James Adkin, our Cycling Programme Manager, tells us about why he fell in love with Belarus and decided to create a short-break cycling trip through this fascinating country.
Belarus is one of the least well known destinations within Europe with relatively little tourism.. The country still maintains strong traditions and has an intriguing history from the Soviet regime to UNESCO World Heritage castles.
I had wanted to create a cycling trip there for quite a while and last year the government announced they were going to introduce 5-day visa free stays, which meant that our customers could enjoy this fascinating country easily. I packed my bags and headed to Minsk to see exactly what the country had to offer.
Our trip takes a loop around Belarus, starting and ending in Minsk, a city dominated by Soviet architecture from the 1950s onwards. It was different to anything I had seen before and I loved it. The streets are tidy, buildings maintained with great care; even falling leaves are quickly raked into neat piles ready for collection.
Cycling through Minsk means you see much more of this wonderful city. We followed a dedicated cycle path and sections on the pavement, as bikes are not permitted on the city roads. At night restaurants and bars are full of local live music and a buzzing atmosphere.
Once in the countryside the cycling is easy mainly along flat roads surrounded by pine forests, making it great for first timers cyclists as well as those looking to get under the skin of somewhere different. I love seeing a country by bike, as you get to stop in places you would never normally see and you get to meet and converse with locals. We had a memorable stop at the Rosy eco-village. Here we met people who have moved away from city life to grow their own produce, and we got the chance to sample their food.
Our next stop on the route was two 15th century UNESCO World Heritage castles at Mir and Nesvizh. The castles aren’t like any you would find in England, with beautiful Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styling. In the evening we enjoyed a dinner in Nesvizh castle before staying overnight in the Palace.
The people along the way are what make this cycling trip unique. We visited Ales Los farmhouse belonging to a talented couple who dedicate their lives to reviving folkloric music and traditions in Belarus. We also stopped for lunch in a re-built 18th century trading lodge, run by Vadim and his wife. The lunch was delicious and we found out Vadim had written books about Belorussian cuisine as well as the Belorussian partisans in WWII.
Returning back to the capital we cycled through a regenerating factory area plastered with excellent street art. I got my last USSR fix as we visited the Soviet-era Aist bicycle factory, complete with an enormous nuclear shelter beneath and finally the Great Patriotic War Museum.
This trip really is one of a kind. As tourism is in its infancy in the country it felt authentic and untouched. It condenses the essence of Belarus, Stalinist architecture, Grand Duchy forts and primeval forests into a short 5-day break and meeting the local people brought this fascinating country to life.