Hot jar spa
One of the most popular Hutsul recreation activities in winter is hot jar spa. Also called "chan" in Ukrainian, hot jar is a spa treatment with a unique heating system. For those who don't know how “chan” works, people getting into a full cast iron vat placed on fire might be terrifying.
However, it's not as dangerous as it seems. The temperature in the hot jar reaches the maximum of 45 degrees Celsius, and river stones put on the bottom of a jar prevent burning. Moreover, the hotels usually offer to consult their specialist to make sure it's absolutely safe for you before taking a hot jar spa. The tradition of "chan" originates from Austria-Hungary, where hot jars have been used as a way to prepare the body before submerging into a hot spring. Nowadays, hot jars are popular for the treatment of deep-rooted muscle knots, insomnia and psychological stress. A decoction of local medical herbs is often put in the water for a pleasant aroma.
Turyanskyi Dvir private estate that is located 50 kilometers from Uzhorod is one of the well-visited hot jar spa spots in the Ukrainian Carpathian mountains. After enjoying the hot jar outside, you can submerge in the nearby mountain lake. Turyanskyi Dvir offers cottages to stay at and a restaurant to indulge in traditional Carpathian and Hungarian dishes.
Bukovelsky Chany is one more popular hot jar spa spot, located in the very center of the Bukovel resort on the picturesque bank of the Prutets River. The venue has two hot jars - a small that can host up to 5 people and a large one for a bigger company. Both are based on spring water from the local sources. Visitors are offered fragrant Carpathian tea with honey to finish the relaxing treatment.
You can check out more hot jar spa locations in our guide.
Skiing usually comes as number one among the things to do in the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine in winter. Naturally, Bukovel ski resort is the most desired location among the fans of extreme winter sports and fairytale recreation. Often the venues are fully booked a year ahead, so it is also wise to consider no less beautiful options.
Drahobrat, for instance, is also incredibly popular, as it is the highest ski mountain resort in Ukraine located at 1400-meter altitude. Thanks to the weather in the Carpathians, it is always full of natural snow. 10 kilometers of slopes are available for skiing and snowboarding, as well as 13 lifts. The slopes are suitable both for amateurs and complete rookies.
A tiny Pylypets village that is located high in the Carpathians is another well-known skiing spot. 7 kilometers of slopes located on Hymba and Riapushka mountains are popular among those who have previous experience in skiing and snowboarding. Four chairlifts are available in this resort. Moreover, a 3-kilometer hike can lead you to the famous Shypit waterfall.
In case you want to visit the places with a smaller number of tourists, consider less known skiing spots in the Carpathians.
Apart from skiing, Bukovel ski resort offers to enjoy ice skating in the Carpathians. The local open-air ice rink lies nearby the Lucky Bull restaurant and in winter is illuminated by the Christmas lights.
Visitors often come here to enjoy the activity on the fresh air and polish their ice skating skills. The local instructors can assist both rookies and amateurs. Besides, Bukovel offers free parking for all ice rink visitors.
Rich culture and history
Thanks to the region's location, there are plenty of things to see in the Carpathian mountains in case you're interested in cultures of Ukraine, Romania and Poland. The carriers of local customs and traditions are Hutsuls, Lemkos and Boikos - ethnographic groups spread in the Carpathians. Each has brought unique traits to the region.
The famous wooden churches of the Carpathians, for example, are mostly typical examples of Hutsul and Boiko architecture. Eight of the wooden temples in the Carpathians were included in UNESCO World Heritage Sites list for their 'exceptional testimony to a distinct ecclesiastical building tradition'.
The Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Rohatyn is the oldest existing wooden church in Ukraine. Officially it dates back to 1598 - the year carved on one of the church walls. It was a place of worship for one of the first Orthodox Brotherhoods in Ukraine, Rohatyn Brotherhood.
They were the ones who ordered a luxurious Baroque iconostasis - completed in 1650, it belongs to the three oldest iconostases in Ukraine. The church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit was lucky to survive numerous regimes and two World Wars with minor renovations. Nowadays it functions as a museum and hosts an exhibition of traditional Galician icons, sculptures and carving.The old town of Muckachevo in Zakarpattia is included in Top 11 Most Beautiful Places in Ukraine by CNN. It is located in the valley of Latorica River and is full of Baroque cathedrals, tiny winding streets and medieval castles. Given that the city was under the Austro-Hungarian reign for a while, it's safe to say it still carries the small European town vibe.
Palanok Castle is one of the most-visited sights in Mukachevo. It was built circa 11th century and was a strategical fortification for the Kingdom of Hungary. Throughout its history, the castle served different purposes from a residence of noble families to a political prison. Nowadays, it welcomes tourists to explore its 130 rooms and look at the majestic panoramic view that opens from the top. You can take a look at our guide on more things to do in Mukachevo (LINK).
One of the things that locals like to do in Ukrainian Carpathians is fishing. Some places offer to enjoy legal fishing no matter the season or weather. For instance, numerous trout farms work all the year round and offer to relax by the clean water and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
Eco-Forel farm located in Yavoriv village is convenient to reach from Ivano-Frankivsk or Kolomyia. Moreover, it's also close to Verkhovyna ski resort. The local farm is located near the mountain river sources where the water is clear enough for trout to live and grow.You can take your own fishing rods or rent at the property.
Vezha Vedmezha hotel that lies in Slavske village also offers fishing as winter recreation in the Carpathians. The hotel organizes tours to trout farms in Korostiv, Slavske or Verkhne Studene villages. The latter is located by the Vita pond surrounded by the bushy Carpathian forests.
Delicious local cuisine
An obvious answer to "What to do in the Carpathian mountains?" is to enjoy the local cuisine. Due to the fact that the highlands of the Carpathians are home to different nationalities and ethnic groups, the region's cuisine is just as diverse. It brings together traditions and features of Romanian, Slovakian, Hungarian, and Moldovan cuisines.
For example, one of the most iconic Carpathian dishes - mamalyga - originally comes from Romanian cuisine. The porridge is made of yellow maize flour and is traditionally served with sour cream and brynza. According to the Hutsul tradition, it is placed on a wooden board or a fresh towel instead of a plate so that mamalyga keeps its original flavor. In the Carpathians, the dish often replaces bread.
Banosh, also known as Banusz, is the principal dish of Hutsul cuisine. The ethnical group that lives in the Carpathians has their own way of cooking banosh - in an oven opposed to the urban stove. The dish is quite dense and has a slightly sour taste. Banosh is served hot with sour cream, brynza cheese or pork lard.
Luckily, nearly any local restaurant or hotel can offer hearty local dishes, so there's no need to head to one place specifically - just make sure to read reviews before you go to the restaurant. Most venues use local-only products starting from cheese and meat to delicious Carpathian teas and honey.
Last but not least, tasting the local wine is also a worthy and underrated activity in the Carpathians. So in case you’re wondering where to go in the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine this winter, Mukachevo town hosts an annual Chervene Wyno wine festival. In 2019, it will last from January 9 to 14. Chervene Wyno gathers renowned winemakers and sommeliers from Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Moldavia and Croatia, as well as Ukrainian and foreign guests.
The festival was founded in 1995, as states its official Facebook page. Chervene Wyno is traditionally held on the Saint Basil's Day, also called the Old New Year in Ukraine. Guests will have a chance to see the traditional Ukrainian Christmas customs - koliadky carols and Vertep puppet theatre. Besides, the best folk bands of Zakarpattia will perform live during the festival.
You can find more info at the official Facebook page of the festival.
The following list is the editor's choice. All businesses are mentioned in a random order.
Photo sources: websites of businesses mentioned above, depositphotos.com, shutterstock.com, ukrtravel.blogspot.com. All images belong to their rightful authors.