Despite being a mountain lover and avid hiker, my own of this 1500km long mountain range – the second longest in Europe, was embarrassing low. That’s why I loved learning about them, and insisted on visiting the Carpathians when I was in Lviv. Fortunately it’s just a 2 -3 hour drive away.
Where are the Carpathian Mountains?
The Carpathians are located in Central Europe and range through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, and Romania, where 53% of the Carpathians lie.
While the Carpathians may be easy to find, they’re not so easy to discover their sometimes well kept secrets on your own. That’s why I recommend going with an experienced local guide like Andriy Kharatyn, owner of T.O. Karpatskyi Tour. He speaks a little bit of English and has a fabulous network of local guides who speak a variety of languages fluently.
Stilsko Ancient Village
You may be wondering why I’m showing you unremarkable mounds of dirt. There are no signs, no parking lot. Just a dirt road that ends near a village. While they may not look like much, the earth mounds date back somewhere between the 9th and 11th century – no one knows the exact dates. They’re part of the ancient Stilsko settlement. It was the capital of the Slavic Croats, a country which existed over 1000 years ago! The earth mounds are part of a 10 km long defensive structure built to protect the ancient Stilsko fortified settlement.
What is visibly impressive about the Stilsko settlement are the 8th century caves. They once served as shelter, but the pragmatic locals now use them to store food. Some of them even have doors with a lock on them!
Goshiv Monastery on Yasna Mountain
This monastery is an important pilgrimage for many Ukrainians. The great attraction is a black relic of the Virgin Mary.
Ukrainian Cheese (Novosalytskji)
When you think of excellent cheese, Ukraine may not be the first country that comes to mind, but I LOVED Novosalytskji. A local was selling it from the back of his truck as we waited for a train to take us on an old lumberjack trail. He made it himself several times a week and used an Italian recipe – even the Italian in our group approved. As further endorsement, she even bought some! I bought some with the intention of taking it home with me, but it was all gone before I’d even left Ukraine.
Follow an old Lumberjack Trail
This is a popular excursion for Ukrainian tourists. Except for the Italian and myself who were traveling together, everyone else was Ukrainian.
The commentator explains the history and apparently makes hysterical jokes as he had the entire train laughing up a storm! Luckily, my guide was able to translate…as well as humour translates. We made various stops along the way. My favourite was by the scenic river.
Traditional Ukrainian Houses
If you know what to look for, you may just be lucky enough to see a few very old (100+ years) houses. Animals lived on the left, people on the right. This type of housing was discontinued for safety and survival reasons. If there was a fire, you lost everything – your house and your animals. In the years that followed, animals live in separate structures from people. That way you are may lose your barn or your house, but hopefully not both!
This was the highlight of my time in the Carpathian mountains! While it may just look like a rock outcrop, looks can be deceiving. In the 9th century it was one of the only fortresses in all of Europe built on rocks, instead of a traditional foundation. It was strategically built on the stones to provide a 25 km long view over an important trading route.
The wooden fortress has not survived over the centuries, but you can see a replica at the nearby museum, showing how impressive it would have been:
Hiking/Climbing in the Carpathian Mountains
While I didn’t do any hiking due to the fact it was raining, there are some great hiking trails. But again, you’ll need a guide to find them. I’m told there are very few signs and the signs do exist, are in Ukrainian only. There are also over 1000 climbing routes!
Howerla. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
In summary, I really enjoyed my time in the Carpathians. I would love to go back and hike Mount Hoverla (2061 m), the highest mountain in Ukraine. I would definitely go again with T.O. Karpatskyi Tour. They offer tours with carefully chosen itineraries or custom itineraries – your choice. My guides were both very friendly and incredibly knowledge. Without them, I would have had no chance of unraveling the secrets that make the Carpathian Mountains so special!
Note: My visit to the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains was made possible by Lviv Tourism. I flew to Lviv from Frankfurt, Germany with Ukraine International Airlines. All opinions expressed are my own.