Introducing Belarus

Eastern Europe’s outcast, Belarus lies at the edge of the region and seems determined to avoid integration with the rest of the continent at all costs. Taking its lead from the Soviet Union rather than the European Union, this pint-sized dictatorship may seem like a strange choice for travellers, but its isolation remains at the heart of its appeal.

While the rest of Eastern Europe has charged headlong into capitalism, Belarus offers a chance to visit a Europe with almost no advertising, litter or graffiti. Far more than just the 'last dictatorship in Europe' - Condoleezza Rice's phrase has come to haunt Alexander Lukashenko's democratically challenged country - Belarus is a land of earthy humour, friendly people and courage in the face of bleak political adversity.

Outside the capital, Belarus offers a simple yet pleasing landscape of cornflower fields, thick primeval forests and picturesque villages. While travellers will always be subject to curiosity, they'll invariably also be on the receiving end of extremely warm hospitality.

While the country's flattening in WWII means that there's relatively little of historic interest to see, Belarus' three most appealing cities - Minsk, Brest and Vitsebsk - offer a surprising amount to visitors - from nightlife and cosmopolitan spark in the capital, to the tragic remnants of the Brest Fortress, and the childhood home of painter Marc Chagall in Vitsebsk. The country also offers two excellent national parks, both well worth a visit. Europe's largest mammal, the zoobr, or European bison, can be seen at Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park, while the Pripyatsky National Park, the 'lungs of Europe', offers great birdwatching in its vast wetlands.

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