One of my travel highlights last year was visiting Ukraine for the first time. Thanks to Cobblestone Freeway Tours who kindly hosted me, I got to see the very best of Ukraine. The sights were absolutely stunning, the people were so welcoming, and the fascinating history really blew me away. I loved exploring cities such as Lviv, Chernivtsi and Kiev, but also enjoyed getting out of the city centers and exploring the beautiful and tranquil scenery of this special country. My journey through the Carpathian Mountains was a memorable one and here are my favorite highlights!
The Carpathian Mountains are the second longest mountain range in Europe that stretch across 7 countries, one of them being Ukraine! My diverse tour with Cobblestone allowed me to breathe in the fresh air of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains and enjoy natural beauty, traditional villages, and experience a lifestyle that has remained unchanged for centuries.
Our first stop was Kolomyia, a quaint mountain town where you can visit two incredible museums. We started off at the Hutsul Enthography Museum to learn all about the ethnic group who resides throughout the Carpathian Mountains. In this museum, we admired Hutsul costumes, arts, crafts, musical instruments, tools, and other village life objects. The collection houses more than 50,000 pieces that perfectly document the history and folk culture of the Hutsul’s. It was a great introduction to the life in this lovely region.
However, the main star of Kolomyia is the Pysanka Museum which is an impressive collection of intricately decorated Easter Eggs from around the world. The word ‘pysanka’ in Ukranian translates to Easter Egg and it’s the only museum in the world dedicated to them. It was opened in 2000 to celebrate the 10th International Hutsul Festival and after being recognized as a landmark of modern Ukraine in 2007, visitors from near and far have flocked to see its collection. The museum itself is shaped like an Easter egg and even parts of the inside are painted to resemble one. I found each and every one of the 10,000 pysanky’s to be unique and beautifully detailed.
As far as stunning natural landscape, I was blown away by what Ukraine has to offer. In a village called Yaremche in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, we were given time to browse and shop in a traditional Ukrainian market. The locals were so extremely dedicated, passionate, and talented with needlework. We saw the magnificence of the Probiy Waterfall located on the Prut River. At 26 feet high, it is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the Ukraine. It is full-flowing and a very popular place for locals to kayak and river raft.
I was very lucky to visit in the springtime where everything was lush, green, and blooming. While driving to and from destinations, we often pulled over to take in and capture the spring scenery. One afternoon, while we were driving through the countryside to Bukovel in the mountains (one of the Ukraine’s best resorts, especially for skiing), we stumbled upon the most fabulous fields. They were filled with bright yellow, canola flowers (used to make Canola Oil) and I couldn’t resist frolicking in them. I felt like Julie Andrew’s in the Sound of Music!
Bukovel is the largest ski resort in Ukraine. It meets all of the high European standards for skiing and is very impressive. Being the spring season, there was no snow on the ground but we excitedly rode the chair lift up to the top and had a guided tour of the mountain. Taking in the stunning views from that height was definitely a memorable moment. For those adventure seekers in our group, they opted to ride the zip-line roller coaster and hike down the mountain which is another great option!
In the village of Kryvorivnia, where you can see traditional Hutsul homes from the 1800’s, we visited an authentic Hutsul church and the Hutsul Grazhda Museum. We were surrounded by beautiful natural landscape and it was such an authentic and serene part of the country that I felt very fortunate to visit.
During our visit, we had the pleasure of touring the Hutsul Grazhda Museum. The Grazhda was built in 1995 and represents a typical Hutsul mansion with its shape being similar to a fortress. This shape obviously helps protect from predators but also strong winds. We learned that Hutsul huts were never located close to each other, but instead spaced out in the mountains around the villages.
One of my favorite aspects of exploring these ancient mountains was meeting numerous talented artisans and craftsmen in the many villages and towns we visited. While in Kosiv, which is considered to be the arts capital of the Hutsul region, we visited the Arts College. Here we saw firsthand what local craftsmen produce, including pottery, woodcarving, Easter Eggs, woolen blankets, embroidery and so much more!
After visiting the Arts College, we drove to a nearby village call Babyn to visit the home of Bohdan Petrechuk who is a renowned collector of Hutsul costumes. He explained some of the history behind the costumes and needle work, and some of us had the opportunity to actually try on the costumes! It was a fun opportunity to learn and engage.
After learning so much throughout the week about Hutsul traditions, we actually got to participate in one! An unforgettable experience here was not only watching part of their church’s mass, but also participating in a traditional Hutsul wedding! The wedding mesmerizes with its old traditions of respect, wisdom and never-ending fun. The bride and groom are dressed in traditional wedding outfits and all guests come to the celebration in traditional embroidered clothes of their region. A skilled woman crafts special head bands for both the bride and groom. We watched how they dressed the couple in a very festive traditional outfits, while decorating the wedding tree.
When everyone is ready, the procession continues to the village church. The couple rides there on a horse decorated for this festive occasion. When the official ceremony in the church is over, everyone is invited to enjoy the celebration with a festive meal.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is being able to learn and embrace different cultures. Thanks to Cobblestone Freeway Tours, I not only saw the very best of the Ukraine and Carpathian Mountains, but I also connected with the locals and experienced firsthand their ancient and most meaningful traditions.
I loved visiting the Ukraine and enjoyed my experience with Cobblestone Freeway Tours so much that I will be returning next May and will be planning an incredible itinerary with them! This is a collaboration I am so looking forward to and I would love for anyone interested to join us on the trip. If this is something you want to learn more about, please visit their Contact page and get in touch!