Monday, April 21, 2014
Pustevny is a hilltop ensemble of gingerbread-style folk buildings in the Valašsko region of the Czech Republic close to the border with Slovakia. The surrounding Beskyd mountains are popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter, and there is a chairlift in operation to carry visitors up the mountain to the village.
The buildings were designed by Slovak architect Dušan Jurkovič and constructed together with local Moravian master builder Michal Urbánek in the 1890's, drawing upon traditional Slavic folk art and building styles of the Valašsko region and the Carpathian Mountains. The final appearance of the buidlings also incorporates elements of the Art Nouveau style which was prominent at that time. Construction began in 1897 and was completed in 1899. Jurkovič also designed several other wooden buildings with a classical Slavic folk style in the present-day Czech Republic, such as the spa buildings in Luhačovice or the covered bridge in the castle gardens in Nové Město nad Metují.
The two most famous buildings in Pustevny are named Libušín and Maměnka, and they sit side by side together on top of the hill. Maměnka houses accommodation and has a wooden interior decorated in a similar style to the exterior, with traditional expressions and sayings painted on the walls.
Libušín is a restaurant serving traditional Wallachian and Moravian dishes. The name of Libušín comes from the legendary Czech princess Libuše. The interior of Libušín is decorated with beautiful frescoes designed by Mikoláš Aleš based on Wallach and Slovak folk legends. Art Nouveau-style chandeliers add a further touch of elegance to the dining room.
Another famous feature of the architectural collection at Pustevny is a small bell tower which stands near the trail head for the climb to the top of Radhošť mountain. The tower was designed by Jurkovič in the same distinctive Wallachian style as the other buildings and is a valuable example of Slavic folk art.
Further up the hill towards the summit of Radhošť there is a stone statue of the Slavic pagan god Radegast, while at the highest point there is a wooden chapel dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius, the patron saints of Moravia. Several festivals and special events take place in Pustevny each year, with the Snow Sculpture competition held in January among the most popular.
On 3 March 2014 a large fire in Pustevny caused extensive damage to the folk cottage called Libušín. The open air museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm declared that it was committed to rebuilding Libušín as faithfully as possible according to the original design. This project was expected to cost tens of millions of Czech Crowns and a fund for public donations was established. Benefit concerts were also held to get the funding campaign started.
There are several ways to get to Pustevny depending on the direction you approach it from. A road up the mountain from the southern side ends with a parking area just below Pustevny, and several buses per day run to the village from the nearby town and regional tourist hub of Rožnov pod Radhoštěm. Hiking trails also lead from the eastern end of Rožnov pod Radhoštěm to the summit of Radhošť mountain and onwards to Pustevny. For those who prefer a relaxed trip to the top there is a chairlift in operation in both winter and summer which connects Pustevny with the village of Trojanovice at the base of the mountain on the north side.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Lviv is a gorgeous city of cobbled squares and laneways to wander in for a few days. Its crumbling buildings from the days of Austro-Hungary wouldn't look out of place in Krakow or Prague, but the absence of tourists in the old Galician capital lends it an authenticity which neither of those cities can offer nowadays. Beyond the historic centre there are two more worthwhile sights in the outskirts, the Lviv Outdoor Folk Architecture Museum and the highly atmospheric Lychakiv cemetery. There are also many attractive historic towns, monasteries, castles and wooden churches within range of a day trip by public transport. Natural attractions with potential for hiking lie to the south in the forested foothills of the Carpathian mountains. This list includes the top twenty-five day trips to make in the surrounding countryside of Lviv region, ranked in order of their general tourist appeal. The so-called "Golden Horseshoe" route, with a name which is reminiscent of Moscow's "Golden Ring" of historic towns, includes Olesko castle, Pidhirtsi castle and Zolochiv castle, which are among the most popular day trip destinations for tour groups. All of these destinations can be reached by train, bus or marshrutka with a little effort, so go ahead and try exploring a bit further afield.
1. Pochayiv Monastery - One of the finest monasteries in Ukraine, and the most important monastery of the Orthodox church in the western part of the country. It rivals the Pechersk monastery in Kyiv in size and historical significance. Since the monastery lies more than 100 kilometres east of Lviv this is a fairly long day trip by bus or marshrutka, but is certainly worth the effort to see one of the region's best attractions.
2. Zhovkva - This historic town to the north of Lviv boasts a castle, a historic central square and town centre packed with centuries-old churches, and a UNESCO-listed wooden church at the edge of town. This is one of the easiest day trips from Lviv and among the most enjoyable. Arriving by marshrutka is the fastest and easiest method.
3. Olesko Castle - This 14th-century hilltop castle east of Lviv forms part of the "Golden Horseshoe" sightseeing route and is one of the most visited castles in Lviv region.
4. Zolochiv Castle - This 17th-century castle (though it looks more like a palace) lies 60 kilometres east of Lviv. The Chinese Palace within the castle grounds is particularly impressive.
5. Ivano-Frankivsk - This city to the south of Lviv features a collection of architectural gems from its long history, including many buildings from the Austro-Hungarian period. The city's cathedral, Armenian church and unusual town hall are among the most impressive sights.
6. Lutsk - This historic city to the north-east of Lviv has an old town centre with many impressive churches and cathedrals and a large castle complex.
7. Pidhirtsi Castle - This 17th-century castle (though like Zolochiv castle it looks more like a palace) lies to the east of Lviv not far from Olesko castle.
8. Kremenets - A hilltop castle ruin and historic centre with many Orthodox churches and a monastery are the main draws in this town to the north-east of Lviv. Many people try to combine a visit here with Pochayiv monastery, though it would be ambitious to try to see both in a day by public transport.
9. Drohobych - This town south of Lviv features a clutch of Austro-Hungarian buildings, but its main attractions are its two outstanding wooden churches, including one with UNESCO heritage listing.
10. Tustan Rock Fortress - A castle stronghold which was carved out of towering sandstone rock outcrops near the village of Urych, to the south of Lviv near the town of Boryslav. This is one of the best natural attractions near Lviv and offers good hiking in the surrounding forested hills.
11. Univ Monastery - The only Lavra monastery of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine. Its large white defensive walls surround a church, bell tower and ecclesiastical buildings. It lies in the village of Univ, which is 40 kilometres east of Lviv.
12. Svirzh Castle - A 15th-century fortified residence which is surrounded by a series of lakes which once helped to defend it from attack. This is a relatively easy day trip since the castle lies just 35 kilometres south-east of Lviv near the town of Bibrka.
13. Krekhiv Monastery - A 16th-century fortified Basilian monastery found to the north of Lviv near the town of Zhovkva.
14. Stare Selo castle - The sprawling ruins of this 17th-century castle lie in Stare Selo village, less than 20 kilometres south-east of Lviv.
15. Dovbush Rock Fortress - A fortress carved out of the tall sandstone rock outcrops near the village of Bubnyshche, lying to the south of the city of Stryi, near the town of Bolekhiv. Legends claim that this was once the hideout of the Carpathian outlaw Oleksa Dovbush.
16. Rozhirche Cave Monastery - A monastery in caves carved out of the rock of a hillside. Monks dug the series of tunnels and rooms between the 13th and 16th centuries. The village of Rozhirche is south of Lviv close to the Dovbush Rock Fortress, and both can be combined into a single day trip (if travelling by car).
17. Sambir - A historic small town to the south-west of Lviv near the Polish border, with several beautiful old churches.
18. Rohatyn - This small town to the south-east of Lviv contains a very impressive UNESCO-listed wooden church.
19. Mount Parashka - This is the highest point in the Skole Beskids National Park at 1268 metres. The trail to the top makes for a very scenic day hike through mountain meadows full of wild flowers in the summer.
20. Truskavets - This picturesque spa town to the south of Lviv contains many 19th-century Austro-Hungarian buildings. The many wooden villas surround the source of fourteen mineral water springs.
21. Zymne Monastery - This is a 13th-century fortified Orthodox monastery to the north of Lviv. The thick walls, battlements and towers which surround the complex once provided formidable defensive capabilities.
22. Potelych - A small village with a UNESCO-listed wooden church near the Polish border to the north-west of Lviv.
23. Pidkamin Monastery - This 17th-century fortified monastery lies east of Lviv in the village of Pidkamin. The village takes its name ('Pidkamin' means 'Below the Rock') from the huge boulder on the hilltop at the edge of the settlement.
24. Belz - A 17th-century wooden church can be seen in this town to the north-west of Lviv near the Polish border.
25. Berestechko - A collection of historic churches dominate this small town to the north-east from Lviv.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Lublin is a rare thing in Poland these days, an attractive historical city which has yet to be fully discovered by foreign tourists. The hilly cobbled streets of the old town are full of colourful building facades and outdoor cafes, while medieval gate towers and an unusual castle complex add to the picturesque skyline. On the outskirts of the city are two more tourist draws, the Majdanek WW2 concentration camp to the south and the outdoor folk architecture museum to the west. Both can be easily reached using local city buses. Beyond the city limits lie a number of worthwhile day trip destinations, and with many enjoyable restaurants and pubs Lublin makes a nice place to settle into as a base for several days. These are five of the best options for exploring outside Lublin, featuring a star rating out of five stars. The photos shown here feature, from top to bottom, Lublin, Zamość and Kazimierz Dolny.
**** Zamość - This UNESCO heritage-listed town is a perfect renaissance planned settlement, with walls and fortifications surrounding narrow streets and the showpiece old town square. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Only a few trains per day go to and from Zamość so it isn't a very convenient way to get there, and they also take longer, 2 hours 10 minutes on average.
**** Kazimierz Dolny - This is one of the prettiest small towns in all of Poland, with a postcard-perfect central square of stone and wood buildings. Castles and churches are placed very picturesquely on the surrounding hilltops, and there are plenty of places to get a proper Polish meal after a lengthy stroll. If you decide to stay overnight here (many people do) don't miss crossing the river to see the castle in the neighbouring village of Janowiec, it makes a nice cycling trip. Bicycles are available for rent from several different businesses in the town. Buses and minibuses run regularly from Lublin's main bus station, taking 1 hour 10 minutes.
*** Kozłówka Palace and Socialist-Realist Art Gallery - The baroque palace is impressive enough, but the real reason to visit is for the gallery of socialist-realist art in the former horse stables. Buses and minibuses depart from Lublin's main bus station and take between 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes. Some buses are direct, others will require a change of buses in the small town of Lubartów.
** Chełm - This town near the Ukrainian border has a hilltop basilica and a few other historical buildings of note, but the real attraction is the city's underground chalk tunnels from the middle ages. Guides will lead you through the shafts and chambers by candlelight, and you can expect some chills when the resident ghost makes an appearance. Buses and minibuses depart regularly from Lublin's main bus station and take 1 hour and 15 minutes. Trains depart Lublin main station several times daily and take 1 hour 25 minutes.
** Pułavy Palace - This baroque palace complex to the north-west of Lublin features rooms packed with grand furniture and fittings, and outside there are impressive landscaped gardens. Buses and minibuses from Lublin main bus station take between 50 minutes and 1 hour, and several trains go directly to Puławy daily taking 35 minutes.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Friday, June 14, 2013
2. Sigulda - A lovely historic town with castles overlooking the Gauja valley and walking trails to caves along the valley floor. Thrill seekers can try out the Olympic-standard bobsleigh track in a real bobsleigh for a cool rush in the winter, or in a wheeled model in the summer months.
3. Jurmala - The main beach resort in Latvia with long sandy beaches which draw sun seekers from nearby Riga. The many art-nouveau wooden houses that line the main boulevards are another prime attraction to take a peek at after getting sand between your toes.
4. Cesis - Often called 'The Most Latvian Town', Cesis has a picturesque collection of old wooden houses surrounding a 13th-century castle in its historic quarter. Close proximity to attractions in the Guaja Valley National Park make Cesis a good base for exploring the area.
5. Rundale Palace - A baroque palace designed by Rastrelli in the 1730's, which today is one of the grandest palace complexes in the Baltic states. Its location near the southern border makes it a convenient stopover for those heading south from Riga into Lithuania.
6. Cape Kolka and the northern Kurzeme coast - A beautiful and desolate stretch of wind-battered coastline which fills with swimmers and sunbathers during the summer months. The small villages of the Kurzeme coast are full of rustic wooden cottages, fishing nets, and the smell of smoked fish. Learn about the Livs and the endangered Livonian language, a small ethnic group found in this region.
7. Kuldiga - This is one of the most attractive small towns in Latvia, boasting narrow streets and 17th and 18th century wooden buildings. The town's other claim to fame is for having the widest waterfall in Europe, though don't be expecting a mighty torrent cascading down a mountainside.
8. Ventspils - This busy port has done well for itself economically in the past two decades and as a result its historic centre has been spruced up considerably. The city draws summer visitors to nearby beaches and water parks, and the waterfront also features an outdoor maritime museum. The city's castle of the Livonian order also contains a fascinating museum on the history of the region.
9. Irbene Soviet radio telescope - For those interested in cold war history, this should be an essential stop. Once upon a time this was a Soviet radar station used to spy on western communications transmissions, and today it is used by Latvian astronomers to study the universe. Guided tours of the facility can be arranged, including the chance to climb up near the giant dish.
10. Liepaja - This coastal city is the third largest urban centre in Latvia and its central streets feature an array of art nouveau buildings. Latvians think of Liepaja as a great place to let their hair down and have a good time, and its series of summer events and music festivals are a popular draw with visitors from across the country. Stay for a night in the former KGB prison in the suburb of Karosta for an uncomfortable taste of reality tourism.
11. Ligatne Soviet nuclear bunker - This cold war site is found halfway between Sigulda and Cesis, and can be easily combined into a day trip to these towns from Riga. The bunker was intended to house the leaders of the Latvian communist party in the event of a nuclear attack, and today it has been preserved in its original appearance for visitors to see.
12. Salaspils - This World War Two concentration camp just outside Riga is a sombre reminder of the thousands of Jews who died here during the Nazi occupation.
13. Talsi - This tiny town is worth a brief stop on the way north towards Cape Kolka. The hills surrounding the town are a rarity in this part of the Baltics and add a backdrop to the set of cobbled streets and handful of historic houses.
14. Kemeri National Park - This park just west of Jurmala features small fishing villages with bog land and forests in the interior. It is best known for mud baths and mineral water treatments at the park's spa resort.
15. Tukums - A few kilometres from this small town in Kurzeme region is one of the country's most-visited attractions (at least by Latvians), a theme park historic town called "Cinevilla" which was constructed for a movie made in 2004.