In Southwestern Ukraine is one of its most beautiful cities - Chernivtsi. To quote my host who received me: Ukraine is the best kept secret in Europe and Chernivtsi is the best kept secret in Ukraine. The following days I certainly thought this statement made sense. I have not seen every place of Europe - far from, but it is overly clear that Chernivtsi is one special town. It is simply stunning with its cobbled streets, brightly coloured buildings and fountains on large squares. Even more, I appreciated the laid-back atmosphere and friendliness of people. Chernivtsi gets so few visitors from outside the country that it is easy to feel like an explorer, especially in the countryside around the city. It seems strange that the city's beauty is so unknown outside the country borders. This might have a couple of reasons - the whole of Ukraine remains relatively little visited and besides, it is not on any tourist itinerary. Kiev, Lviv and Odessa are far away and Chernivtsi is not even close to being on route between these cities. Tucked away in the Southwest, this region is often overlooked by the tourists that do flock into Ukraine. However, a small influx knows about the region's lush hills and sleepy towns with its regional hub Chernivtsi. They come back for more. What makes the Southwest unique is its hilly terrain of which there is very little in the rest of Ukraine, aside from Crimea. Therefore, lovers of nature and authenticity found their travel heaven in these parts.
Most itineraries in Eastern Europe do not involve Ukraine in general, and if they do it's mostly Krakow - Lviv - Kiev - Odessa - Chisinau - Bucharest. Chernivtsi's province is for these reasons skipped, it is off the main paths. Those who know and decide to visit Chernivtsi, often stay hooked for a longer period. It is such a pleasant town that it makes sense to stay for those that have the time, to really get to know the place. There are abundant possibilities for excursions all around. Chernivtsi is, together with Lviv, a cultural center in the west of Ukraine. It is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city. During the city's most prosperous era, it enjoyed being the crown capital of the Bucovina region and besides Ukrainians; Romanians, Poles, Germans, Ruthenians and Jews called Chernivtsi their home. Nowadays the city attracts many students as well, it has an excellent university that happens to be absolutely eye-catching as well. Before the Second World War, Chernivtsi housed approximately 50.000 Jews of whom a third survived the war.
Historically, Chernivtsi has been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, explaining its architecture influenced by Central European styles. Its most beautiful piece of architecture is Chernivtsi University, in the stunning building that was once was the Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans. It is best to explore the city on foot as there are plenty of sights along the main streets. An interesting place to visit is Kalinovsky Market, an extremely large open market place with sea containers full of goods being sold at good rates. This is your place for a pair of gloves or a nice hat for winter. Many small marshrutka buses leave for the market - it is best to ask the people which to take. Other easy trips from Chernivtsi are to Khotyn castle and Kamyanets Podilsky castle, two absolutely gorgeous places that are easy to both visit in a day. Both are reachable by bus. Ukraine is home to a large amount of castles, of which many are in the Southwest. Those who have a car or a lot of patience for the irregular public transport to remote places, are guaranteed to find some jewels. Do some research on the castles first - most are very rarely visited and left out of most tourist information. Best to ask the locals, as in the whole of Ukraine is the case.
Chernivtsi has some decent hotels and hostels around the center and good restaurants and nightlife venues are plenty. This city is a true delight and should absolutely be included in any itinerary through Ukraine. Enjoy the pictures, which include the city, the open-air market and Khotyn and Kamyanets Podilsky castle.