Belarus - Forgotten Europe
Belarus - Forgotten Europe
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 Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, 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.
Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●○○○
- Staying as a guest of a local family
- Mir Castle
- Brest Fortress
- Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotels and homestay
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Minsk
End Point: Minsk
Transport: Minibuses or Mercedes Sprinters
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, the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, 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 – Vitebsk
We start today by travelling to Khatyn to learn about Belarus recent history. Later we travel to the charming town of Vitebsk, a centre of Belarusian culture and with numerous churches and historic buildings which we shall explore on a walking tour. Overnight Hotel Luchesa or similar. (BL)
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.
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.
Day 4 – Disna
Today 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 and experience national music and dance. We will stay overnight in either Disna, Yazno village or Uznyony village (BLD)
Day 5 – Polotsk
This morning 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. We arrive in to Minsk in the late afternoon. Overnight Hotel Planeta 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 6 – Mir Fortress - Brest
We set off for Brest this morning but stop on the way to visit one of the country’s most important, as well as beautiful, sites – the stunning 16th century fortress at Mir – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later we continue to Brest, situated on the border with Poland. Overnight Hotel Vesta 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.
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 7 – Brest
We take a tour of the Brest’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. After lunch you will have time at leisure to explore Brest in more detail. Overnight Hotel Vesta or similar. (BL)
Day 8 – Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
This morning we travel into the wild to the UNESCO world heritage site of Belovezhskaya National Park, one of the largest forested areas in Central Europe. You will experience some of the most picturesque places in the park and appreciate the splendour of this wilderness. We stay overnight in the park. Overnight Hotel Kamenjuki or similar. (BL)
Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
First established as a national park in 1939, this wilderness area has existed since the middle ages. It entered the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1992 and gained Biosphere Reserve status in 1993. The park contains primeval forest and stretches across the border into Poland. The park is home to 212 species of bird and 59 species of mammal, including the iconic bison. Several hundred are known to inhabit the park after becoming almost extinct in the early 1900’s.
Day 9 – Nesvizh – Minsk
This morning we travel to Nesvizh. We will have a short city tour and lunch and then this afternoon visit Radzivills Palace with its beautiful buildings, palaces, monasteries and 16th Century houses. After the visit we will return to Minsk for the night. Overnight Hotel Planeta or similar (BL)
Day 10 – Depart Minsk
Tour ends with a transfer to the airport.
Arrival and departure transfers
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