Europe’s Wild East

  •  Europe’s Wild East
Issue 26, July 2010.

Ukraine has so far largely failed to capitalise on the huge potential it has as a tourism destination, but while the majority of the country’s ski resorts and beach complexes remain some way off the international pace, there is considerable progress being made in niche sectors such as eco-tourism. Lviv region’s Carpathian Mountains are at the forefront of this eco-holiday sector growth, with its unspoiled nature and stunning landscapes offer the perfect quick fix to the big city blues.

Ukraine has always been a land of great natural beauty and agrarian abundance whose location on the very fringes of European civilisation has lent credence to comparisons with the untamed vastnesses of the American Wild  West. Indeed, at the same time that European settlers were heading Westward on the wagon trails to explore America, they were also setting up colonies in the newly conquered Russian imperial domains in what is now South East Ukraine. This reputation as a relative wilderness on the periphery of the European world has proved enduring and remains just as apt as it did two hundred years ago. Ukraine could now make its wealth of unspoiled nature and  vast expanses contribute to the country’s economy as part of a growing eco-tourism sector. At present the number of people across Europe looking for ecofriendly holidays is growing year on year. Many are tired of package holidays to identikit beach resorts and are looking for something that will stimulate both mind and body.

Bio-zones and eco-tourists
Ukraine’s ecologically-protected zones have been among the first to profit from this new trend, offering visitors a wide range of unique flora and fauna as well as untouched surroundings that are far from the hustle and bustle of modern urban life. This in itself is nothing new – eco-tourism of a kind has been around since the nineteenth century, when aristocrats and other notables in the Russian Empire would often take time in the countryside to cleanse and rejuvenate themselves. Crimea was particularly popular with the Russian intelligentsia, while Ukrainian national leaders and cultural figures such as the writers Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka and the country’s first president Mykola Hyrshevskiy all holidayed in the Carpathians in the early years of the 20th century. By returning to simple peasant life, these intellectual giants felt they were somehow reconnecting with their most primeval instincts and revitalizing their powers of human perception. However, today’s ecotourists are far more likely to be young middle class professional couples looking for a healthy and morally defensible way to spend their vacation time.

Inspired by Hollywood
As well as spending time in Ukraine’s nature reserves and state parks, eco-tourists can also enjoy a hands-on experience by staying on a functioning Ukrainian farm and participating in the daily handling on livestock. This sort of thing is very much a result of the modern-day craze for teambuilding and other MBArelated management techniques  and has proved highly popular among younger holidaymakers and those who have found themselves becoming cynical about the modern world. First popularized in the blockbuster Hollywood movie ‘City Slickers’ holidaying on a farm can be hard work but devotees promise that it is an unforgettable and in many cases genuinely life changing  experience. West Ukraine is one of the focuses of the growing eco-tourism sector, with the lack of heavy industry  and proximity of the Carpathian Mountains providing the region with an embarrassment of eco-riches. The most popular areas include Ivano-Frankivsk, Trans-Carpathia, Lviv Oblast and Chernivtsi. As well as stunning scenery, mountain streams and plenty of fresh air, these regions all also boast windows into an ancient and almost timeless  Ukrainian rural idyll of wooden churches and folk songs. Ivano-Frankivsk is probably the number one destination at present, with the largest number of eco-tourism destinations and the most developed infrastructure. The Carpathian resorts of Yaremche, Tatarovo, Kosiv, Vizhnitsya, Yablunitsa, Skole, Slavsko, Vorokhta and Verkhovina all offer growing eco-tourism options that are popular all year round.

Journey to a world of Hutsuls
The landscape in the Eastern Carpathians is characterized by mountains with broad rounded tops that are often covered with meadows. Valleys, up to 1200m deep, intersect mountain ranges and provide shelter for villages.
The highest peak in Ukraine, Hoverla (2061m) is found in the Chornohora ridge. The town of Verkhovyna is located in a valley along the Cheremosh River. It was one of the largest and most important Hutsul settlements. The writer Ivan Franko called it the Hutsul capital. The road that leads to remote Verkhovyna (150km from Ivano-Frankivsk) is very picturesque either through Kosiv or Vorokhta, winding through numerous mountain passes. The valley lies at a height of 575m and is surrounded by mountains which are excellent for all-day hikes: Mt Pushkar (812m), Mt Mahurka (1025m), Mt Synytsia (1186m), and Mt Bila Kobyla (1473m). Meanwhile, mushrooms can be found on both Pushkar and Mahurka while wild berries can be found on Synytsia and Bila Kobyla. So as you plan your summer holiday this year why not give some consideration to an alternative trip away from the beaches of the Black Sea and up into the mountains. You may find that in the coming years as this sort of thing becomes more and more main stream it will be  increasingly difficult to escape from the crowds. All the more reason to get ahead of the pack and book your eco-holiday now in order to benefit to the maximum from a little bit of good, old fashion peace and quiet.

Useful Eco-tourism links: