Kyiv, Ukraine - an Eastern jewel
If you haven't ventured as far east as Kyiv and have a spare few days, I cannot recommend it enough. This unexpected gem is only three and a half hours away from London and is bound to take your breath away with its charm, shiny church domes and delicious homely foods. And it is all still very affordable!
Known for its vast fields of wheat (also represented by the yellow in the Ukrainian flag) but also by its 180 degrees economical and cultural transformation since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyiv is now bustling with gourmet restaurants and hipster brunch spots as convenient stopovers for a packed cultural itinerary. You could literally spend weeks exploring the city and you would still have things to see and new dishes to try.
We stayed at the stunning Opera Hotel, located in the heart of the city where the rooms were only slightly smaller than the breathtaking city views they offered. A short 15 min walk away saw us in the city centre where our trip began with passing by the beautiful French Neo-Renaissance Opera House and the UNESCO site of the Golden Gate, the city's old defensive remains near Prince Yaroslav the Great's statue.
There are numerous church systems starting with the 11th century Saint Sophia complex (which is enormous!), passing through the fun Landscape Alley, a modern-day open-air museum, and into the Andriyivskyy Descent, the ancient streets known as the Montmartre of Kyiv.
We followed with a walk past Mihailivska Square to reach the impressive St Michael's Golden-Dome Cathedral with its beautiful blue shades. St Andrew's Church is another one of those striking baroque buildings that you can only imagine existing in paintings.
We followed with a stroll through the constitution square and Mariinsky Palace, the president's ceremonial residence, whilst admiring the charming architecture. Lunch was in the Independence Square at the incredible hidden Last Barricade restaurant which includes a moving bar, secret rooms, an underground garden and incredible food. Tempted yet?
The following day started with a trip to Kyevo-Pechersk Lavra where we walked up to the tower for some breathtaking views of the city and a distant glimpse of the controversial Motherland Monument. The next thing we did was to explore the labyrinthine system of caves underneath it all, the resting place of preserved monks that have been on the site for over 900 years! It really is a unique experience.
Lunch this time was at a local Georgian favourite, Shoti where we indulged in traditional pieces, such as the mouthwatering khachapuri (a Georgian cheese-filled bread) and my most recent favourite red wine, Pheasant's Tears, before going back for one more look at the elegant St Sophia cathedral.
My conclusion? I loved everything about the place - its charm, its history, the food, the people but mostly the mix of old and new unfolding in front of you with each corner. Kyiv is a beautiful city with a lot to say. Why not hear it for yourself?