Unexpected paradise

Driving to Dubno

After the stress of not knowing whether our car would be roadworthy or not, we needed a fairly relaxed day and that’s exactly what we got. We left the Motel Euro at midday and decided that I’d drive, despite having been warned by the border guard that Sylwia should. We coasted to the town of Kovel on the well-surfaced road towards Kiev, then turned to Lutsk. Again the road was not bad, there was only the occasional hole. The last section of that road was under construction, which meant lots of little bits of tar flicked up at the car. We turned left just before entering Lutsk and followed the signs for Dubno. All of these roads were very quiet and quite relaxing to drive on. Just before Dubno, the road joins the main Kiev to Lviv drag which is a road in good condition.There was not a policeman in sight.

Road to Kremenets

Road to Kremenets


Tarakanovskiy Fortress

Because it was only a couple of kilometres out of our way, we decided to visit the Tarakanovskiy Fortress. With no signposts to the fortress, it could be hard to find. I’d checked out the route on Google Street View beforehand.

It’s on the south side of Tarakaniv and you need to follow a small dirt track which starts off near the cemetery. Navigating your way around the puddles, you might think you’re going to a dead end but eventually, there is a clearing and in our case, there were several cars parked and even a guy selling souvenirs and offering tours from his car.

The Tarakanovskiy Fortress has been abandoned since WW2 when it was used as a hideout for Polish soldiers who gave it its last lease of life. Despite being an impressively large fortress, initially built by the Russians and later captured by the Austro-Hungarians, it has never lived up to expectation and has in fact been empty for a lot of its life.

You can mooch around the ruins free of charge, there is an impressive network of dark corridors and some tunnels which connect different parts of the fort. The surrounding countryside is also very beautiful.

On our way out of the complex, Alicja decided to go for a wee in the bushes. One of the guides warned us about something like ‘Borshivik’. As he was pointing to a plant, it became apparent he was not talking about Bolsheviks. He told us it was poisonous and with a little bit of research we found out it was hogweed. I’ve heard lots about hogweed but have been pretty oblivious to it, but since being warned of it, I notice it everywhere in Ukraine! It’s definitely not recommended to brush it against your bottom!

Hotel Panorama

Heading back towards Dubno there is a signpost for Ternopil, we followed that road to Kremenets which only took us about 30-40 minutes, stopping to take a picture of a particularly gaudy Orthodox church. Again the road is fine, a bit bumpy but hole-free.

I’d checked out the location of Hotel Panorama in Kremenets on Google Maps before leaving Poland and found it easy to navigate my way there. I’ve never really used GPS, in fact, I don’t really use maps anymore either. I have a photographic memory, so I just need to look at the map a couple of times and it stays in my memory forever! The signposts in Ukraine are pretty good, perhaps less regular than in Western countries. If there isn’t one, just go straight and you should be fine. As a backup, I have Wikiloc on my phone. It’s free and you can download a map of a country and then see your location on that map without connecting to the Internet. I used it once on a mountain trail and found it to be effective.

Our first impressions of the Hotel Panorama were really good. We’d booked two twin rooms for 300UAH on booking.com (150 UAH per room). The rooms were nice and clean but it was the outside that won us over. Hotel Panorama is a dream for kids. There are two playgrounds, a swimming pool, two large trampolines, a range of rides, and lots of pondside cafe tables. The food was delicious, although if you’re a fan of vegetables, you’re probably going to want to order a salad since dishes like shashlik are purely meat. The pizza is very good.

Here are some sample prices –

Beer – 16 UAH

Pizza – 40-60 UAH

Shashlik – 65 UAH

Natalia in reception was very friendly and did her best to speak Polish. Getting by in English would be quite difficult. Every order was a mix of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and English-Polish, and a lot of gesturing but the more beer I drunk, the better my ordering skills got. The bar staff – Yuriy, Denis and Ivanka were particularly cool. Our kids, Alex and Alicja were so overjoyed with the possibilities for playing that they became rather careless with their tablets. Alex has a LeapPad2, which he left on an empty table far away in a secluded part of the resort, meanwhile, Alicja left her Hudl with a new friend, then lost her and couldn’t quite remember what she looked like! By the time we discovered they’d mislaid their items, it was almost 10 pm. The hotel was showing Dynamo Kiev v Shakhtar Donetsk on a big screen and a lot of the children had gone home.

Thankfully, both items had been handed into the bar staff who had kept them for us. We were over the moon, perhaps more so than the kids. The tablets have been a saviour on some of the journeys. They keep them occupied and also double up as cameras and they take pictures of churches and other buildings as we pass by them.

We were not expecting the Hotel Panorama to be such an attraction but it kept us all occupied all afternoon and evening. The weather was nice and the kids played football with lots of other kids. There were five choices for breakfasts, we tried three – one was an omelette, another was pancakes with sweet white cheese and raisins, and Alex’s personal favourite – fried eggs and sausage. Additionally, there was bread, cheese, butter and ham. Three breakfasts and coffee cost 150 UAH.

The more we explored, the more we unearthed – there was a large gym upstairs which cost 15 UAH per day, four or five billiard tables, several football tables and another play area for children. All of these facilities were open but not being used. There’s a shop on site and a very handsome cat made of straw bales to greet new arrivals. Despite all the in-house attractions, it was time to get out and see the surrounding area and the town of Kremenets (Krzemeniec) which was once a Polish centre of culture.



We wound our way up the hill following signs for ‘Zamkowa Gora’ in Cyrillic script. The road eventually petered out into a single-lane dirt track. On the top, there was a car park. The entrance fee was 7 UAH for adults and 2 UAH for children. Alex was deemed too ‘malinki’ to be charged an admission price.

The castle in Kremenets was once given to Bona Sforza as a gift from her admiring husband – Sigismund I of Poland. Considered a bit of a looker in her time, I had only ever seen pictures of her that made her look a bit constipated, so either tastes were very different in the 15th century or the artists failed to capture her true beauty. Today the castle is in ruins, although some parts still stand quite tall. You can circumnavigate the walls (either by walking along them if you are brave) or round the bottom if you are feeling more cautious or with children, this gives you a good view of the whole town.

Down in the centre, there are numerous brightly coloured churches. My favourites are the two blue ones. We did some shopping in Kremenets and everyone seemed rather friendly. It’s a bit run down but it has a certain charm to it.

Just before departure, we made sure to stop by the Juliusz Slowacki Museum. Sylwia still remembers the horrors of having to analyse his work as a high school student but I told my Polish teacher that we’d pay a visit. You might be familiar with the poet’s work and probably know that he was born in Kremenets, but did you know he had such an array of ornate fireplaces. Never before have I seen such a collection of them. He had them in every room, even two in the visitor’s room with a piano.

If you’re a Slowacki fan then you’ll no doubt love to see some of his first edition books in all their glory and find the information which is all in Polish, extremely interesting. Tickets cost just 15 UAH. The museum is easy to find but not signposted. The street is a narrow street called Boulevard Juliusz Slowackiego, it is on the right after the church and court. You can also buy a guide book of the museum in English for about 50 UAH.


There’s something intriguing about Orthodox churches and monastery complexes, they seem so colourful and exotic. A mere 30 minutes drive south-west from Kremenets lies the town of Pochayiv. There’s almost nothing between the two towns and as you get closer towards Pochayiv you can see the monastery complex standing proudly on the hill. It is Ukraine’s second biggest monastery and is still growing. A popular place for pilgrims, you can park down in the square and then make your way up to the gates. The path that leads up to the gates was lined with beggars and just in front of the gate, on the right, was a place where women can borrow/rent clothes such as headscarves and long dresses to match the religious dress code. Alternatively, you could buy your own from the market stalls near the square. The priests were apparently not offended by my hairy ginger legs as I had no problems getting in. I entered the grounds and admired the buildings from the outside. The locals genuflect at every occasion, so I felt as though I stood out a bit, just taking pictures on my smartphone! Unless you’re an Orthodox pilgrim, Pochayiv will only keep you busy for around an hour, despite its size. The road from Kremenets is very good.



In this blog post 6 PLN = 1 UAH, 1 GBP = 30 UAH and 1 EUR = 27 UAH

In the next post find out how I became possessed by Sataniv. We explore the medieval fortresses of Kamyanets Podilsky and Khotyn and give you the lowdown on Ukrainian grub.



roadworthy – meeting the necessary safety and technical requirements to drive on public roads

coasted – travel easily, without using much power

mooch – to walk around slowly without purpose

overjoyed – extremely pleased or happy

over the moon – ecstatic

unearthed – discovered, revealed

wound our way up – travelled slowing in a winding way

petered out – gradually diminished to nothing

deemed – considered

looker – an attractive person

array – wide selection

mere – a small quantity, this only



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