Belarus is a country full of intrigue, with a noticeably Soviet feel thanks to its distinctive Brutalist architecture. In stark contrast explore the flora and fauna in the Berezinsky National Park. This trip appeals to those looking to discover a different side to Europe. Minsk - Explore the Belarusian capital and uncover its Soviet history and unique Brazilian-Belarusian fusion street art Castles - Admire the grandeur of the UNESCO-Listed Mir Castle, Brest Fortress and Nesvizh Castle Vitebsk - See one of Belarus's most historic and attractive towns and learn about the artist Marc Chagall
Arrive in Minsk. This exciting 10-day adventure to Belarus begins in the capital city. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 8.30pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Minsk at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Minsk National Airport (MSQ), which is around one hours' drive. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to get a taste of the city and to sample Belarusian cuisine. Popular dishes include machanka, a hearty pork stew, and draniki, which are thick potato pancakes. For an after dinner tipple try Krambambula, a traditional Belarusian liquor, which is similar to mead and flavoured with spices and honey. On this trip we have packed in as many highlights of Minsk as we can, but there is very little free time in the city, so if you wish to spend some time discovering more on your own then we would recommend extending your stay for a night or two. Perhaps to visit the Azgur Museum which houses numerous sculptures from the Soviet era or relax in the serene surroundings of the Sendai Japanese Garden or there's the Minsk Botanical Gardens. Please note that many of Minsk's museums are closed on a Monday or Tuesday, so if you wish to visit a particular attraction then please check that it is open on the day you wish to visit it.
Accommodation: ,Hotel, Tourist
Minsk is a city with a long history, set on the banks of the Svislach River. Our guided tour this morning is going to focus on its more recent history, which has largely been dominated by Soviet rule that lasted from around 1920 to 1991. The city was almost entirely destroyed during World War II and its historic centre was replaced by Stalinist architecture with grand buildings, Brutalist statues, broad avenues and imposing squares. Victory Square is the most famous part of the city and features a memorial to the fallen heroes of World War II. During the tour there will be a brief visit to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is the centre piece in Victory Park. This huge museum has hundreds of exhibits and two of the most poignant rooms are the Hall of Glory that celebrates the heroes of the Soviet Union and the emotive memorial found in the Hall of Remembrance and Sorrow. This afternoon we board the metro for the city market to see the local residents out haggling for fresh fruit and vegetables that are on sale from nearby farms. You can see, and of course buy, a whole range of edible goodies here including meat, cheese, nuts, spices and more. Belarusian politics remains controversial with Alexander Lukashenko having ruled as president since 1994. During free time for lunch you might like to dine in the Parliament's House of Representatives canteen where you may be lucky enough to spot politicians having lunch. Next we drive to see Minsk's unusual Central Library building, with its unique architecture. In Minsk's industrial district we'll view the result of collaboration between Belarusian and Brazilian street artists that have injected some much needed colour and fun into the formerly grey and stark buildings. Old tower blocks, factories, trams and buses have been decorated with fanciful designs featuring animals, folklore creatures, cartoon people, geometrical patterns and more. After a full day exploring, the evening is free to relax in the city before returning by metro at a time of your choosing to the hotel. Maybe take a stroll through the Trinity Suburb, which is one of oldest and most picturesque areas. There a number of Stolle Restaurants in the city, which are famous for their variety of savoury and sweet pies that can either be eaten in or taken away. Just a few of the many pie fillings include meat and egg, salmon, lemon and cabbage. Please note that the Central Library can be closed at short notice due to events taking place and so we may be unable to go inside. The entrance to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War will be at a set time, so the order of places visited today may need to be changed to accommodate this. On our 8-May-20 departure date, today is Victory Day where they celebrate the end of the World War II. It's a great time to visit Minsk as there will be a fantastic atmosphere. There are normally parades and patriotic events taking place that we will hopefully be able to see during our sightseeing. There is also a salute in the evening, which you may choose to watch during your free time. Most shops will be closed today, so we recommend visiting these on your arrival on day one if you wish to go shopping. It's also possible that some central streets will be closed to traffic.
Accommodation: Hotel Tourist
Leaving Minsk this morning the first stop will be in the emotive village of Khatyn. Back in 1943 sadly nearly the entire population of the village was killed with just eight people managing to escape before all the houses were set alight. Today there is a memorial here that includes the Cemetery of Villages with 185 grave markers - each symbolises a village in Belarus where a similar tragedy occurred during World War II. Driving on to Polotsk, which is a cultural gem and one of the oldest Slavic towns in the region. Tracing its origins back to the 9th century, the town is home to no fewer than 130 historical and cultural monuments, including the 11th century Cathedral of Saint Sophia. A local guide takes us around the main sites before we visit the Saint Euphrosyne Monastery, where a nun will show us around. This ancient church is home to a convent and is dedicated to a female saint. A mystery of the church is around the Cross of Euphrosyne of Polotsk which vanished in 1941 and hasn't been seen since. Arriving in the picturesque city of Vitebsk later this afternoon the evening is free to have dinner and settle in to the hotel. The thriving city of Vitebsk straddles the waters of the mighty Dvina River, close to Belarus's border with neighbouring Russia and it's known to be one of the prettiest cities in the country.
Accommodation: Hotel Luchesa
This morning a local guide takes us on a walk to view Vitebsk's main attractions including the Uspensky Cathedral which sits on a hilltop overlooking the river, the pointed spires of the Three Bayonets Memorial Complex in the vast Victory Square, and the ornate City Hall building. In the warmer months, the city parks and squares are home to numerous fountains and the riverbanks are a pleasant location to take a stroll. In places the architecture of the city is Soviet in style with wide roads that trams and trolley buses run along and imposing squares with Brutalist monuments, but the city is also home to far older architecture with a number of white churches topped with golden onion domes. The city is the birthplace of Marc Chagall, one of the most renowned painters of the 20th century, and we will visit his former home, which now houses the Chagall Museum. This afternoon is free to explore the city and for those that are art lovers, perhaps to visit the Chagall Art Gallery. Chagall was of born into a Jewish family in Vitebsk and spent a few years painting in Paris before ending up in Russia at the outbreak of World War I and finally settling back in Vitebsk at the end of the war. He was an early modernist painter and his artwork is colourful with some pieces featuring cubist and impressionist styles.
Accommodation: Hotel Luchesa
Location: Biarezinski Biosphere Reserve
This morning we drive to Berezinsky National Park, one of the largest areas of marshland left in Europe. A haven for an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, including over 50 species of mammal and an impressive list of over 200 different birds. If extremely lucky then it's possible to spot beavers, red deer, elk, bison, brown bears, wolves and lynx that all live in the forest. We go hiking in one of the most pristine environments in the country. The walk covers around three and a half kilometres. There is the opportunity to continue the hike (the full day hike is for around seven and half kilometres in total). The hiking is graded as Easy as the terrain is mostly flat and through areas of forest and marshland. It can be wet or muddy in places depending on the weather, so we'd recommend bringing a spare pair of socks and a change of shoes today, just in case your feet get wet. The hotel for this evening is inside the national park and where we will have dinner together this evening.
Accommodation: Hotel Serguch
Today there is quite a bit of distance to cover and so it is one of our longer driving days (spending about seven hours driving in total). Leaving Berezinsky this morning for Hrodna, after a couple of hours driving we take a break on the banks of Lake Naroch, the largest lake in Belarus. Covering nearly 80 square kilometres, the lake is home to pike, perch, eel and tench and is an ideal spot to stop for a snack and to admire the view. The next visit is to Ales Los Farm, created by a popular Belarusian musician and artist called Ales Los. Here see how his passion for folk music and folklore meets nature and be introduced to his collection of traditional musical instruments, almost forgotten folk songs and dances, and handcrafts. All of which formed an important part of old-time Belarusian culture that were almost totally erased during the Soviet years. From here, we will make a brief stop in the Naliboksky Forest to stretch our legs and hopfully to spot the wild horses. We will continue to Hrodna where we should arrive in the late afternoon.
Accommodation: Hotel Neman
Home to one of the largest Catholic populations in the country, Hrodna is filled with a wonderful collection of medieval and Baroque architecture, including the impressive Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier and the unique Church of Saints Boris and Gleb; the only surviving example of Black Ruthenian architecture left in the area. A local guide this morning will show us the main sights including the Saint Basil's Cathedral - with its ornately decorated pink and white walls - it is definitely worth seeing. We also take a stroll along Sovetskaya Street, which is the heart of the city, go to the old Jesuit Pharmacy which now houses a museum, and the fire lookout tower, which was built in 1900 on the highest point in the city and is as tall as an eight storey building. Leaving Hrodna this afternoon we make a stop to view the restored eastern section of the 19th century Augustow Canal and take a short boat ride along the waters to relax and see it from a different perspective. Driving on to Brest we'll take a guided walking tour of the downtown area including the main Sovetskaya Street, the aptly named Lantern Light Boulevard, and one of the most important Catholic churches in Belarus, the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. After seeing the sights we check-in to the hotel and have the evening free to explore.
Accommodation: Hotel Vesta
Today we see Belarus' three most famous and impressive castles. Firstly, we'll visit the 19th century red-bricked Brest Fortress, once the largest in the old Russian Empire. It was an infamous prison during the Soviet trials of the 1930s; this immense fortress went on to achieve lasting fame when it became a symbol of Soviet resistance during the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Next we drive to Mir Castle where we meet our local guide. Its red and white towers reflect in the surrounding water and protect an enclosed cobbled courtyard with a well in the centre. Creation of the fort began at the end of the 15th century and it is widely recognised as being one of the most splendid castles in Europe. It was reopened to the public in 2010 after being extensively restored to its former glories. Next we drive to the impressive Nesvizh Castle, which is also UNESCO-listed and has been home to the Radswill Family for over 400 years. The fortresses construction began in 1584, but it's been extended and changed over the years and now features a mix of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism and Neo-Gothic architecture. The estate also contains the largest landscape gardens in Europe and a number of ornamental lakes. On arrival we'll check-in to our rooms. After checking in to our rooms, we will have a guided tour this evening. Following this you are free to stroll through the castle park, which includes English and Japanese gardens as well as the native flora, and a number of monuments and memorials such as the Wishes Stone. Alternatively walk to Nesvizh town to see the 16th century Town Hall, old city gate and the Baroque church. There are also a number of restaurants within walking distance to choose from this evening. Please note that due to the availability of English speaking guides, the guided tour of Nesvizh Castle may take place on the morning of day nine instead of this evening.
Accommodation: Nesvizh Palace
On our way back towards Minsk we venture into the rural Valozhyn District to experience what life is like in the Belarusian countryside. Rosy Eco Village was created by several families who decided to escape hectic city life and get back to a more traditional lifestyle where they live off the land and reconnect with nature by farming their own food. This type of settlement and country lifestyle used to be common, but was mostly lost during the many years of urbanization in Soviet Belarus. Now in this village there are 40 self-sufficient homesteads on five acres of land with cattle farms, fruit and vegetable plots, and gardens. We'll be introduced to the eco village concept by the families living here and get the chance to sample their organic tea, homemade bread, honey, and other delicacies. After having lunch in a tavern at Martinova Gus we head to Dududki Open Air Museum. Here at this ethnographic museum we can see more traditional Belarusian crafts and historic buildings on display. They have everything from a creamery and pottery to antique cars and wooden windmills. Whilst here we'll get to taste the strong samogonka vodka which they brew on the site using traditional methods. Tonight is for free in Minsk.
Accommodation: Hotel Tourist
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Minsk. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Minsk at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Minsk National Airport (MSQ), which is around one hours' drive.
You will have the option to book your own flights independently with the operator.
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