Closer to Europe. How tourism is reviving in Transcarpathia
The sign on the exit from Uzhgorod shows a distance of 745 km to Kiev. Locals joke: Transcarpathia is closer to 12 European capitals than to the capital of Ukraine. Today, this region is becoming a real tourist competitor not only to the hyped Ukrainian Lviv, but also to neighboring Hungary and Slovakia.
“Transcarpathia is a tourist Klondike, in each of 13 districts there is some kind of zest that can attract tourists,” says Denis Man, a young and energetic head of the Department of Economics of the Transcarpathian Regional State Administration. It was with his arrival in the region that a real tourist boom began. Decentralization also helped: in 2017, a record 3 million UAH was allocated here for the development of tourism – a huge amount for Transcarpathia.
Ski resorts, thermal and mineral springs, castles and palaces, as well as amazing cuisine and unusual festivals are what attract guests here.
Fedor Shandor, professor at Uzhgorod University, today advises more than one gastro-eating establishment in Transcarpathia. He is sure that the region is only on the verge of a great tourist boom, and its main advantage over competitors is gastrotourism. “In our region, in 3-4 days you can try unique Transcarpathian (Ukrainian) cuisine, Hungarian dishes, craft beer and excellent wines and cheeses, in Europe you will not find anything like this diversity in such a small territory,” explains Sandor.
The products of local cheese producers are popular with tourists: it becomes the main Transcarpathian souvenir. The gastro-tourism center of Transcarpathia is a small village called Lower Selishche. Every day there are several hundred tourists – bus after bus pulls up to a small building on the outskirts of the village. Everyone wants to get to a tasting of unique local cheeses, which are produced by a small “Seliska Syrovarnya” – one of the most famous gastronomic brands of Transcarpathia.
The founder of the production, a local resident Pyotr Prigara, recalls that 15 years ago, after his arrival from Switzerland, local residents were rather skeptical about the idea of creating a cheese factory. “Nobody believed that here in Ukraine you can make cheese that will be no worse than in Switzerland,” he says. “Some were afraid that the cheese factory would have environmental problems: water and land pollution would begin. Others they didn’t believe that someone would buy expensive local cheeses. ”
It took two years for the cheese factory to recognize and try out its products. First, cheeses were appreciated by guests from Uzhgorod and Kiev, then gradually tourists from other regions began to come to Nizhny Selishche. It was then that the local population believed in the success of the cause begun by Peter Prigar. Today every day a ton of fresh milk is brought to him, and in the queue of wholesale buyers are not only Ukrainians, but also businessmen from other countries. At the same time, the cheese maker is in no hurry to satisfy many times the increased demand. “The main thing is quality, so we are not in a hurry to expand,” Prigara explains.
Swim like in Europe
Another feature of Transcarpathia is thermal springs. They were known in the days of the Soviet Union, but then they were practically not used. Today there is a map of explored thermal wells: it shows that in Transcarpathia, wherever you dig, you can make a bath. Only investments are needed.
For example, in Beregovo there used to be only one large outdoor thermal pool of the Transcarpathia sports base, built in the 1960s. It was popular far beyond Transcarpathia, but without reconstruction and investment, it is now gradually declining. Moreover, serious competitors appear nearby. Starting from 2010, a new thermal complex or swimming pool is opened or modernized almost every year in the region, since the demand for such facilities significantly exceeds supply.
Today, most of the money invested in the development of this direction is the funds of Ukrainian investors or foreigners who were born in Transcarpathia. Mukachevo last year presented a large project for the reconstruction of the old pool and the creation of a huge thermal complex in its place, which will compete with Hungarian baths. The local community is ready to invest the money. With the advent of normal roads, there will be even more such projects in Transcarpathia.
Tourist complexes with thermal springs await guests at any time of the yearA what real competition is clearly seen in the largest thermal complex in Ukraine, Kosino. Transcarpathian investors made a complex of European level from a former collective farm health resort, from which only a small thermal pool remained today. But with Ukrainian prices and staff. And now not only domestic, but also Hungarian tourists come here. 10 euros for a three-hour visit is 2-2.5 times less than in the baths of Hungary and Slovakia. And the conditions for swimming and relaxing in Kosino are in no way inferior to neighboring countries. So, tourists from Hungary began to visit here more and more often.