Homel (Gomel in Russian) is one of Belarus' more pleasant surprises, a large city with a provincial feel born of leafy parks and meandering rivers. Its trophy piece is Homel Park, where 200 years ago an aristocratic field marshal built a lavish palace that still stands. Additional tsarist-era buildings are scattered about the city, which makes a sensible stopover for those travelling between Kyiv and Minsk.
The Homel region took the brunt of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, which had devastating health effects on those living in this area. The hardest-hit zone – near the Ukrainian border about 100km southwest of Homel city – is now the Paleski State Radioecological Reserve, a huge swath of contaminated land full of abandoned villages and wild animals. Homel city was not as hard hit, and visiting the city today is perfectly safe.