A land of rusty tractors and tacky fashion; a Soviet state in all but name; Europe’s last dictatorship: suffice to say Belarus has something of an image problem.
Though these lazy stereotypes carry some semblance of truth, Belarus is a largely misunderstood country that’s had a bit of a raw deal of it in western media. Consequently, those who visit are often surprised to discover a multifaceted destination rich in history, brimming with culture and populated by warm and generous inhabitants, who are gradually pulling themselves from the shadows of their past.
The truth is that Belarus’ appeal might well be in its isolation. Indeed this is a destination where you can still see what life was like during the days of communism, with an abundance of Soviet iconography, especially in the big cities, allowing anyone with an imagination to visualise how things once were.
In the capital Minsk, with its clean streets and neoclassical Stalinist architecture, a cosmopolitan vibe sits alongside an intense national pride. And well it might – the Belarusian capital is a survivor, having time and time again, throughout its tumultuous history, refused to say ‘die.’
Brest is another city of interest. Nestling on the border with Poland, it is possessed of charm and history in equal measure, and probably the most Western of the Belarusian cities.
Beyond the urban environment travellers will discover wide plains, picturesque villages, ancient castles, monasteries and dense forests, not to mention thousands of lakes. National parks protect some of Europe’s oldest untouched woodlands, and some of the continent’s largest marshlands. The countryside also offers the chance to see some of the last remaining collective farms in action.
There is no escaping the fact that Belarus is a developing Eastern European country with a somewhat shady past, but for travellers who give this destination the time it deserves, there are a plenty of rewards to be had.