Tourists and Orthodox pilgrims alike flock to the Lavra. It’s easy to see why the tourists come. Set on 28 hectares of grassy hills above the Dnipro River, the monastery’s tight cluster of gold-domed churches is a feast for the eyes, the hoard of Scythian gold rivals that of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and the underground labyrinths lined with mummified monks are exotic and intriguing.


Clipping the country’s southwest corner, the Carpathian arc has endowed Ukraine with a crinkled region of forested hills and fast-flowing rivers that feel a continent away from the flatness of the steppe. This is the land of the Hutsuls, whose colourful folk culture is laced through thin villages stretching languidly along wide valley floors, whizzing past roadside chapels.
The ‘Hutsulshchyna’ may be Ukraine’s epicentre of rural folk culture, but this is also a leading holiday spot. The local peaks have been a long-term hit with Ukrainian hikers and skiers; the Carpathian National Nature Park, the country’s biggest, lies in this region; and within the park’s boundaries rises Mt Hoverla – Ukraine’s highest peak at 2061m. It’s also home to Bukovel, Ukraine’s glitziest ski resort.


If you’ve done time in any other region of Ukraine, Lviv will come as shock. Mysterious and architecturally lovely, this Unesco World Heritage Site is the country’s least Soviet and exudes the same authentic Central European charm as pre-tourism Prague or Kraków once did. Its quaint cobbles, bean-perfumed coffeehouses and rattling trams are a continent away from the post-Soviet badlands to the east. It’s also a place where the candle of Ukrainian national identity burns brightest and where Russian is definitely a minority language.
But the secret is out about Lviv, and those who foresaw a decade ago that the city would become Ukraine’s premier tourist attraction are watching their prediction come true. No other place in the country is more geared up for visitors and no other attracts so many of them.


According to legend a man walked up the hill, erected a cross and prophesied: ‘A great city will stand on this spot’. That man was the Apostle Andrew, hence the name of Kyiv’s quaintest thoroughfare, a steep cobbled street that winds its way up from Kontraktova pl to vul Volodymyrska. Its vague Monparnasse feel has attracted Ukraine’s lowbrow rich, but despite gentrification it still retains an atmosphere unique for Kyiv as well as its multiple stalls selling junk souvenirs and dubious art.


Kamyanets-Podilsky is the sort of place that has writers lunging for their thesauruses in search of superlatives. Even words like ‘dramatic’, ‘stunning’ and ‘breathtaking’ just will not do. Like the Swiss capital of Bern, or Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic, the town is located where a sharp loop in a river has formed a natural moat. However, Kamyanets-Podilsky is much wilder and less commercial than these other places, and attracts a fraction of their visitor numbers. The wide tree-lined Smotrych River canyon is 40m to 50m deep, leaving the 11th-century Old Town standing clearly apart on a tall, sheer-walled rock ‘island’. According to an oft-told legend, when the Turkish Sultan Osman arrived to attack the town in 1621, he asked one of his generals, ‘Who has built such a mighty town?’ ‘Allah’, came the reply, to which the Sultan responded, ‘Then let Allah himself conquer it’, and bid a hasty retreat.


Ukraine is dotted with ‘open-air’ museums like this, full of life-size models of different rustic buildings. However, the Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture, 12km south of Kyiv, is one of the most fun and best maintained. Two things make it stand out. Firstly, the quaint 17th- to 20th-century wooden churches, cottages, farmsteads and windmills are divided into seven ‘villages’ representing regional areas of Ukraine. So in just one long afternoon you can journey from the architecture of eastern to western to southern Ukraine.

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