Bordering Russia and Ukraine to the east, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to the west, land-locked Belarus is a bastion of Eastern European grandeur and a land filled with primeval woodlands and pristine lakes, bucolic rural settings and fervent folkloric traditions.
Some 40% of the national territory is forested. Bears, boars and powerful European bison all roam the countryside, a great destination for hikers and wildlife photographers. It is also home to more than 2800 lakes and many of them are protected as part of the Brasav Lakes National Park, making it a good place to cast a line, and if lucky, snag some eel, pike or catfish. Throughout Belarus, traditional guesthouses (including converted farmhouses and windmills) provide the opportunity to experience local culture and hospitality. Elsewhere, a plethora of rural spas and therapeutic retreats shift the focus to pure relaxation.
Belarus is one of the poorest countries in Europe, but it wasn’t always so. In the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, it enjoyed considerable wealth, power, and prestige. Sadly, most of its historical heritage was lost in World War II, but a handful of important structures have survived: fortresses, castles, and ruins, mansions and palaces, and numerous Orthodox churches.Read more
Many travellers are particularly intrigued by the politics of Belarus, a land steeped in Soviet monuments, architecture, and history – not to mention legacies. Communism was officially established in Belarus in 1922, four years after the Bolshevik uprising in Russia. As a founding republic of the Soviet Union, it became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic; today it is the Republic of Belarus, an independent sovereign state with a democratically elected parliament.
But unlike some neighbouring post-Soviet states, Belarus’s move towards openness, democracy, and a market economy have been slow and fraught with set-backs. Ideologically, the nation remains faithful to socialism with around 40% of its population employed by the state (it is also one of the least democratic countries in Europe). President Alexander Lukashenko’s self-described ‘authoritarian ruling style’ vividly recalls the days of the USSR – he has been ruling Belarus since 1994.
Economically, Belarus relies heavily on trade with Russia, particularly on its exports of heavy machinery and tractors. In true Soviet style, almost half of Belarus’ population do not declare an official religion. Nonetheless, the country is changing, and the engine driving transformation is its capital, Minsk, now home to a slew of swish new hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping and conventions centres, all signalling the nation’s willingness to engage with the world, the future, and the free market.
Places of interest in Belarus
Minsk, the heavily industrial capital of Belarus is an unusual destination, good for those with an interest in Soviet...
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