Over the last two years, Ukrainians have become the most numerous tourists in Transcarpathia. Indeed, because of the unstable situation in the country, many European countries advise their citizens not to travel to Ukraine.
But there is a trouble: Ukrainians going on holiday in winter often stay in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk region, since it is closer, any train going to Transcarpathia stops in Lviv. So why go further? But they really should, because nowhere else in the country you can get so many different tourist services at the same time, – Transcarpathians urge their fellow Ukrainians. Here you can go skiing, attend tasting, drink mineral water, improve your health in hot springs, and even – if you have a travel passport – go for a day or two to the EU.
During the day – to the mountains, and in the evening – to the rendezvous in the castle
Svitlana Chernova, a representative of one of the largest tour operators in Transcarpathian region, said that in winter Transcarpathia is the place to go for those who want something more than just skiing.
– In this respect, we are in a better position than Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions, because we can offer tourists a range of entertainment: it does, of course, include mountains, but also castles and medieval towns, thermal baths, and mineral water. The neighbors do not have so many tourist attractions. But despite the advantages, we, Transcarpathians, do not lobby ourselves enough. First, there is not enough advertising in the domestic tourism market. Second, measures to attract tourists are not thought out. For example, all of the trains from Ukrainian cities go through Lviv. That is, people have more opportunities to stay there. But there is no comfortable way of travel from Lviv to Transcarpathia – if people staying there happen to desire so. There are only uncomfortable electric trains. Although the authorities could consider arranging at least one good fast train "Lviv-Uzhgorod", at least during the hottest days of the season. Now we have the regional department of tourism, so maybe there will be some progress. Now we can say that the government has heard the business and repaired the most problem areas of roads leading to popular tourist sites.
But we need to create the image of Transcarpathia abroad too, Ms Svitlana says.
– I know a lot of Italians, Israelis, who would like to come here, but their governments do not advise them to visit Ukraine. Therefore, our officials, for their part, have to explain that there is no war here, that you can stay here without problems, and thus to give people opportunity to make money and pay taxes. Currently, the regional authorities are not doing this, because the decentralization has not been completed, there are no funds for it.
You do not like caroling? Let’s go to Budapest
Tourism expert Fedir Shandor from Uzhgorod says that despite the still unsolved problem of transportation between Transcarpathia and largest Ukrainian cities, holidays here are much better than on the other side of the Carpathians.
– Firstly, a wide range of tasting tours – wine rooms, private breweries, chocolate and confectionery shops, honey, jam rooms, traditional cuisine of Transcarpathia and other minorities that live here… Plus – cheese dairies and exotic farms, such as buffalo farm, where visitors are treated with buffalo milk and products made of it.
Secondly, Mr. Shandor says, there are hot springs and mineral water. Thirdly, vacation in Transcarpathia is cheaper than that in Lviv region. There are fewer people here and no megacities with a solvent population. And skiers, who come to Velyky Berezny district (mountain ski resort Krasiya), are attracted by the fact that there are relatively few people on the slopes, no need to stand in line to the lift for 30-40 minutes.
The fourth advantage: Christmas in Transcarpathia is real, not theatrical, that is in villages you can see living tradition of caroling, dens, even take part in this.
Meanwhile, tourists, who are not that fond of folk traditions, have the opportunity to go to a nearby Budapest (three hours away), to Bratislava or even to Vienna and Prague for a one-day or two-day tour.
Festival are becoming European-like: "striped" tents and Chinese souvenirs are banned
One of the central events of the winter tourist season in Transcarpathia is the street wine festival "Red Wine." It takes place in the height of ski season (this time it will be held on 13-17 of January, 2016). An interesting fact is that local winemakers present their products at the festival. The tasting commission each time determines the winner, who, in addition to honorary diploma, receives a gift from the city: a horse, purebred pigs or sheep.
For 21 years in a row, this festival has been held in the center of the city, which local residents were not too happy about, because the crowded festival literally paralyzed the provincial Mukachevo. Therefore, this year, the organizing committee of the largest wine festival decided to radically change the "Red Wine": the festival was moved to the restored park and "striped" tents were banned. The city has built a wooden town for the festival – in the best traditions of Europe.
– There is a project of the festival town, Transcarpathian entrepreneurs have begun to make the houses – the chairman of the organizing committee of the festival "Red Wine" Vitaly Hiltaychuk said in comments to the UKRINFORM. – It will be an integrated system with sanitation and lighting. At the "Red Wine 2016", there will be about 16 food, 18 souvenir and 40 to 60 wine houses, depending on submitted applications. The contest has been announced for participants who want to present their wines at this year’s fest in Mukachevo. Also this year, there will be a moratorium on Chinese souvenirs at the "Red Wine." We want to provide more opportunities for Transcarpathian artisans.
The fair town will be arranged at the expense of the city, Hiltaychuk said. He said that it would take around UAH 3 million.
Well-known Transcarpathian guide Olena Kudrya says that this festival is a landmark for many Ukrainians, many of her customers plan their vacation specifically with the "Red Wine" in mind.
The "Red Wine" festival is very popular among private firms and corporations in the country, Mukachevo guide Maxim Adamenko says.
– The people have this idea that homemade wine is better than factory-made, because it contains less "chemistry". Therefore, many companies buy corporate tours for their employees to the "Red Wine," they come here specifically to drink homemade wine.
Last year, a glass of red wine at the festival in Mukachevo was 10 UAH, and one liter cost 50 UAH. And tasting is free.
How much does it cost?
Interestingly, this year, Uzhgorod is among the top three Ukrainian cities (according to the portal Booking.com), where the majority of Ukrainian want to celebrate New Year. For early December, 77% of rooms in the Transcarpathian capital were booked. In Lviv and Chernivtsi – 95% and 85%, respectively. Thus, this year, Uzhgorod is ahead of Odesa and Kyiv. Meanwhile, New Year holidays in Transcarpathia are also the cheapest. The cost of renting an apartment at the "peak" dates from December 31 to January 2 is the lowest in the country and amounts to 350 to 700 UAH per night.
As for the stay at tourist centers or in mini-hotels, the economy version is 200-250 UAH / day. This includes accommodation and breakfast. Additional payment for lunch is an average of 50-80 UAH per person.
We have also studied the prices of basic entertainment in Transcarpathia. Thus, hot springs, depending on the location, are at least 120 UAH per person for 2 hours. Bathing in vats is 200 UAH for 2-3 hours. Skiing: equipment rent – 50 UAH / day, lifts – 20 UAH or more. Wine tasting in private estates (wine cellars, cheese dairy, home jam) is 50-60 UAH per person. And the cost of tours in Transcarpathian castles is about 20 UAH per person.
And the government is hastily patching the roads…
Interestingly, recently, Transcarpathian authorities have also strated promoting the region on the travel market of the country. This year, the Department of Tourism and Resorts was established in the structure of the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration. Its head Denys Man told that the RSA had a strategy to attract tourists to winter recreation in Transcarpathia.
– All, who have visited Transcarpathia before, complain that we have very bad roads. Therefore, the "number 1" issue to be addressed is the repair of roads, in particular, urgently those leading to famous ski resorts of the region – Denys Man says. – Their repair is now being completed.
– Transcarpathian tourist industry entities complain that there is no external advertising strategy for Transcarpathian tourist attractions outside the region. When Transcarpathia will be advertised to all Ukrainians? – I ask the official.
– It depends primarily on the advertising provided by the tourist facilities themselves. At one time, we were unable to compete with large European brands or even Ukrainian Bukovel, but we actually have very strong potential – the Borzhava, the Vyshka, and even the Dragobrat, the only ski resort where the snow remains even in May. For its part, the Department of Tourism presents the winter potential of Transcarpathia at tourism exhibitions. During the last two, particularly in Kyiv and Lviv, we showed all our winter resorts. Abroad, tourism companies invest heavily in such exhibitions, because they understand the importance of properly selected advertising strategy. But our enterprises do not participate in such events very often. Therefore, in the future, such joint activities between the business and the government in the promotion of tourist brands of the region must be a priority.
For the next year, about 50,000 UAH is provided in the regional budget for outdoor advertising in other regions, – Denys Man informed.