Belarus - Forgotten Europe
Belarus - Forgotten EuropeStyle: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 9 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers
Belarus is an enigma, a corner of Europe that few have heard about and even fewer have visited. With only tiny numbers of travellers crossing the borders from better known Ukraine or Poland, Belarus has remained well out of the spotlight of international tourism, its secrets remaining hidden, its cities seldom visited and its countryside little explored. Too often associated with Soviet monotony, Belarus is slowly starting to reveal its subtle charms to the outside world. On this short tour we take in the best of its cities, from the sleepy capital Minsk with its fine churches and imposing Soviet architecture to elegant Vitebsk, laden with history and atmosphere. We also visit the fortresses at Brest and Mir as well as the historic town of Njasvizh, packed full of 16th century buildings. Delving into the more recent past we visit Khatyn, monument to the suffering endured by Belarus during the Second World War and essential for an understanding of this land. We also spend time exploring the charming Belarusian countryside – one of the last wildernesses of Europe – in the Braslau Lakes, with wildlife that has long since disappeared from the rest of the continent, and we stay in local homes in Disna to gain a real insight into daily life. Through it all we meet the people of Belarus, exuberant, resilient and welcoming. Join us to explore the furthest reaches of Europe and be charmed by this fascinating land.
Day 1 – Minsk
Arrive in Minsk and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar.
Minsk is a fascinating city and almost unique in Europe. Although it has existed for almost a millennium, gaining prominence due to its position on the strategic trading route between the Black and Baltic Seas, it was almost destroyed during the Second World War. Most buildings were obliterated as Belarus was occupied by Nazi Germany, but since then it has been reconstructed in the typical Soviet style. Presenting almost a blank slate for designers, it represents one of the best examples of Soviet planning to be found, and although things are starting to change now it has very much retained this flavour, giving a glimpse into a way of life that has largely disappeared from elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain. As yet it has largely resisted the onslaught of western commercialism, making it an intriguing place to explore. With a number of pleasant parks and wide boulevards, Minsk is a good place just to wander around, taking in its monuments to fallen heroes and visiting its old churches.
Day 2 – Minsk
This morning we explore some of the key sights of Minsk on a guided tour. We visit Independence Square with its collection of Stalinist buildings, Victory Square and the Island of Tears, a monument to the fallen soldiers in the Soviet campaign against Afghanistan, as well as the old town. The afternoon is free to explore – Minsk has several impressive churches and cathedrals that are well worth visiting. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar. (BL)
Day 3 – Khatyn - Vitebsk
Leaving Minsk we visit first the memorial complex at Khatyn to learn about Belarus’ tragic recent history, before continuing to the charming town of Vitebsk, a centre of Belarusian culture and with numerous churches and historic buildings. Overnight Hotel Eridan or similar. (BL)
A visit to Khatyn memorial complex may not be the easiest thing that you do, but one cannot truly understand Belarus without making it here. Khatyn was the site of one of the worst massacres in Belarus in the Second World War, when Nazi forces destroyed an entire village, burning almost all inhabitants alive in the barn as reprisal for supposed collusion in anti-Nazi resistance. Many Belarusian villages suffered similar fates, and the memorial here is a testament to the suffering that ordinary people went through during these terrible times.
The city of Vitebsk dates back to the 11th century, although local legend puts it even earlier. Its position between Lithuania and Russia has meant that it has been invaded and occupied many times, belonging to both powers at various times throughout history. Within Belarus it is noted as a centre of fine culture, being the home of the surrealist painter Marc Chagall, as well as many others. Vitebsk contains some impressive churches and historic buildings, and retains a slightly more cosmopolitan air than many other cities in Belarus.
Day 4 – Vitebsk – Polotsk
In the morning we explore Vitebsk, walking through the old town and visiting the house of the famous surrealist painter Marc Chagall. Later we depart for Polotsk, one of the most historically important cities in Belarus. We visit the charming cathedral of St Sophia, dating back to the 11th century, as well as the 12th century Convent of St Ephrosinia, superbly preserved and with impressive frescoes. Overnight Hotel Dvina or similar. (BL)
Polotsk is seen as the spiritual heart of Belarus, due to its once dominant position in the region, and is one of the oldest Slavic cities, packed full of history. The city is home to numerous important churches, some of which date back to the 11th century and are still very much in use today. It is still possible to see the 16th century fortifications built by Ivan the Terrible, and there are several old buildings of various architectural styles, including baroque cathedrals and wooden churches as well as museums and monuments which reward exploration.
Day 5 – Polotsk – Disna
A free morning in Polotsk to explore the town further. In the afternoon we transfer to the small town of Disna. We spend time meeting local people, learn about the old customs and crafts that are still practised here and explore the surrounding area for a real insight into rural Belarus – a real highlight of the trip. We stay overnight as guests of local families in their homes and have the opportunity to sample home cooked Belarusian dishes. (BL)
Day 6 – Braslau Lakes National Park - Minsk
We drive to the Braslau Lakes National Park, a stunning area of forest, lakes, rivers, streams and hills with a wide array of wildlife including elk and wolves. Explore the park and walk up the ‘Lighthouse Mountain’ for a panoramic view over the lakes, before returning to Minsk for the night. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar. (BL)
Day 7 – Mir Fortress – Njasvizh - Brest
Visit two of the country’s most important, as well as beautiful, sites – the stunning 16th century fortress at Mir – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and the historical settlement at Njasvizh, home to many of its original buildings, including palaces, monasteries and 16th century houses. Later we head to Brest, situated on the border with Poland. Overnight Hotel Intourist or similar. (BL)
Mir Fortress looks like something from a fairytale, dramatically situated next to a lake and with white plasterwork a striking contrast to red brick towers and roofs. The fortress was built over a number of years, beginning in the 16th century, and various additions to it have been made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. It played a significant part in the Second World War when Russian and German forces fought nearby. The fortress is great fun to explore, full of winding staircases and with great views from its towers over the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Day 8 – Brest - Minsk
We take a tour of the city’s main sites including the imposing fortress, which played a significant part in the Second World War and is an important site in Belarusian history. Later we return to Minsk for the night. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar. (BL)
Pushed up against the border with Poland, Brest feels slightly less Belarusian, and more western, than other cities. The city is rich in culture, with numerous influences making their mark felt here, from Orthodox to Russian to Polish, and like many other cities has a fine collection of churches – St Simeon’s Cathedral is particularly beautiful. But Brest’s main centre of interest is its fortress, dating back to the 19th century. The fortress was home in the Second World War to a regiment of Soviet forces who defended it against the onslaught of Nazi troops invading the region, and although they were eventually killed after a long siege they became renowned as heroes within the Soviet Union. Today the fortress stands as a reminder of Belarus’s troubled past and the resilience of its spirit, and contains numerous monuments dedicated to the history of that period. Like Khatyn, Brest Fortress gives an insight into the psyche of Belarus today and is invaluable in understanding the nation.
Day 9 – Minsk
Tour ends. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation on twin share basis
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes
Please note that you should also read the Country Notes in association with this itinerary for practical information about your trip and the destination you will be visiting. The itinerary and supplementary information has been compiled with care and provided in good faith. However it may be subject to change, and does not form part of a contract between the client and Undiscovered Destinations.