Enchanting Winter City Break To Ukraine’s Cultural Capital – Lviv
By Robbie Mackay
The western Ukrainian Gem of a city, Lviv, located 45 miles from the countries border with Poland is said be THE “in” place to enjoy a winter break. Kyrenia Post were sent on a field trip last month (It’s a hard job but someone has to do it!) to experience a city break and Orthodox Christmas celebrated on the 7th of January in Ukraine’s cultural capital known fondly as “little Paris”. Kiev may be the national capital but Lviv is widely regarded as the centre of Ukrainian culture and art with over 100 festivals each year. You could spend days admiring its Cathedrals and Churches but that would leave no time for the museums, the art galleries and the magnificent Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Lviv has had a roll call of rulers and names. The Polish called the place Lwów and in the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire it was referred to as Lemberg. Jewish inhabitants knew the city as Lemberik and it’s Lvov to the Russians.
European Christmas markets are places where the winter magic happens, and the main one in Lviv is no different, it’s a must if you’re visiting the city in December and January. Row upon row of small wooden huts individually decorated, grace the spectacular Rynok Square – which itself is made up of colourful Baroque and Renaissance buildings dated to the 16th
Century. Enter the market and you’ll be engulfed in traditional Christmas fairy-tale fare, from cute souvenirs and handmade crafts to cinnamon-infused mulled wine and local delicacies such as Shashlyky (grilled-meat skewers) and Mlyncy (small thick pancakes). Also not to be missed is the Christmas market organised next to the fantastic Lviv National Theatre of Opera
and Ballet, where you can take in a colourful street performance based on Ukrainian folklore.
The romance of narrow medieval streets and the cosiness of fragrant coffee houses almost teleport one back in time nostalgically to a by-gone era.
Chocoholics should try Lviv Handmade Chocolate. With two floors of chocolate, there’s plenty to choose from: pick your own selection or sit on the terrace with a traditional Lviv hot chocolate – large, creamy and heavily spiced. Superb restaurants with fare to rival any Michelin starred eatery in Europe but for half the price, five-star hotels, atmospheric bars with lots of live music, craft beers starting from 3.5tl (50p), handmade liquoirs and drinks to suit every taste, talented street performers, the beauty of its architecture and the warm welcome from Lvivians – all these things turn “litte Paris” into a fairy-tale winter getaway.
If you fancy brunch theres only one place to go – Baczewski (owned by the family which set up Lviv’s first vodka distillery in the 18th century) the queues start building from 9am. Seating around 30 people in their
Orangery they offer a glass of champagne and a shot of vodka, tea or coffee and as much as you can eat from the buffet, for around 31tl (£4.50). The food is super but the charming interiors from a by gone era with green plants hung from every wall, green velour cocktail seats, tweeting birds and a extremely gifted pianist are what really makes it so popular.
It would take all year to sample the delights offered in the cities many restaurants but if you want to eat with the locals try Trapezna. Don’t be fooled – on opening the door you step into a tiny gallery – but follow the stairs down and you’ll find the restaurant, in what was once a monastery refectory. It’s still a simple place to eat, but serves fantastic food in an atmospheric cellar with low ceilings and worn wooden benches. Try the hog ribs baked in honey and the rabbit stew. Most dishes are about 21tl (£3) – so order a few items and share.
Home to Polish, Armenian, Jewish and Austrian cultures as well as Ukrainian, Lviv has a smorgasbord of Churches – impressive buildings with majestic interiors.
Some are architectural monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites however under Soviet rule, many were retooled for other uses and it wasn’t until 2011 that they returned to places of worship. The largest – the Jesuit Church, otherwise known as the Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church had become a storage area for more than 2 million science books!
Lviv’s Cathedrals and cobblestones are enchanting, but to really see the city in all of its Winter glory you should check out the best viewpoints. Start in the centre with a climb to the top of the 65m-tall tower of the
Ratusha for a breathtaking vista over the Old Town, with its labyrinth of medieval streets and the bell towers of churches glistening in the snow and for a great outdoor walk that will reward you with the most impressive panorama of the city surrounded by wooded hills, head to the top of High Castle Hill (about 2km from Rynok Square). Remember no high heels – wear sensible footwear and wrap up warm!
Lviv National Art Gallery is split between the grand 19th century Potocki Palace building on Mykoly Kopernyka Street and its second outpost on Stefanyka Street.
The collection spans from the 14th to early-20th century European artworks, with paintings by Rubens, Goya and Bruegel, while the second gallery plays host to the largest Polish collection of works, second only to Poland itself. Entry is a bargain at around 4tl (60p). The Opera House is one of the fanciest places in the city. Built to mimic Vienna’s Opera house, with winged bronze statues symbolising comedy, drama and music topping its opulent facade, it was designed by Polish Architect Zygmunt Gorgolewski as a hybrid of Renaissance and Baroque style. Showing classic operas and
ballets, tickets start from around 9tl (£1.40) for the cheapest seats up to a blow-out 63tl (£9) for the most expensive.
We stayed at the fabulous 4 star Astoria Hotel situated a few minutes leasurely walk from all the action in the city centre. Prices start from around 490tl (£70) per night for a couple based on a bed and breakfast basis. Pegasus and Turkish Airlines fly daily to Lviv from Ercan via Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen and Ataturk International Airports from around 1050tl (£150) return. Christmas may be over but the Markets will return for Easter-time, when the city become awash with vibrant green hues and colour.