by Karina Sitnik
Belarusian agro eco tourism began to develop just fifteen years ago. However, over the past fifteen years it has quickly expanded throughout the country and became the main attraction for local and foreign tourists. If you want to find out more about paganism, learn to make valenki (felt boots) from authentic masters, visit the first Belarusian art village or taste homemade drinks in Palesse, read our selection of six eco-lodges scattered across the country.
Photo by “Shapavaly” Facebook group
The newly built eco-lodge “Shapavaly” is a unique cultural phenomenon in Belarus. “Shapavaly” is a historic term meaning “people who make felt boots and hats from sheep’s wool”. They use traditional technique going back to early 18th century. What is so unique about them? A family where the art of shapavaly was passed from generation to generation for many years has managed to preserve not only their original boot felting technology, but also their language – “katrushnitsky lemezen”, which, incidentally, even Belarusians can’t understand! The language was invented to “defend” their own craft against competition. Boot felting craft could bring good money in those times, and only a few villages in the area knew how to perform it well. Therefore, a secret language was invented, so that the neighbors would not disclose the subtlety of the shapavaly craftsmanship. Lidia and Valyantin Zyulikau have been passing down their skill to children, but this year they also started to share it with tourists. For example, in May, you can visit Shapavaly eco-lodge with the project “Walk to Folk” to make your own sauna hat!
Photo by “Shapavaly” Facebook group
You can find a short film about Uladzimir, Valyantin’s 86-year-old father. He is still felting boots and selling them on the local market. By the way, boots are not just eco-friendly winter footwear, but also very practical: warm, comfortable and durable. If you want to get a tailor-made pair, just send a message to shapavaly via facebook page.
Photo by skrypki.by
“Active leisure with a rural flavour” is the motto of another family business in Minsk region, located between three lakes: Naroch, Myadel and Kuzmichi. The eco-lodge is owned by two generations of the Skrypkas family, open and hospitable people. They will be happy to show to you how to weave a basket, bake bread or prepare Belarusian dishes in the oven, until you feel you have truly become a part of their quiet but diverse rural life. In terms of active leisure, they offer a quad safari in the nearest forests: a variety of routes lasting from a couple of hours to three days that are bound to quench your thirst for adrenaline for a long time. This area, known for its sprawling lakes and dense forests, is definitely one of the best places in Belarus for a quad safari! With Anton Skrypka, an experienced kayaker, you can also explore the nearest rivers, including one of the most turbulent rivers in Belarus – the Stracha River.
Photos by skrypki.by
A specialty offered by this manor is a “black sauna”, a now-overlooked Belarusian tradition. There is also a regular sauna for those who are not crazy about trying new things, but the black one definitely way more interesting! In this so-called “black sauna”, the steam room has a hearth with a grid. There are stones on the grid, but there is no chimney! Which is not accidental: burning firewood heats up the stones, with the smoke entering straight into the steam room and evenly heating all the surfaces. It can leaves through the open doors and windows, but the soot ends up on the ceiling and the walls — that is how the sauna got its name.
Photo by nzy.by
Alla Polikarpuk, the owner of the eco-lodge “Na Zarechnoy Ulitse” will treat her guests with incredibly tasty food. Alla has already become famous throughout Belarus for her culinary masterpieces. She can cook a “machanka” (sauce with meat) with pancakes, a potato “babka” (casserole with meat and potato) and bean soup with celery, will offer beet kvass and home-made fruit liqueurs (prepared from old recipes), and the famous “kulaga” (berries, typically guelder rose, with rye flour) for dessert. It is not surprising that an annual local culinary festival is organized here.
Photo by nzy.by
The lodge is located right on the picturesque bank of the river Mukhavets. It used to be an old farm, a part of which has survived the ages. The grounds have a house built in 1903 with a stove and a fireplace: inside you will also find a rich collection of household utensils, clothes and furniture from the early twentieth century.
You may have have heard about the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks – a water pass from the Baltic to the Black sea. In the early Middle Ages it was widely used by trade ships. Of course, in that time there was no land development or industrial sewage, which kept up water levels in the rivers and allowed cargo ships to move along the way. All the river transport was set in motion by nothing more than wind and people’s hands. But… it is still possible to experience this now! This eco-lodge has a reconstructed Viking Drakkar, which brings you along the “Amber Route”, a part of the original “From the Varangians to Greeks” way.
Photos by nzy.by
Besides, if you visit the lodge at the right time, you can get involved in traditional celebrations, like Kamaedzitsa or Kupala. The first one is a ritual to say goodbye to winter and to greet spring, and the second is performed during the summer solstice.
Photo by lepel.by
If you are interested in paganism, traditions and legends, we definitely recommend you get to know Vasil Shkinder, the owner of the eco-lodge “Vyaliki Pousvizh”. Vasil will show you where ancient pagan mounds used to be located, tell you about the pre-Christian traditions in Belarus and liven up the surrounding nature with legends and mystical stories. In Lepel district (Vitebsk region), where the lodge is located, every lake, stone and hill has a legend of its own. There even used to be dragons here! If you want proof, you can explore some of the local folklore with Vasil’s help: the dragons get frequently there mentioned. And there is even a monument of one in the city of Lepel!
Photo by lepel.by
Vasil himself is a bagpipe musician, who organizes an annual folk festival “Zhniven”. It is the coziest folk festival we know: very homey, with no more than a hundred participants, which allows you to keep the atmosphere of a neighborhood fest. However, music bands and dance groups from all Baltic countries come here regularly: you will meet some from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. During the festival you will be taught to dance and maybe even sing — and not just Belarusian folk songs, but some from our Baltic neighbors as well! After the official program you can expect a music battle: the countries take turns to sing one folk song. Such battles can go on well past the midnight! We recommend you to visit the Zhniven Festival (the event will appear in our local events calendar as soon as the date is announced), and for a more profound experience, just spend the night right at the hayloft. Unforgettable impressions from Belarusian folklore and traditions are guaranteed!
Photo by 3babra.by
Eco-lodge “Try Babry” is located in a pine forest just 35 km from Hrodna and 2 km from the border with Lithuania, in the picturesque Salatie village. This village unique for Belarus: 20 years ago it was about to become completely abandoned, but, fortunately, it was noticed by Hrodna entrepreneurs and creative minds: one by one, they decided to buy houses and move there. Painters and writers found their inspiration and freedom in Salatie, but this you catch as a visitor though! It’s like Užupis in Vilnius with the creative elite coming in and organizing parties, festivals and plein airs. More than ten famous artists, writers and creative people permanently live in Salatie. Artists’ retreat “Art Salad”, which has been organized in “Try Babry” every year since 2015, gathers artists from Belarus, Russia and England: now the whole village is adorned with art objects, and you can find the result of a creative approach, like wooden coils and pellets, on every corner. The next plein air will be held in August 2018. Find more regional events in our calendar.
Photos by 3babra.by
The eco-lodge of Yury Remsha is also an art object, since the entire interior of the house is hand-made by a local wood painter. The house is located in a wonderfully picturesque spot, between two lakes, on the edge of a mushroom forest. If you come here during the berry- or mushroom-picking season, this will leave a much more lasting gastronomic impression on you!
Photo by agrotadosi.by
The eco-lodge “Tadosi” is located in the territory of the national park “Pripyatsky” in Homel region, not far from Pripyat river bank. Hospitable owners can take you for a tour at the nearby Palesse villages, organize a boat trip or a picnic out in the wild at any time of the year. If you are a fan of nature, especially birds, come to Tadosi! You will have a chance to observe a number of rare species, like the eagle owl, the white-tailed eagle, as well as a huge number of other owls, wild geese, waders and ruffs (from April till early May). The hosts organize tours for wildlife photographers: you can shoot birds and native species of wild animals, such as deer, wild boar, roe deer and bison.
There are also plenty of activities for those who are not planning on becoming world-famous animal photographers: you can go on a safari to the national park, have a guided walk across local villages, communicate with “paleshuki” (Palesse inhabitants), and, of course, sample regional cuisine. You can try traditional Belarusian dishes, as well as game: elk, boar, reindeer, wild geese or ducks.
In the area of this eco-lodge you can take scenic tours across the famous untouched swamps, as well as to discover the Pripyat floodplain on the boat.