Welcome to the Hutsul Alps, one of Ukraines premier natural beauties. God was in an especially good mood when he fashioned the Carpathian Mountains, also known as The Lungs of Europe. True, Ukrainians themselves only refer to the mountains around Rakhiv as the Hutsul Alps, however, for foreign visitors, the local Hutsul culture helps distinguish this section of the Carpathian Mountains from sections that rest in bordering lands. Here, long, thin villages stretch out languidly along potholed roads, with tiered wooden churches dotting the landscape at intervals. Haystacks ring simple farmhouses, simple except for the frequent embossed tin walls and roofs. Horse-drawn carts clip-clop along; babushkas herd their geese, and marshrutka passengers cross themselves as they pass roadside chapels.

Yes, the everyday reality of Hutsulshchyna is overwhelmingly rural, but this beautiful region is also one of Ukraines leading holiday spots. These rolling peaks have been a long-time paradise for Ukrainian hikers and skiers. The Carpathian National Nature Park, the countrys largest such park, lies in this region, and, within the parks boundaries, stands Mt. Hoverla Ukraines highest peak (2,061 meters). Ukraines glitziest ski resort is also here. Postcard-pretty towns like Kolomyya and Mukachevo represent another drawing card. Whats most impressive about this region, without argument, are the clear mountain vistas, accessible off narrow hiking trails. If theres an ounce of explorer within you, this region will draw it out. Dont be timid: Explore inviting nooks; discover new crannies.

Each of the regions gateway cities Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi and Uzhhorod has its attractions. However, the whole point of visiting the Carpathians is to head off-road and off-point. If the language and transport challenges make this region mystify you, we suggest you seek out a friendly local guide. Then, grab your sense of adventure and head for them thar hills! While youre at it, be sure to sample varenyky (similar to ravioli but stuffed with potatoes or cheese), borshch (the national Ukrainian soup dish), and, of course, salo (smoked pig fat). Salo is to Ukrainians what chocolate is to the Swiss.