Khotyn Fortress

The Carpathians

Ask any Ukrainian which is the country's finest castle and many will say Khotyn Fortress. Eastern European filmmakers love to use this massive fort overlooking the Dnister River as a location; for instance it served as Warsaw Castle in the highly controversial Russian-language blockbuster movie Taras Bulba (2009). With walls up to 40m high and 6m thick, today's stone fortress was built in the 15th century, replacing an earlier wooden structure. Its location safeguarded river trade routes, making it a sought-after prize.

The defining moment in its history came in 1621, with a threatened Turkish invasion. The incumbent Poles enlisted the help of 40,000 Cossacks and managed to rout a 250,000-strong Turkish army. This improbable victory made a hero of Cossack leader Petro Sahaydachny, whose huge statue greets you near the fortress' entrance. However, any notion of the fortress' impregnability was dispelled in 1711 when the Turks finally nabbed it. The Russians took over in the 19th century.

Inside the fortress walls there ain't a whole lot to see, but it's really the large riverfront grounds that make the place. Some of the outer fortification walls remain and you can clamber precariously over these. In one far corner, locals even pose for pictures where it appears they're jumping over the fortress. But whatever you do, don't forget to bring a picnic.

You might first pass Khotyn on the way from Chernivtsi, but it's closer to Kamyanets-Podilsky and best visited as a day trip from there. There are regular buses and marshrutky making the 30km journey between Kamyanets-Podilsky and Khotyn (19uah, around 45 minutes) and every Kamyanets-Podilsky–Chernivtsi bus stops en route. The fortress is about 2.5km north of Khotyn town centre and the best strategy is to get off the bus when locals alight near the market (not at the far-flung bus station). Head along the road through the market and you'll pass a blue church on your right and a Soviet war memorial on your left. Stay on this road for a further 20 minutes until you see an old flaking sign marked Фортеця. Take a right here and you'll soon see the ticket office.

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