Welcome to the Hutsul Alps, one of Ukraine’s premier natural beauties. True, Ukrainians themselves only refer to the mountains around Rakhiv as the Hutsul Alps, but for foreign visitors the local Hutsul culture helps distinguish this section of the Carpathian Mountains from those in neighbouring countries. Here long, thin villages stretch out languidly along potholed roads, with tiered wooden churches dotted periodically in between. Haystacks ring farmhouses decorated with unusually embossed tin walls and roofs. Horse-drawn carts clip-clop along, babushkas herd their geese, and marshrutka passengers cross themselves as they pass roadside chapels.
But while the everyday reality of ‘Hutsulshchyna’ is overwhelmingly rural, this beautiful region is also one of Ukraine’s leading holiday spots. These rolling peaks have been a long-term hit with Ukrainian hikers and skiers. The Carpathian National Nature Park, the country’s biggest such park, lies in this region, and within the park’s boundaries stands Mt Hoverla – Ukraine’s highest peak at 2061m. Ukraine’s glitziest ski resort is also here. Postcard-pretty towns like Kolomyya and Mukacheve are a drawcard, too. But what’s most impressive about this region are the clear mountain vistas, visible from the barely marked hiking trails, and the chance to explore unknown nooks and crannies. Each of the region’s gateway cities – Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi and Uzhhorod – has its attractions. However, the whole point of visiting the Carpathians is to head off-road and off-piste. So, although language and transport difficulties undoubtedly make this region slightly mystifying to foreigners, now’s the time to grab your sense of adventure and head for them thar hills.