After a short trip to Uzhgorod, the unbeaten tourist path took us to Mukacheve and the surrounding castles. Not to bury the lead, the trip is unbeaten with a good reason — the transport (and tourist) infrastructure in the region is a total nightmare. But let’s take a quick look at the castles first.
Saint-Miclosh: a love story
This building traces back to the XIV century, even though each owner introduced some modifications of their own. Perhaps, the saddest part of its history started with the independence of Ukraine in 1991, when the locals turned this historic building (a prison and then a rural council during the Soviet time) into a junkyard.
The situation changed in 2001 when a couple of Ukrainian artists rented the historic landmark and started tedious work on its restoration. As of today, this is the site for art exhibitions and historic reconstructions. The admittance of free of charge, but of course, a donation is always welcome — after all, the new owners have very little financial support from the government. And there is still a lot of work to do.
The question remains — is the landmark worth a trip? The answer is probably yes — IF you are ready to hire a car or join an organized tourist group. Otherwise, you will have to take a bus from Mukacheve and enjoy 12 km of beaten asphalt and a company of local villagers packing into a vehicle like sardines into a can. No kidding.
Plus, as you can see from the pictures, the castle is not much — not now at least. The territory was also famous for its splendid old park, but in my humble opinion, a couple of shrubs do not really qualify as such.
The best part of the tour was the guide, who obviously loved his work and knew a great deal about the castle history. In retrospect, though, it all came down to a bunch of Hungarian and Croatian names and dates that blur into oblivion an hour after the tour.
The only name that stands out (mostly because it’s repeated at least a dozen of times during the short tour) is Ilona Zrini — a notable figure in the history of the region, mostly famous for her defense of Mukacheve Castle Palanok. This little building, however, supposedly was her love nest — a spot for secret dates with her younger lover. After a quick and breathtaking romance, the couple got married, which for Ilona, meant abdication from all of her titles and castles — all because her new husband belonged to a different confession, which was a huge deal in the XVII century. Today, the castle is a popular spot for weddings and soon (hopefully), the newly-weds will also have a chance to spend their first wedding night in Ilona's legendary bedroom. Once the owners scrape enough money to restore it, of course.
Well, this is the most notable fact about shabby little Saint-Miclosh. Apart from the love story, you can also feast your eyes with some pretty weird contemporary art, which only becomes weirder in the unkempt environment. The exhibitions are held on a temporary basis, and we were lucky enough to see something that would make Freud giggle.
Shenborn castle and the mountain air
This one is a better bargain, and you can get to it by train from any local station, and the destination station (Karpaty) is also a treat for the sore eyes. But of course, a car is also an option.
The castle was built as a hunting house up in the mountains. The best news is that the surrounding park is simply gorgeous. The worst news about the building —since the Soviet time, it has been used as a dormitory block for a local health center. You can get in for free, but the sightseeing will not take long and will not create the kind of authentic feeling most tourists are looking for. I would recommend admiring it from the outside mostly — there is quite a lot to see.
And of course, there is a park with crisp mountain air, a picturesque lake, and dozens of winding paths that lead into a fairy-tale forest. With a little exception — you will unlikely get lost there, not unless you really want some peace and quiet.
And if you’re really, really tired and want to reload, you might want to stay in the Karpaty health center (opened since 1946) for a couple of days. If you’re looking for a one-day walk in the park, Mukacheve is the closest town to stay in — we’ll cover it in the third and final post about our Transcarpathian adventures. Just make sure you get the most of this gorgeous park if you get there - it even has a mini-zoo on the territory!