The intrepid that venture beyond the comfort of the paved alleyways of Lviv, the bustling metro, Chernobyl or the capital’s restaurants in search of some of the country’s outermost villages and rural areas all agree on one thing: Ukraine sure has the power to surprise!
As with many destinations that fall of most package tourists’ radars, on the rare occasion that our minds take a momentary trip to a country like Ukraine, we manage to pull together little more than a single, vague, stereotype-laden image of what we would expect the scenery to look like. Yet, in reality, Europe’s largest country is brimming with contrasting landscapes and places that make you stop and think twice: ‘wait, that can’t be in Ukraine, right?’.
We’ve had a hard time choosing our favourite five. If you don’t believe your eyes or the coordinates – you’ll have to come and see for yourself...
Looking for a piece of Switzerland or Slovenia in Eastern Europe? Nestled in one of Ukraine’s smallest national parks, this mountain lake is known as the ‘Pearl of the Carpathians’. With crystal clear, peaceful waters, what makes this vast lake so beautiful is how dramatically it appears into view through the dense, evergreen trees. Whether you’re there to take a walk around the lake, share a feast on the pine cone-covered sands, put your feet into the water from the wooden pontoons or get the perfect shot of the reflections in the water, visitors love the omnipresent nature- trees, water, birds and mountains everywhere you look!
Legend says that the lake was filled by thousands of tears shed by a bereaved lover. The tiny island in the middle of the lake is said to represent the lady’s tearful eye. Yet this is just one of the many stories told over many generations about this hidden, highly protected treasure – some of which are represented in carvings throughout the park.
Don’t be dissuaded from visiting the lake in the winter – the snow-covered trees make it just as magical as in the summer!
If we told you Ukraine has lakes this beautiful and picture perfect, we could probably convince you. However, if we told you Ukraine had a desert? Probably not. Well, Ukraine has Europe’s one and only desert.
The Oleshky sands cover a vast area in the south of Ukraine, situated just inland from Dniepr estuary on the Black Sea coast. The desert is dramatically unexpected, compared to the areas that surround it, and offer the visitor endless views over rippling, golden sand dunes of up to 6 metres and interspersed with pine tree-lined oases, mineral lakes and lush green, fine grass. Particularly beautiful is simply watching the sunset from the top of a dune, giving the impression that you’re surrounded by all different shades of orange and no other colour!
Yet, what makes the desert unique is how it was formed by over-zealous sheep with huge appetites and strong winds. So strong in fact, that trees were planted around the natural reserve to stop the sand storms from reaching nearby Kherson and to prevent the desert from growing in size even more!
Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery
Of course, no article about Ukraine would be complete without a church or a monastery, right? The famous Pechersk Lavra ‘super monastery’ complex in Kyiv is far from being the only one of its kind in this primarily orthodox country. But what makes the Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery so special is its picturesque hillside setting with undisturbed views for all around.
The gold and blue onion-domed monastery is the jewel in the crown of the Sviatohirsk National Park is the Donetsk Oblast of Eastern Ukraine. The lush green hillside into which the monastery was constructed in the 16th century is so steep that it looks like its many white walls and copper blue roofs have always been there and have grown to become a natural part of the surrounding nature.
With doors, passageways and entire chapels burrowed into the chalk cliffs above the bottle green river and traditional monks still dwelling permanently there, it feels almost Hobbiton-like. Filmworthy!
Another lake? Yes! But this one has earned its place in the list for very different reasons to Synevyr! Actually, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Whereas Synevyr is known for its clear waters and abundant wildlife, this lake is often referred to as the ‘Dead Sea’ of Ukraine with high salt content and its flaming pink (yes, pink!) appearance!
Just like the Dead Sea, this lake is visited for much more than its strange colour. The lake is located in a completely open expanse of land with clear views all around with the exception of a few salt-encrusted rocks and tree stumps. This barren landscape is unique in Ukraine and is particularly popular amongst photographers as any photo of the lake gives the impression the world is cut in two: pink water and blue sky with just a slither of green land between the two.
Of course, the colour is due to algae living in the salty, often shallow waters- but don’t let that put you off…the salt has great medicinal and therapeutic uses and salt from the lake is often dried and sold internationally!
Tunnel of Love
Who would have thought that an industrial railway could be romantic? Well, this part of track in the town of Klevan is so romantic it has hotels and photographers just for people visiting it!
This narrow, single track is completely covered by a naturally-occurring tunnel of trees and leaves. The green corridor, around 3km in length, is a favourite amongst romantics and newlyweds for romantic walks, Instagram-worthy photos and a place to make lovers’ wishes for the future. It is believed the two sides of trees intertwined to form a roof out of love for one another and a need to become one – giving the place its name and its particularly sensual feel.
What makes this place so special is just how rare this natural tunnel effect is, with only a few examples in the whole world! Visit in all seasons and see how the tunnel changes but stays just as romantic. Be careful though when taking selfies with your other half, the train still squeezes its way through the tunnel 3 times a day!