A real treasure trove seamlessly weaves together valued traditions with modernity, such as having helpful visitor centers, unique architectural monuments, and an emphasis on nature. That would be Western Ukraine. It seems like almost every area of this region has a remarkable story to “tell” its visitor. Below are places that hold particular charm, where it seems like there’s something delicate, yet mysterious in the air. One may take note and get acquainted with areas in the regions of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Zakarpattia, which promise an unforgettable experience way beyond that of an average tourist destination.
Lviv is like a clever storyteller, who remains both flexible and easy-going at the same time. Where a new tale is found in every corner, causing one’s excited heart to race, melting away one’s troubles, and inspiring feelings of happiness. It’s worth traveling to Lviv even if one doesn’t have any particular plans, as a visitor will always find something interesting here. Regardless if one happens to visit Lviv, understand, this is a city that should not be missed. It’s unique. The city’s architecture was accumulated over many centuries. There’s always a feeling of folklore. Two-dozen institutions of drama attempt to decipher the most interesting legends. There are extraordinary cathedrals, from different ages and of various designs, displaying their grandeur. One may also tour the mysterious underground structures that once belonged to the powerful religious orders of Jesuits, Dominicans and Trinitarians. This is just a fraction of what Lviv has to offer its tourists.
Truskavets is a resort town, famous not just for its healing mineral springs, but also for the expertise of local doctors who create individualized courses of treatments from a palette of 14 sources, fortified with a specific set of elements. Since 1872, the year when the first Pump Room opened, the European resort has not lost its popularity, no matter the time of year. It’s always crowded. Tourists don’t only come to Truskavets for the water. There’s also an imposing central park in town, filled with rare trees and interesting statues. It’s ideal for leisurely walks and serious conversations between sips of ‘Naftusia’ (the most famous of local waters) from nearest Pump Room.
Villa “Hoplyana” is yet another interesting tourist sight, perhaps not just for Truskavets, but also for Ukraine as a whole. The centuries’ old, wooden building, designed in a fairy-tale like style, is home today to the Museum of Mychailo Bilas, a Ukrainian folk artist, who was a master of tapestry, and famous throughout the world. Literally within 20 kilometers north of Truskavets, in the village of Rozhirche, one finds one of the most mysterious cave monasteries made of rock in Ukraine. This is a place with special energy, and definitely a worthwhile place to visit. The monastery complex, from about the thirteenth century, has largely gone unexplored, for reasons unknown. That’s why one will not find any guided tours here. But the monastery may be found on one’s own, especially if traveling with one’s own transport. Along the main Kyiv-Chop highway, approximately halfway on the Strij-Skole road, there are directions to the village.
Just 8 kilometers from Truskavets, or 60 miles from Lviv is Drohobych, known as the quiet city of kings. There’s a unique concentration of buildings here, that’s difficult for one to even imagine. On a small plot of land, an area of almost 20 square kilometers stands a few dozen phenomenal architectural monuments. Drohobych is still home to the oldest manufacturing plant in Ukraine, Drohobych Salt Factory. True, that in its 800 years, the factory looks as it should, but its historical significance cannot be overestimated. They say that with the factory began the city’s history. Included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site is the unspeakable beauty of St. George’s wooden church. Drohobych is also home to the most beautiful synagogue in Halychyna, and in its day, the largest in Europe. It’s also where one would find the oldest church in Western Ukraine, St. Bartholomew’s, which was founded in the late fourteenth century. One must not hesitate to visit this city!
Mukacheve is a city of castles, wine and eccentrics. The legendary Palanok Castle, the Cathedral of St. Martin and the convent of St. Nicolas, founded in the eleventh century by Yaroslav the Wise’s daughter, are all really worth a visit here. And, this is not even the most important thing to know about Mukacheve! The real wonder of this land is its people. Mukachevians are different somehow due to their indescribable inner peace. Immediately after interacting with a local resident, a visitor will also feel this phenomenon. Lovachka Mountain, visible from almost every street in the city, is the pride of the region. Its slopes have grown over 500 years worth of grapes for the region’s famous Transcarpathian wines. The foothills have preserved an ancient 45-meter stone cellar, which was manually hammered-out by Turkish prisoners. It’s still in good condition today and one may visit the site, which is on the grounds of the farmstead, “Celtic yard in Lovachka,” dedicated to Celtic life. According to scientists, over 2000 years ago, this was the location of the largest settlement of Celts anywhere in the world, in what is today modern Ukrainian territory.
After entering the city of Berehove, just 200 meters in, and already one feels a bit strange, as when traveling abroad. Spirit, architecture, character and even the dialect feels more distinct here. Only a strange mix of Ukrainian and Hungarian signage let’s one know that they are actually in Ukraine. That’s because this land belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary for so long that its origins are still evident. Another detail that makes this area special is that directly beneath it, underground, at a depth of thousands of meters, is a unique composition of thermal waters operating in a continuous loop, which extends through France, Italy, Spain, Serbia, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland and the Balkans. The quality of Berehove’s baths is not inferior to that of spas in the countries mentioned.
Lumshory is a tiny mountain village in the Perechyn district of Transcarpathia, surrounded by old beech and pine forests. From all corners of the Carpathians, people come to “cook” in vats filled with healing hydrogen sulfide water. The local water is beneficial in treating the musculoskeletal system (muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones), as well as the nervous system, which was already widely known some 400 years ago. In the beginning, the process involved using wooden troughs, with water being heated by throwing in hot firestones, Later, during Czech times, for the sake of convenience, two iron bathing tubs were cast, (one of them is still in Lumshory today, and the second is in a Vienna museum). Before that, to improve one’s health the only way to do so was to use kindle fire and heat the water to 40-45 degrees. It is recommended that after bathing in these local waters that one take a dip into a mountain river. In addition the historic town vat, there are private bathing tubs in the village. They may differ in size and significance, but promise the same unforgettable experience.
Mezhyhirya is the center of the Carpathians. Hidden from the world by mountains, this hypnotic corner of Ukraine is full of peace and tranquility. Like a soft embrace, one forgets all when viewing its mountainous landscape. Such a place is hard to describe. Familiar things are filled with new meanings, while emotions are more intense. In the Mezhyhirya region, there’s a national nature park “Synevyr,” with a lake of the same name, which stands as a mysterious symbol of the Carpathians. Here is the only forest and float museum in Ukraine, a monument to traditional construction, where one may see small replicas of complex structures, which in the nineteenth century served to lower trees and bind them into rafts, on the water in order to continue traveling, as well as the tools and instruments the lumberjacks and rafters used at the time.
Yaremche is worth a visit just for its two Hutsul souvenir markets, considered to be the village’s calling card. They also deserve the title “living folk art museum.” Such a variety of carvings, moldings, and paintings, made by tireless hands, exist here, as well as work by the masters of household accessories: hand embroidered shirts, blouses and towels. “Dessert” for tourists here includes the serving of honey, nuts, a combination of mountain herbs, and traditional liquors. Yet another nice feature of this town is its people, who are talkative, friendly and always smiling. Being in Yaremche, one must hear the sound of the waterfall “Proryv,” take a look into the zoo-park reserve with animals collected from the Carpathian woods, as well as the restaurant built without one nail, a nod to Ukraine’s old wooden churches, of which there are many in the village.
Finally, there is the legendary Pysanka Museum in Kolomyia. This is the only place in the world where one may see over 6,000 unique egg-paintings, pysanky, created using a variety of techniques, and decorated with traditional and modern designs.
And, most importantly, this journey through Western Ukraine has only just begun, as every season here reveals a special side of this treasured land.
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