The Zakarpattya (Transcarpathian) region in southwestern Ukraine, the geographic center of Europe, has long been a crossroads for European traders and conquering armies. The land has been fought over since before the time of the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, but today this region boasts a unique ethnic diversity.
The youngest and smallest of Ukraine’s 26 regions, Zakarpattya borders four countries – Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland – and is heavily influenced by them. An open and welcoming culture has developed there, where tourists are greeted with open arms and local brandy flows as freely as nearby mountain streams.
Second in number only to Ukrainians in Zakarpattya, ethnic Hungarians predominate over all other ethnic groups in the area. There are sizable presences of Slovaks, Romanians, Poles, Jews, Armenians, Carpatho-Rus and nearly 70 other ethic groups. This mix can be heard in the language spoken on the streets of the historic regional capital, Uzhgorod, and also tasted in the local food. Hungarian words are as common on city streets here as goulash and bograch (a spicy soup) are on local menus.
Whether you’re staying for a weekend or a week, board any Kyiv-Uzhgorod overnight train and begin your Hungarian adventure in Ukraine. See www.transcarpathia.org for train, flight and other travel information.
Places to See
To experience old Hungarian flavor in Zakarpattya, begin any trip there in the regional capital, Uzhgorod. This ancient city of 125,000, which takes its name from the winding, snake-like Uzh River that bisects it, is situated near the confluence of the Hungarian, Slovak and Ukrainian borders and was first mentioned in Hungarian chronicles in 872. The historic city center features a well-preserved 10th-century castle with two inner courtyards. Nearby Kafedrelny Sobor (Cathedral), formerly a Jesuit monastery and now a Ukrainian Catholic church dating from 1646, adds to the downtown’s splendor.
Cross the Uzh River on a pedestrian footbridge and walk along Europe’s longest linden-lined river embankment, the Naberezhna Nezalezhnosti, which lies on the north side of the water. From there head to the Cross – the intersection of Voloshna and Corso Streets – near which is a major international bazaar called the Corso.
At the eastern (upriver) end of the same embankment are the University Botanical Gardens, with the castle and cathedral close by. Also in the neighborhood is the Museum of Folk Architecture and Folkways.
Near Uzhgorod, various parks and ski resorts provide a wealth of outdoor options for tourists at any time of year. Uzhansky National Park is part of a UNESCO-supported project helping protect Europe’s largest stand of beech forest and other plant and wildlife. Traditional agriculture and shepherding are also practiced within the park.
Mukachevo, the second-largest city in the region, lies 40 km from the Hungarian border but also boasts a long history, with a complex ethnic makeup. Situated on the Latorytsya River, this city of 90,000 features the 14th-century Palanok Castle, once the seat of Old Slavic, Hungarian and Transylvanian knights and now operating as a history museum. Also of note are St. Nicholas’, a Ukrainian Baroque church and the 18th-century White Palace.
Aside from towns such as Rakhiv in eastern Zakarpattya, near which stands the marker denoting the geographic center of Europe, Zakarpattya oblast also boasts Mt. Hoverla, at 2,061 meters the highest peak in Ukraine, and Synevyr National Park, home to Synevyr Lake, one of Ukraine’s few alpine lakes. Camping is encouraged, with many campgrounds catering to eager naturists.
Places to Eat
Kaktus, a cowboy-themed restaurant in central Uzhgorod, tends to be popular thanks to its good Hungarian dishes, which have country and western names. Local bands often play in the restaurant, making it a good bet for live entertainment.
Delfin (Dolphin), situated on the Uzh River embankment, enjoys a great location with spectacular views of the entire city, especially from the second-floor terrace. Transcarpathian dishes – a mix of Hungarian, Slovakian and Ukrainian – plus grilled meats should not be missed.
The restaurant in the Old Continent Hotel, the nicest and most expensive hotel in the city, has a luxurious restaurant – considered the best in the city – serving up Hungarian, Slovakian and other world cuisines, including Japanese (in case you missed it in Kyiv).
Near Mukachevo, the Yablunevy Sad (Apple Orchard) is decorated with traditional wooden huts and serves up excellent grilled meats and Hutsul Ukrainian specialties.
Also worth checking out is the Zolota Hirka (Golden Hill), also with folk-style wood huts. The place also has rooms for rent to spend the night.
Places to Stay
The well-appointed Hotel Atlant (27 Koryatovycha) in central Uzhgorod offers 20 clean, modernized rooms in a great location. Room prices go from Hr 165 for a single room (based on double occupancy) and top out at Hr 250. The place boasts English- and German-speaking staff and accepts Visa and MasterCard, and the in-hotel tourism agency will organize local tours to suit any schedule. Tel. (0312) 614-095. Check out the hotel’s excellent Web site (in English, German and Russian) at www.hotel-atlant.com .
The top hotel in Uzhgorod, the Old Continent Hotel (4 Shandora Petefy) on the south side of the river in part of the historic downtown, features more than 100 rooms priced from Hr 350 for a twin to Hr 1,480 for the Presidential suite. All luxuries imaginable, including satellite TV, individual room temperature control, breakfast and more are included in the room price. The hotel restaurant, as mentioned above, is superb. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Tel. (0312) 669-366. On the Web at: www.old-oldkontinent.com .
The Kamelot Hotel (28 Uzhanska) lies just outside of Uzhgorod and offers a more folksy setting. Guests stay in individualized lodges located on the hotel grounds. Rooms are clean, modern and simply furnished, with singles going for Hr 200 per night to Hr 280 for a junior suite and Hr 500 and up for the more luxurious spots. The hotel restaurant specializes in grilled meats and other wood-fired foods. Breakfast is included in the room price. Tel. (03122) 731-933/55. Their helpful Web site (in English, German and Russian) can be found at www.hotel-kamelot.com .
In Mukachevo, guests should stay at the Star Hotel (10-12 Ploshcha Mir), located right downtown across from the town hall. Well-kept, European-standard rooms range in price from Hr 200 to Hr 600 and have all Western amenities. Tel. (0313) 131-031. On the Web at www.star-ar.mk.uz.ua .