Explore hidden gems in Ukrainian Carpathians
BY ALISA MALA Think of the Carpathians, and chances are that two things will come to mind first: Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest mountain, and Bukovel, the famous ski resort.
But there’s a lot more to Ukraine’s western mountain range than just these familiar landmarks. Off the beaten path there are some hidden gems that even some Ukrainians have never heard of, including enchanting forest paths, breathtaking mountain views, mysterious petroglyphs, ancient monasteries, bubbling streams and tumbling waterfalls.
A good jumping-off point for a tour of the Carpathians is the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city of 223,000 people 600 kilometers west of Kyiv and easily accessible by plane, train or automobile.
Sitting in the plains about 40 kilometers to the northeast of the foothills of the Carpathians, Ivano-Frankivsk is a lively, bustling oblast center, famous for its exquisite churches and winding streets. Established in the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and flourishing under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the city has a charming Central European ambiance akin to that of the larger Lviv to the north.
Here, sitting at one of the cafes that dot the central Rynok Square, dominated by the striking Art Deco Ratushka town hall, built in the 1920s when the city was under the Second Polish Republic, one can plan a tour of the mountains.
These are the Kyiv Post’s suggestions for such a trip.
The village of Manyava is a wor- thy first stop on a trip to the Carpathians. It stands on the banks of the Manyavka River — a perfect place for a cooling dip on a hot summer’s day.
The main attraction is the Orthodox Christian monastery, Manyava Skete, which is owned by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and is also known as the Ukrainian Athos. Built in the early 17th century, it has a mix of stone and wooden buildings. Entrance is free, while a tour costs just Hr 10. The monastery hit the headlines in Ukraine due to its allegedly “weeping” icon of the Virgin Mary, which is said to have dripped myrrh in 2004 and again in 2012.
Near to the monastery is the Blazhenny Kamin, which means “blessed rock” in Ukrainian. Standing under it and reaching up to touch it with both hands, one can ask god to forgive one’s sins. Many claim to feel happier and renewed afterward.
A nearby restaurant, Monastyrska Trapezna (or the Monastery Refectory) serves a vegetarian borscht, gnocchi, coleslaw, uzvar, and wine.
Also nearby is the Manyavskiy Waterfall, the largest and most beautiful waterfall in the Carpathians. Set in a spectacular gorge cut by the Manyvka River over millions of years, the waterfall is surrounded by greenery, and has a fairy tale look.
Manyava is located an hour’s drive southwest of Ivano-Frankivsk: Head first south along the H09, then turn west onto the P38.
Vorokhta is a village located near
Hoverla, the tallest mountain in Ukraine at 2,061 meters, but it also offers easier hikes along the banks of the Prut River and through the forests of the Carpathian National Nature Park, located to the south. A Ukrainian folk song compares the Carpathian Mountains to a crown, with the village of Vorokhta being a pearl in that crown. Indeed, the village feels like a precious gem in the fresh morning sunrises over the mountains, and when sunset casts soft light and shadows into the valleys.
Vorokhta is also rich in the Hutsul culture, typified by the willingness of locals to stop at any request, their hospitality, and their desire to share their love of the region by telling stories.
To reach Vorokhta, drive south from Ivano-Frankivsk on the H09, then take a left turn at the fork in the middle of the village of Tatariv.
This steep, rocky, 1,542-meter-high mountain, which has slopes close to 50-degree angles near its peak, rewards those who follow the serpentine path to its top with incredible views. On reaching the summit, it is common for people to sit by the rocky pedestal of the statue of the Virgin Mary that crowns the mountain to eat and enjoy the panoramic view of surrounding towns, mountains and meadows.
The name of the mountain is literally “The Hamster.” It may have come from a landowner of that last name, or perhaps is named after hamster-like creatures that used to inhabit it. However, the most popular opinion is that people, having hiked up, start to “homyachyty,” which is a Ukrainian slang word for “hungrily consume food.”
The hike begins at the roadside in the village of Tatariv, a one-anda-half-hour drive south from IvanoFrankivsk on the H09.
This town in Zakarpattya Oblast, located near the Ukrainian-Romanian border, has an exotic feel. The markets are full of Middle-Eastern spices and delicacies, and a very unusual Ukrainian dialect can be heard spoken among the traders.
The town’s landmarks include Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and it is one of the contenders to be the geographical center of Europe (along with the nearby town of Dilove). It features a large Musey-Kolyba, or a museum-restaurant, and its lively open-air markets contrast with surrounding tranquil shadowy streets. A center of the Hutsul culture, Rakhiv is also Ukraine’s highest city, at 430 meters above sea level.
Rakhiv can be reached by driving southward on the H09 for two-and-ahalf hours from Ivano-Frankivsk.
The blueberry-strewn route to Pysanyi Kamin ( Inscribed Rock) an outcrop of rocks which offers a broad view of rolling hillsides and far-away mountains, is one of the most pleasant and scenic hikes in the region.
Many tourists assume that the destination point gets its name because the boulder is entirely covered in writing and drawings. However, local legends say that centuries earlier, this land was occupied by a tribe of giants, and as its leader was dying, an enormous boulder was set up to commemorate his life. The top of the boulder has small, water-filled wells that are said to never dry out. Moreover, disturbing these wells is said to bring a change to the weather, and bring misfortune on oneself. The markings carved in the rocks near these wells are what make this boulder pysanyi, or inscribed. The inscriptions are thought to date from Kyivan Rus times, in the 10th century.
The starting point of the hike is in the village of Bukovets, a two-hour drive from Ivano-Frankivsk: Drive south on the T0906, then turn east onto the H10, and then turn south onto the P24.
The 2,022-meter Pip-Ivan Mountain usually only sees only a handful of groups attempting to reach its peak each year, compared to the thousands of tourists who tramp up Hoverla Mountain each day. The hike features extreme winds and steep spots with 45–50-degree slopes, but more daunting is the sheer length of the hike — 15 kilometers from the start of the trail, to the peak of the mountain, and then back again to the start. The hike takes an entire day, and that’s only if hikers keep stops to a minimum.
On the other hand, the long route offers some of the most scenic sights in the entire Carpathians. The White Elephant observatory on top of the mountain offers a 360-degree view for hundreds of miles around, and the satisfying fatigue of the hike are worth it. Euphoria on reaching the top, and giddiness from exposure to the purest Carpathian air, are also the reward.
The starting point of the hike is in the village of Dilove, a three-hour drive south on the H09 from IvanoFrankivsk.
Pip Ivan is a 1,938-meter mountain peak in the Carpathian Mountains located in Dzembronia village, Ivano-Frankivska Oblast near the Romanian border. (Ukrafoto)