Grodno (Hrodna) is situated in the northwest of White Russia, not far from the border to Poland. It is one of the cultural and economic centres of Belarus. Its geographic location, coupled with the diversity of its culture and nature, make it an attractive tourist destination.
In addition to the colourful history of Grodno and northern White Russia, we repeatedly examine the question of the inhabitants’ relationship with nature in Belarus – whether it be in the Bialowieza biosphere reserve, in the chalk quarries at Krasnoselsk and the surrounding renaturated lakes or on Natalia Nikolayevna’s goat farm. During the tour, you will get to know interesting White Russians who will give you an insight into life in Belarus from their own personal point of view.
In Grodno you get the feeling of a west European mentality, particularly in architecture. Master craftsmen from Germany, Italy, Prussia and elsewhere came here in different eras, commissioned by Lithuanian princes and Polish kings, and their legacy is still visible today. The town’s eventful history is immortalised in the walls and buildings. You just need to stop and look: we will be glad to help you.
One can travel to Grodno in a comfortable touring coach or by train. If you are travelling via Minsk this would be a good opportunity to visit the capital, which we would be happy to arrange for you. Our English-speaking tour guide will be waiting to welcome you and will take you to your hotel. There he will assist with the checking-in formalities and will show you to your room. Later he will discuss the programme for the coming days with you, giving you useful tips about the town and country and answering your questions. You will take a stroll together around the town and have an evening meal in a typical Belarusian restaurant.
After breakfast your guide will collect you from your hotel and take you on an extended city tour on foot.
Not far from the hotel is the spot where the town of Grodno was founded as a fortress in 1128, in the north-west of the Kievan Rus. This is the location of two royal palaces, more or less next to each other, the New and the Old Palace. The Old Palace was built towards the end of the 14th century and was a central part of the Grodno fortress compound before it was converted to the Renaissance style by the Italian architect Scotta in the 16th century. Today it is home to the town’s Museum of History and Archaeology.
The New Palace also houses a museum. It was built in 1751 in the Rococo style as the seat of the Polish/Lithuanian Sejm and in 1795, the last Polish king, Stanislaus August Poniatowski abdicated here.
Afterwards we will go to Lenin Square in Grodno, this is composed of two parts, the “modern” part with the unavoidable Lenin monument and the second part an architectural complex which was built at the end of the 18th century according to plans by Antoni Tyzenhaus. Tyzenhaus was a noble from an originally German family and a close friend of the last Polish king, who played an important role at this time as reformer and pioneer of industrialisation in the region and whose name is indelibly linked with the town. The old Music School, the Drama Theatre and the town archives around the square are all open to visitors.
From here we shall go through the municipal park (At the end of the 18th century this was the site of one of the most famous botanical gardens in Europe, named after the French botanist Jean Emmanuel Gilibert, who came to Grodno as a doctor and biologist at Tyzenhausen’s behest) to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was originally built in the 17th century in the Gothic style. Here you will have the opportunity to talk to the pastor about the church’s history and the coexistence of religions.
After this, you will visit the central Orthodox Pokrovskaya Cathedral (mausoleum). It was built between 1904 and 1905 in honour of the soldiers of the Grodno region who lost their lives in the Russian/Japanese war. Depending on the time of day you may be able to attend a service, to give you an idea of what the Byzantine rite entails.
The tour continues along Sovietskaya Street, the main pedestrian area in the town centre. This is composed primarily of lovingly restored merchants’ houses from the beginning of the 19th century. In one of these houses there is a typical Belarusian restaurant where you will have lunch.
Revived, we will continue on our way down Sovietskaya Street which leads to the main square of the town, Sovietskaya Square. Here we shall visit the main cathedral, the largest Catholic cathedral in Belarus. It was built towards the end of the 16th century at a time when Stefan Batory ruled over the area as King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.
Subsequently you will be able to delve into the turbulent and frequently tragic Jewish history of the town. The main synagogue, dating from the second half of the 19th century, stands to this day. The head of the community will give you a brief introduction and show you the museum devoted to the history of the Grodno Jews, which lies next to the synagogue.
Our final tour destination is the Church of St. Boris and St. Gleb, one of the oldest religious buildings in Belarus, dating from 1180.
Your guide will pick you up again in the evening and take you to the home of a Belarusian family, where you will have supper together. This will give you an opportunity to sample delicious local specialities such as the typical “dranniki” (fried potato cakes) and “borscht” (beetroot soup) and see what life is like for a genuine Belarusian family.
Your tour guide will collect you from your hotel after breakfast and together you will drive about 25 km northwards to the so-called Augustów Canal. The canal was built between 1823 and 1839 to connect the River Vistula with the River Neman, creating a waterway to the Baltic.
In the course of history, the waterway lost its importance and today it is used for tourism and pleasure craft. The canal is 101 km long, stretching from White Russia to Poland. You will take a short boat trip (about 1 hour) and then have a picnic by the water or take a stroll through the picturesque landscape along the banks.
On the return journey we will stop in the little village, or rather at the nearby castle of Svyatsk. Standing proudly on a vast plain, this dilapidated jewel was built by the Italian architect Giuseppe Sakko for the aristocratic Volovich family.
We will make another stop in the open air museum at Korobchitsi, which gives an idea of what village life was like in the 19th century. Ride around the grounds in a horse and carriage.
You will return to Grodno in the early evening and the rest of the day you can do as you like. If you wish, we would be happy to arrange tickets to a cultural event for you, such as the philharmonic orchestra or the puppet theatre (depending on the programme).
Your guide will collect you from your hotel after breakfast and drive south with you to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Belarusian: Belaweschskaja Puschtcha) which is one of the last virgin forests in Europe and a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Our first stop is in the village of Rudnya which lies in the depths of the forest and where you will spend the night on a country estate. First of all you will be shown around and get to know the inhabitants. After lunch, your host Vladimir, will lead you through the most beautiful parts of the forest: he knows every tree and bush. He will explore the surrounding area with you, where European bison and many other wild animals are free to roam. Without hesitation, he will take you to grazing and feeding areas, where you can observe the majestic gentle giants in the wild and take photos. He is an experienced guide and has much to tell about this unique biosphere reserve. A once in a lifetime experience!
The evening will be spent around the camp fire with shashlik (tender marinated and barbecued kebabs prepared by your host) and beer, with the option of enjoying a relaxing visit to a Russian banya (sauna), built by Vladimir himself.
The morning will start with a sumptuous breakfast prepared by your hostess: home-baked goodies, fresh eggs, dranniki (savoury potato cakes), sirniki (curd pancakes) and hot drinks made with fresh spring water.
We then leave the country estate, heading back in the direction of Grodno. First stop is the chalk quarries near the little town of Krasnoselsk, otherwise known as the “Belarusian Maledives”. Over the last 100 years, chalk mining has left deep scars on the countryside and lakes, which are anything up to four kilometres long have formed. Looking at the deep blue water and the sheer drop of the white banks you would never guess that you are in the middle of Belarus. Earlier on this was a bathing and fisherman’s paradise, as well as a cheap backdrop for advertisements and music clips, but now the “Melovie Kareri” are closed to the public.
However, an employee from the local administration will open the gates for us and let us admire the unique landscape and see how the area is now put to commercial use.
From here we will go a little further east to the village of Bol‘shaya Rogoznitsa, where there is an interesting Catholic church. It was carved out of rocks from the surrounding fields in 1906 and was built in Romanesque style with elements of Constructivism. What makes the church, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, so unique in the region is the austere aesthetics which are more reminiscent of Lutheran churches in Scandinavia or the Baltic.
The last destination on our agenda today is a goat farm near the little district town of Vaukavysk (Russian: Volkovysk), where Natalia Nikolaevna is waiting to greet you. She gave up her job as an engineer ten years ago and now manages a farm with her son. Convinced of the various potential uses of the goat, she has specialised in looking after the good-natured cloven-hoofed animals for three years. She lives mainly off the milk from her approx. 400 goats, which she delivers to a state dairy. As an independent agricultural entrepreneur, who runs her business beyond the subsistence level, she is unique compared with the collective farming almost entirely controlled by the State. But she has managed to find her niche through obstinate perseverance. You can look over Valentina’s shoulder as she does the milking in the afternoon and can try your hand if you dare! Afterwards you can indulge in a home-made meal with a glass of fresh goat milk.
We shall return to Grodno in the early evening and the rest of the day is yours to do as you wish.
Depending on when your train leaves, you can spend the day in Grodno and discover the town on your own. Your guide can give you a few tips, should they be required.
Our driver will pick you up in good time at your hotel and take you to the station, from where you can continue on your Belarus tour or start on the homeward journey.