Moldova|
|COUNTRIES VISITED – 3||Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova|
|MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE||12|
|WHATS NOT INCLUDED||
Travel to the farthest reaches of Europe on a two week tour that explores three countries, and one breakaway republic. Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova are some of the least known countries on the continent, once well hidden behind the Iron Curtain but now released from the Soviet grip and enjoying a cultural resurgence. Starting in Belarus we explore the striking capital Minsk with its melange of Communist architecture and charming old churches, then head to the historic town of Polotsk to delve into a complex heritage that few know exists. In the charming settlement of Disna we stay as guests of a local family and experience true Belarusian hospitality, then travel to the fairytale castle at Mir and the 16th century town of Njasvizh. Leaving Belarus behind we take the overnight train to Kiev and begin exploring Ukraine. In the capital we visit stunning golden domed monasteries and cathedrals dating back a thousand years, before heading on to Lviv – surely one of the most elegant cities in Europe. In surrounding villages we discover striking old castles before heading on to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, a treasure chest of traditional Hutsul culture, incredible scenery and fascinating wildlife. Finally we visit Moldova, the smallest country of the trio but with vast underground wine cellars, ancient monasteries and the unique republic of Transdniestr, a country that doesn’t officially exist. This is a truly intriguing region, full of surprises and imbued with a rich heritage that easily rivals better known parts of Europe, and best of all, it’s well off the tourist map.
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Starting in Belarus we explore the striking capital Minsk with its melange of Communist architecture and charming old churches, then head to the historic town of Polotsk to delve into a complex heritage that few know exists. In the charming settlement of Disna we stay as guests of a local family and experience true Belarusian hospitality, then travel to the fairytale castle at Mir and the 16th century town of Njasvizh. Leaving Belarus behind we take the overnight train to Kiev and begin exploring Ukraine. In the capital we visit stunning golden domed monasteries and cathedrals dating back a thousand years, before heading on to Lviv – surely one of the most elegant cities in Europe. In surrounding villages we discover striking old castles before heading on to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, a treasure chest of traditional Hutsul culture, incredible scenery and fascinating wildlife. Finally we visit Moldova, the smallest country of the trio but with vast underground wine cellars, ancient monasteries and the unique republic of Transdniestr, a country that doesn’t officially exist.
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Day 1: Minsk
Arrive in Minsk. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar.
Minsk is an old city, founded on the trade routes between the Baltic and the Black Sea, and was once regarded as one of the most attractive cities in the former Soviet Union. The Second World War however caused immense damage to the town, almost completely destroying it and unfortunately only a small percentage of the older buildings remain. Following the end of the war it was rebuilt extensively, and today is perhaps one of the best examples of Soviet architecture from the 1950s, a city characterised by grandiose monuments and large public squares, and wide avenues where people sit at pavement cafes. Minsk offers an almost unique opportunity to see what life may have been like behind the Iron Curtain, and has so far mostly resisted the temptation to succumb to the usual modern homogeneity sweeping the rest of the continent, instead remaining a snapshot of a world that has disappeared elsewhere.
Day 2: Minsk – Polotsk
This morning we explore some of the capital’s most important sites, including Independence Square with its architecture from the Stalinist period, the ‘Island of Tears’ – a monument to the fallen soldiers in the Soviet war against Afghanistan, and the old town, with its splendid churches. After lunch we depart for Polotsk, one of the most important historic cities in the country and its spiritual capital. Overnight Hotel Dvina or similar. (BL)
One of Belarus’ most impressive towns, Polotsk dates back at least 1200 years and became one of the most powerful centres of the region with influence stretching from the Baltic Sea well into Russia. In the 14th century it fell under the sway of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and is now considered to be the spiritual heart of Belarus. Its history has been turbulent, like many in the region, and its conquerors range from Vikings from the north to Ivan the Terrible – two important battles of the Napoleonic Wars were also fought here. The town holds numerous important historic sites, including the Cathedral of St Sophia, the 18th century House of Peter the Great, and the Convent of St Ephrosinia, the first Belarusian woman to be canonised.
Day 3: Polotsk – Disna
Explore the old quarter, home to numerous museums and churches including the 12th century Convent of St Ephrosinia. From here we drive to the small town of Disna. Although technically a town Disna is quite rural and our visit here allows us an opportunity to get to grips with the traditions of the country, meeting local people and taking a boat on the river. We spend the night in a homestead as guests of a local family and can expect to the treated to typical Belarusian hospitality. (BLD)
Day 4: Strotchitsy – Minsk
Return to Minsk. On the way we visit the open air museum at Strotchitsy, which displays exhibits relating to Belarus’ past including typical rural architecture. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar. (BL)
Day 5: Mir – Njasvizh
A full day excursion to two of the country’s most impressive sites. We visit the UNESCO listed 16th century fortress at Mir, one of the most striking buildings in all of Belarus, as well as the historic settlement of Njasvizh with its collection of 16th century buildings. Return to Minsk and board the overnight train to Kiev. (BL)
Mir Fortress resembles a fairytale, in a dramatic position next to a lake and with white plasterwork providing a striking contrast to its red brick towers and roofs. The fortress was built over several years, beginning in the 16th century, and various additions to it have been made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. It has recently been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in view of its historic significance, and it played a significant part in the Second World War when Russian and German troops fought nearby. The fortress is great fun to explore, full of winding staircases and with great views from its towers over the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Day 6: Kiev
Arrive in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Explore the key sites of the city including the impressive St Sophia Cathedral and monastery, the splendid 18th century Baroque church of St Andrew, and the historis ‘Golden Gates’ of Kiev. Overnight Ukraina Hotel or similar. (D)
Kiev is one of Europe’s most attractive cities, but also one of its least known capitals, a legacy of its previous position hidden behind the Iron Curtain which meant that few from ‘the west’ were aware of the treasures that it holds. The basis of the Russian state during the period of Kievan Rus, the city has a colourful history and in the 13th century was almost destroyed by Mongol invaders, then later was ruled by Poland and Lithuania at different times before falling under the rule of Russia in the 18th century, now centred around St Petersburg. As you might expect for a city with a history stretching back more than a thousand years, Kiev is home to some stunning monuments, including a wide array or churches and monasteries which testify to the deep religious sentiment of the country – the best being the complex at Lavra with its green and gold domes, and the 11th century Cathedral of St Sophia. There are also a number of good museums, impressive 18th and 19th century buildings and the imposing post-war architecture of the Kreschatyk Boulevard. Kiev easily has enough to keep the curious visitor occupied for days, and is a real pleasure to explore.
Day 7: Kiev
This morning we visit the golden domed Lavra monastery complex, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and containing numerous churches and museums – a cultural treasure of the country. In the afternoon visit the open air museum of Pirogovo, dedicated to the rural culture of Ukraine and containing excellent examples of original wooden buildings from across the land. This offers an excellent glimpse into the Ukraine of yesteryear, not so far removed in many places. This evening we board the overnight train to Lviv. (B)
Day 8: Lviv
Arrive in Lviv, one of Europe’s most attractive cities and another of Ukraine’s UNESCO listed sites. Today we explore its varied attractions including the old town with its Baroque church and Armenian Cathedral, the Opera House and the High Castle with superb views over the city. Overnight Hotel Dnister or similar. (BD)
A charming city packed full of exquisite architecture, Lviv has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site – not just parts of it, but the entire city, which gives you an idea of why many people consider this the highlight of their visit to Ukraine. Its beautiful buildings borrow styles from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque movements, and are numerous – of course one can find many churches and cathedrals but also striking theatres and opera houses, grand public parks, synagogues and palaces, many decorated in graceful pastel colours. The city was spared the worst excesses of the Second World War and as such is far better preserved than many in the region – a snapshot of the glory days of Ukraine a couple of centuries ago.
Day 9: Olesk – Zolochiv – Pidgirtsi
Today we head out into the area surrounding Lviv to the three villages of Olesk, Zolochiv and Pidgirtsi. These villages are famous for their castles, all different in style and ranging from robust fortresses perched on hills to fairy tale palaces with slender towers and elegant decorations. Return to Lviv for the evening. Overnight Dnister Hotel or similar. (BD)
Day 10: Carpathian Mountains
Drive to Yaremche in the Carpathian Mountains and home to the Hutsul people, Ukraine’s most traditional ethnic group. We see the picturesque Probiy waterfall and explore the surrounding area for an insight into local culture, visiting the 17th century wooden church, Dovbush cave and meeting local people along the way. We spend tonight in a village guesthouse. (BD)
The Carpathian Mountains stretch across a wide part of Eastern Europe, encompassing parts of Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Serbia. Rich in wildlife they are home to some of Europe’s last remaining populations of large mammals, with bears, wolves and lynx to be found prowling through the forests. The birdlife here is equally spectacular, with raptors such as eagles a frequent sighting. This is one of the most pristine environments to be found on the continent and excellent walking country, with superb views to be had from every angle and the possibility of seeing wildlife adding further excitement.
The Hutsuls are a mountain dwelling people, known within Ukraine for adhering to their traditional customs and dress, which consists of red jackets and trousers or skirts – although not as prevalent as it once was, it’s not too difficult to find people in some of the more remote villages wearing it. They have their own dialect, very different from Ukrainian, and their culture is very much centred around the world in which they live, a world of mountains and forests where nature is far more dominant than modernity.
Day 11: Chernivtsi
Drive to Chernivtsi, in the foothills of the Carpathians. We explore the diverse collection of monuments and buildings to be found here – this is a fascinating city with grandiose theatres, elegant churches and a rather different feel to the rest of the country. Overnight Georg Palace Hotel or similar. (B)
The town of Chernivtsi is the capital of the Bucovina region, a town imbued with many different ethnic influences from Russia to Romania to Poland. Dominated by spectacular architecture and with an attractive setting surrounded by mountains it is one of Ukraine’s more interesting towns and together with the city of Lviv, is seen as a cultural centre of Ukraine as well as a great focus for architecture and education. Historically it has been dubbed ‘Little Vienna’ and ‘Jerusalem upon the Prut’. A mark of its status is that Chernivtsi is currently twinned with seven other cities around the world. Key sites to visit include the Armenian Church, the former residence of the Bukovinan and Dalmatian bishops and the Kobylyanska Theatre, all of which were constructed in the late 19th / early 20th century and rank among Ukraine’s most impressive buildings.
Day 12: Chisinau
We bid farewell to Ukraine and drive to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BD)
Pretty Chisinau is characterised by tree lined avenues, white washed buildings and imposing civic monuments and as the capital is the economic centre of Moldova. Founded in the 15th century it has been ruled by Russians and Ottomans, located at an awkward point between the two giant empires, and became the capital of the province of Bessarabia in the 19th century. It suffered much during the Second World War and much of what you will see has been rebuilt, on a typical Soviet grid system of streets. It contains one of the highest proportions of green spaces within any major European city, with many parks and lakes within its boundaries.
Day 13: Chisinau - Cricova
Spend the morning exploring Chisinau, one of Europe’s greenest cities. We visit some of its key monuments including the St Teodora church, the Arch of Triumph and its collection of striking 19th century buildings. Just outside of the capital lie the vast wine cellars of Cricova, around 80 metres underground and consisting of tunnels that stretch for more than 120 kilometres. Explore this unusual site with opportunities for wine tasting at the end. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BD)
Day 14: Orheiul Vechi
Visit the monastery complex of Orhei Vechi, one of Moldova’s most important historic sites and dating back to the 13th century. Afterwards we head to a nearby farm to enjoy some traditional Moldovan hospitality, with traditional food and wine. Return to Chisinau in the evening. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BD)
The Orheiul Vechi Monastery complex is carved into a cliff and dates back to the 13th century, although it has only recently come back into use after being abandoned in the 18th century. It contains a chapel and a sleeping area for monks, and the cliffside is dotted with small cave and places of worship, dug over thousands of years by ancient Dacian tribes.
Day 15: Transdniestr
Cross the border into the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, one of Europe’s oddest entities and something of a throwback to the days of the Soviets. We explore the ‘capital’ Tiraspol with its stark monuments and also visit the town of Tighina, once an important trading centre and with an impressive 16th century fortress to explore. Return to Chisinau for the evening. Overnight Iris Hotel or similar. (BD)
Transdniestr, or Transnistria, is a European oddity – a tiny breakaway state within Moldova between the River Dniestr and the Ukrainian border that is unrecognised by other nations but to all effects and purposes functions as a completely separate country, with its own government and army. Once part of the Soviet Union along with the rest of Moldova, when the Cold War ended its population decided to declare independence, sparking a war with Moldova – things are peaceful now but the two states eye each other cautiously from across the border. Ethnically it has far more ties with Russia, and you will hear Russian being spoken here – part of the basis for its claims of sovereign status is that while the rest of Moldova was ceded to Turkey following the Russo-Turkish conflicts of the 18th century, Transdniestr remained Russian, hence they cannot be considered to be the same country. The capital Tiraspol is a rather odd but intriguing place where the Soviet Union doesn’t seem to have quite died, and is fascinating to explore for an insight into what life was once like behind the Iron Curtain.
Day 16: Chisinau
Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)
Tour Dossier Notes
Airport transfers – Includes arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip– in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then can request for this to be arranged for you. If you need any advice with visas just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as CIBT can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.