Along Soviet Fringes

Belarus | Moldova | Ukraine

Culture | Silk Road

Delve into the diversity of Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova

14 days £2,795 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Russia’s shadow still looms over present-day Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, though each has begun to find its own path after breaking with the Soviet Union. Often overlooked by travellers, these lands boast distinct cultures, complex and fascinating histories, unspoiled landscapes and warm hospitality. Experience Minsk's easy charm and the UNESCO listed Mir Castle in Belarus. Explore the contrasting historic cities of Lviv and Kiev and the controversial Chernobyl in Ukraine. Finally sample Moldova's finest wines and discover the break-away Soviet sub-state of Transnistria in Moldova.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Historical centre of Minsk
  • Charming town and palace of Neswizh
  • Rich diversity of Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park
  • UNESCO-listed Brest Fortress
  • Tour Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
  • Remarkable history at the Museum of Strategic Missile Forces
  • Climb the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa
  • Vibrant Chisinau, Moldova's capital city
  • Cricova Winery, the world's largest underground cellar
  • Self-proclaimed republic of Transinistria

Places Visited

Minsk - Brest - Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park - Kiev - Chernobyl - Pripyat - Odessa - Chisinau - Trebujeni and Butuceni villages - Tiraspol - Transinistria

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary
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Day 1 : Minsk (Belarus)

On arrival at Minsk airport, you will be met by your local guide and later transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Minsk. 

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Minsk

Spend the morning sightseeing in Minsk, where you will see Independence Avenue and the Holy Spirit Cathedral. Later, visit the local Komarovka Market to sample local Soviet cuisine and make an excursion to the open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural life. Overnight in Minsk. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

As the capital city of Belarus, Minsk has steadily progressed from the image of grand-scale Soviet planning into a modern political and cultural centre of the country. With expansive boulevards, lush parks and a well-developed infrastructure, it showcases a wealth of dynamic cosmopolitan features. It is also rich in history with a number of outstanding ancient sights, though sadly many buildings were lost in the destruction of World War II.

Komarovka market is the largest marketplace in Minsk, where you will find everything from spices and flowers to crafts and artwork. This market is especially popular on the weekends and in the evenings with both locals and visitors alike, offering an authentic Minsk experience. 

The open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life focuses on the historical and authentic character of 19th and 20th century Belarusian settlements, from rural villages to homesteads. Folk architecture from different ethnic regions is showcased in carefully reconstructed models, including wooden churches, schools, public barns and smithies. The museum also exhibits a wide collection of various household, trade and handicraft items.

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Day 3 : Minsk - Poleskije Tradicii - Brest

Begin the day with a tour of Neswizh Palace. Continue on to Poleskije Tradicii. On arrival, explore the farmstead and speak with locals and have lunch. Continue to Brest and check-in to the hotel on arrival. Overnight in Brest. 

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

The traditional 'western gate' of Belarus, Brest is a calm city with a long and complex history. Owned by different countries throughout several periods, it finally became a part of modern Belarus following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. As a result, its culture has strong influences from central and eastern Europe. The famous Sovetskaya Street and its boulevards are perfect for promenading, whilst the city’s main attraction is the Brest fortress

The charming town of Neswizh is one of the oldest in Belarus. It is most famous for the magnificent Neswizh Palace, the former residence of the aristocratic Radzivili family. The estate showcases one of Europe's largest landscaped gardens as well as a 16th-century Farny Roman-Catholic Church. A blend of architectural styles is used within the palace, which once had around 170 rooms with a series of underground passages connecting it to the town's monasteries. After the family's expulsion in 1939 by the invading Red Army, the palace was used as a sanatorium and steadily fell into decline. After much restoration, the UNESCO-listed building is now open to the public, with more than 30 exhibition halls.

Visit and stay at the Poleskije Tradicii Farmstead (translated as Poleska Traditions), located in a small village where you can listen to tales of local life. You may also have the opportunity to experience traditional folk culture and sample local delicacies here.

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Day 4 : Brest - Belovezhskaya Pushcha - Brest

This morning you will have a city tour of Brest, including the Brest Fortress before heading to Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, visit the Museum of Nature and the Brest Museum of Railway Equipment. Overnight in Brest.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Brest Museum of Railway Equipment is a technical museum that is dedicated to the equipment of railway transport through many different periods of history. This open-air museum first opened in 2002, and includes exhibitions of locomotives from various eras - dating from pre-war generations to wartime and postwar generations. 

The traditional 'western gate' of Belarus, Brest is a calm city with a long and complex history. Owned by different countries throughout several periods, it finally became a part of modern Belarus following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. As a result, its culture has strong influences from central and eastern Europe. The famous Sovetskaya Street and its boulevards are perfect for promenading, whilst the city’s main attraction is the Brest fortress

The 19th-century UNESCO-listed Brest Fortress defended the country against the Nazis in WWII. Only a handful of men survived the attacks, but the heroism of the defenders inspired citizens all over the USSR. In 1965, the fortress gained the title of 'Hero-Fortress'. Today it is a war memorial complex and a great place of national grief and pride.

Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is one of the largest remaining parts of an immense primeval forest which once stretched across the European Plain. After suffering the effects of the Napoleonic and world wars, the land was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It is famous for ancient oak trees, some of which are more than 500 years old. In fact, the park recently celebrated its 600th anniversary! The park's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse, with almost 900 species of trees and flowers and around 200 bird species, including the eagle owl and white stork. There are also around 60 mammal species of mammals, including lynx, roaming elk and the European bison, a symbol of Belarus.

The Museum of Nature in Bialowieza Forest was created to teach visitors more about the historical and natural life of the National Reserve. The collection within the museum includes Russian iconography that dates back to the 16th century. Showrooms are dedicated to recreating the four seasons, which each depict the distinctive features of the local environment at various times of year. Whilst visitors can also learn about the life that was once led by forest dwellers. 

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Day 5 : Brest - Mir - Minsk - Kiev

This morning you will be transferred to Mir, a small town to the south-west of Minsk. You will visit the Mir Castle, an impressive architectural monument included on the list of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO,  before carrying on to Minsk. You will be transferred to the airport for your evening flight to Kiev. Overnight in Kiev. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Founded in the late 9th century, Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Europe that has played a pivotal role in Slavic civilisation and Orthadox Christianity. It is home to a myriad of architecturally important and historically significant monuments, some of which include the ornate St. Sophia Cathedral, St. Andrew's Church and the Golden Gates of Kiev. 

Mir is a small town located southwest of Minsk that is most famous for its fairy-tale Mir Castle, often referred to as the 'medieval flower'. It displays impressive architecture using a unique combination of styles, first built at the end of the 15th century in the Gothic style, before being extended and reconstructed in the Renaissance and then Baroque styles. This UNESCO-listed monument has an impressive residential history of aristocratic families, many of whom have left their mark in the history of Mir and Belarus as a whole.

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Day 6 : Kiev

After breakfast you will have a full day city tour on Kiev. During your tour you will visit St. Sophia Cathedral and Monastery Complex, St. Andrew's Church, The Golden Gates of Kiev and the famous Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Overnight in Kiev. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Founded in the late 9th century, Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Europe that has played a pivotal role in Slavic civilisation and Orthadox Christianity. It is home to a myriad of architecturally important and historically significant monuments, some of which include the ornate St. Sophia Cathedral, St. Andrew's Church and the Golden Gates of Kiev. 

The iconic St. Sophia Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Kiev and the first site in Ukraine to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was  built  during the 11th century by Prince Yaroslav the Wise to glorify Christianity and was named after the famous St. Sophia's Cathedral in Constantinople. The Cathedral is renowned for its ornate architecture and grand bell tower. Inside, visitors can also find remarkably well-preserved murals and artwork. 

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Day 7 : Mezhygirya - Chernobyl - Pripyat - Kiev

Take a day trip to Chernobyl and visit the Nuclear Power Station. Later, make a stop off at the town of ghost town of Pripyat. Transfer back to your hotel in Kiev. Overnight in Kiev. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Chernobyl lies within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and became famous after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986. Today it is a ghost town, although a few residents still live in Chernobyl, marking their doors with signs saying 'owner of this house lives here'. Regulations have since been put in place to limit the dangers of exposure and to mitigate any long-term consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. 

The town of Pripyat was initially built to house workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The residents of the town were evacuated following the infamous nuclear disaster of 1986 - where many were relocated to the city of Slavutych, that was built to replace Pripyat. Images of an eerie and long-abandoned Ferris wheel have become iconic of the abandoned city, which now stands as a ghost town within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

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Day 8 : Kiev - Mezhygirya

Begin the day with a tour of Mezhygirya Palace. Later, travel on to the Ukrainian Village Ethnographical Museum Complex. Overnight stay here. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Mezhihiriya Palace (also known as the "Museum of Corruption") was once home to the former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was forced to resign in 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity. Following this event, the Mezhihiriya residence opened to visitors as a modern-day palace, showcasing the luxurious presidential lifestyle. Set in 140 hectares, the palace required 2,000 staff and daily maintenance costs of $75,000 to upkeep the facilities, which include a yacht pier, tennis courts and a helicopter pad.

The Ethnographical Museum Complex 'Ukrainian Village' introduces visitors to the culture and life of Ukrainians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Exhibitions include ancient houses from different regions of Ukraine, along with the wooden Church of St. Demetrios. Visitors can choose to take traditional classes and learn skills such as pysanka writing, wood chopping or moonshine home brewing.

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Day 9 : Kiev - Odessa

Make your way to Odessa, stopping en route to spend the day at the Museum of Strategic Missile Forces. Continue your journey and check into your hotel upon arrival. Overnight in Odessa. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Museum of Strategic Rocket Forces is located near the Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk. Beginning in 1959, it posed as the divisional headquarters for the 46th Rocket Division during the Cold War, being home to many nuclear weapons and missiles. The Pervomaysk site remained in operation until 1997. Today, it remains almost exactly as it was, allowing visitors to tour the former secret USSR base. You can even sit in the seat of the missile launch control panel and simulate part of the missile launch procedure!

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Day 10 : Odessa

Spend the day touring the city of Odessa, highlights will include the Potemkin Stairs, Odessa Opera House and the Fine Art Museum. Later, visit the Odessa Catacombs. Overnight in Odessa. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Odessa, also known as the 'pearl of the Black Sea', is one of Ukraine's major port cities and transportation hubs. A key sight is the Fine Art Museum located in the former palace of Count Potosky, where you can find an extensive collection of Russian and Ukrainian art. 

Odessa's iconic Potemkin Stairs were constructed between 1837 and 1841, leading form the harbour up towards the city that stands on a high plateau. Before the Potemkin Stairs were in place, this had meant winding pathways and wooden stairs. The design of the stairs hides an optical illusion - when looking down the stairs, one only sees the landings and the steps seem to be invisible; those looking up only see the steps. 

Odessa Fine Arts Museum is situated in the ancient Pototsky Palace, itself being a monument of 19th century architecture. It houses some 10 thousand pieces of artwork that includes some of the most well known Russian and Ukrainian artists of the 19th and 20th century. Leading it to have one of the richest and most interesting collections of artwork in the country. 

The Opera House in Odessa is the oldest theatre in the city and remains one of its most iconic landmarks. It was first opened in 1810, although later destroyed in a fire. It was reconstructed with a neo-baroque and French rococo influence, evident in its ornate architectural design and grand audience hall. 

The Odessa Catacombs are a network of tunnels that lie beneath Odessa and the surrounding region. These were formed are as a result of stone mining and later widened by smugglers, reaching almost 60 metres below sea level. Although the labyrinth of tunnels is yet to be fully mapped, it is thought that there are around 1000 known entrances. A small portion of the catacombs are open to the public, and can be found in the Museum of Partisan Glory.

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Day 11 : Odessa - Puracari - Chisinau (Moldova)

Travel to the Purarci estate, where you will take a tour and have the opportunity to sample the wine. Later, depart for a tour of Chisinau. Overnight in Chisinau.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Chisinau (pronounced 'kish-i-niow') is the capital of Moldova and the country's largest city. It is located in the centre of the country on the river Bic and was founded in 1436 as a monastery village. Compared to the rest of the country, Chisinau is quite wealthy and modern - although not nearly so by Western standards. As it was badly damaged during WWII and by a tremendous earthquake in 1940, it was rebuilt in the 1950s in the utilitarian Soviet style. Buildings are not especially pretty and most people live in large concrete blocks of flats. 

Purcari Winery is the first specialised winery in Bessarabia. The soil in Purcari village is able to produce full-bodied grapes, much like the soil in the Bordeaux region of France, located on the same latitude. This soil is rich in rubidium and is able to give wines an intense complexity of taste and a distinctive deep purple colour. When the French learned of Purcari, they formed a partnership with the village's Agon Zograf Monastery and began cultivating grapes there in the 18th century. By 1878, the winery won its first gold medal at the Paris World Expo and is now a world-renown brand.

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Day 12 : Chisinau - Cricova - Orhei - Chisinau

Begin the day with an excursion to Cricova Winery and enjoy a wine tasting. Continue on to Old Orhei Open Air Museum. End the day with a folk show and dinner in Trebujeni village. Overnight in Chisinau.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Cricova Winery is one of the world's largest underground cellars, located 15km north of Chisinau in a 120km-long labyrinthe of 15th-century underground tunnels. These tunnels, up to 100 metres deep at certain points, were created during the excavation of limestone used for construction in Chisinau. In 1952, the tunnels were converted into an underground wine emporium. About half of the roadways are used for wine storage and each 'street name' corresponds to the type of wine it houses. The streets are even wide enough for trucks! The most popular wine is Cricova Sparkling Wine, which is still produced using the classic Champenoise method. Some notable visitors to the winery include Brejnev, Gorbachiov, Gagarin, Merkel and Putin, who celebrated his 50th birthday here. In 2004, Cricova was declared an item of the country's national cultural heritage. 

Trebujeni and Butuceni are twin villages located on either site of the Ruta River within walking distance of each other. Trebujeni is slightly more 'tourist-y', as that is where Orheiul Vechi is located. Buteceni is a slightly smaller village that offers visitors a more real feel for Moldovan life. 

Old Orhei Open Air Museum is situated in a rocky gorge of the river Raut. Old Orhei was once a medieval city, dating back to the Gold Horde period of 1330. Today, visitors can learn of the many different civilisations that once lived here. There are many archeological sites of interest, including he ruins of the fortress of Sehr al Djedid, St. Maria Church and an ancient Turkish bath - each one providing a window to a different period of time. 

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Day 13 : Chisinau - Transnistria - Chisinau

Depart to Transnistria. Spend the day touring Tiraspol and visiting Tighina Fortress. Overnight in Chisinau.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The 16th-century Tighina Fortress used to be one of Moldova's most powerful fortresses. Led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, it was occupied by the Ottomans in 1538 and became the centre of an Ottoman raya (or region). In the 1370s and 80s, Tighina became an important stop on the Tatar trade route that connected western Europe with the Near East.

Tiraspol is Moldova's second largest city and the capital of Transinistria. Although the city was previously inhabited, it was officially founded in October 1792 by Alexander Suvorov, the famous Russian military hero. Time seems to have stood still here since the USSR period. Notable places to visit include the Vladimir Lenin monument and the tanks left over from WWII. Most of the sites can be seen by walking down the main street, called October 25th Street in honour of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution.

The unrecognised self-proclaimed republic of Transinistria is located on Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine. It came to be after the dissolution of the USSR, when tensions between Transinistria and Moldova grew into a military conflict in 1992. Since then, Transinistria has been independent in practice, with its own government, military, police, postal service, currency, constitution and more. Transinistria's central bank sets the exchange rate for their ruble, which is freely floating and greatly fluctuates week-to-week. 

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Day 14 : Departure

Transfer to the airport for your flight home or onward destination.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Hotel Minsk

Hotel Minsk is near to many of the cities sights, including the Belarusian National Arts Museum. The hotel has been decorated in a contemporary style. The spacious bedrooms are fitted with modern amenities to allow for a comfortable stay. The hotel has 2 restaurants that serve a combination of local, national and international dishes. Other faciitilites include a fitness suite, spa and hotel bar. 

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Hermitage Hotel

Hermitage Hotel is situated in the heart of Brest. The bedrooms are decorated in classical Belarusian style, with Slavic ceiling paintings and authentic furniture. Guests are invited to use the hotel facilities, which includes a spa, fitness centre and restaurant. 

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Khreshatyk Hotel

Khreshatyk Hotel is situated in the centre of the city of Kiev. The hotel is decorated in an elegant Ukrainian style. Each bedroom provides guests with access to modern facilities that include satellite television, wifi and air-conditioning. There is a choice of 6 restaurants, bars and cafes which each serve a variety of national and international dishes. Guests are also welcomed to make use of the hotel spa, swimming pool, salon and fitness suite during their stay. 

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Ukrainian Village Ethnographical Museum Complex

The Ukrainian Village Ethnographical Museum Complex introduces visitors to the culture and everyday lives of Ukrainians through the 18th and 19th centuries. Situated in a rural location, the authentic lodges allow guests to experience this first hand whilst also having access to modern amenities for a comfortable stay. 

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Alexandrovsky Hotel

Alexandrovsky Hotel is located at the heart of the historical centre of Odessa. The hotel lies near to many sights including City Garden and the Potemkin Steps. Alexandrovsky is equipped with modern comforts required for a relaxing stay. The spacious bedrooms are tastefully decorated. Cellini Restaurant is named after the famous Italian sculptor and is decorated in a traditional Italian style, serving Mediterranean dishes and wines to guests. 

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Regency Hotel

Regency Hotel is a modern hotel in the centre of the old city of Chisinau. The comfortable and spacious bedrooms are fitted with satellite television and access to wifi. The Regency on-site restaurant is decorated in a classic style and serves Italian cuisine. 

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Along Soviet Fringes (14 days)

Delve into the diversity of Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova

Belarus Explorer (10 days)

Soviet echoes, folkloric traditions & pristine nature