Top destination for 2009: Belarus!
Europe made a good showing of course, with almost every country of the continent there to present its case for a share of the tourist dollar. Almost every. But not quite all.
Belarus was sadly unrepresented at this year’s ITB, its absence a quiet reminder that there is still one part of Europe fairly undiscovered by tourists. That will not last for long.
Late last year the first ever English language travel guide to Belarus was published by Bradt Travel Guides. And the current issue of hidden europe magazine has a feature on the small Belarusian town of Vetka, a place in the far southeast of the country that was terribly afflicted by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in nearby Ukraine. That article was written by Nigel Roberts, the author of the new Bradt guide to the country.
Belarus is one Europe’s most intriguing countries, a survivor from the Soviet era where Lenin still stands on his plinth, the trains still run to time, and the streets are impeccably clean. We were impressed on our last visit. Towns like Grodna and Minsk will before long surely cut a dash in the European tourist market.
This summer budget carrier Wizzair is offering twice weekly flights to L’viv in Ukraine from both London and Dortmund. And Air Baltic, as well as serving Moldova and Ukraine from its Riga hub, will also fly into the Belarus capital Minsk.
For folk less inclined to hop on a plane, Belarus is well served by regular bus services from Vilnius and has excellent rail links with neighbouring Poland. The capital has a daily direct overnight train to Berlin.
If Belarus appeals, don’t forget that you need a visa. And go soon. We have a sense that it is a country on the brink of change.