By Olga Loginova, New York
|Bread fest at Martsin's Goose Photo by: lucynka.org|
A Belarusian village, what can be more sentimental and dear for those, who still remember the rich smell of bread in their granny’s brick oven, early starts to catch big fish, ripe cherries from the farm yards, and the dome of the sky heavy with stars that seemed ready to fall but never quite do.
Ironically, we came to the farmstead ‘Golden Horse Shoe’ (the Hrodna Region) in the middle of winter, when all the roads to the legendary lake Svitiaz’ were covered by several feet of snow. The forged lace of the gates, the fanciful weathercock, and masterfully carved wooden blinds, all indicated that our hosts were far from being ordinary village business men.
Alena and Ales Pirazeus met by the Black Sea. She was an art teacher, and he, ten years younger, with an impressive moustache and strong weathered face, a local blacksmith. They fell in love, got married and built their cabin right on the water front.
The war in Abkhazia threatened their pastoral idyll, but necessity is the mother of invention. Alena, a native Belarusian,
suddenly recalled a poem by Adam Mitskevich, in which the poet described the wonders of the mysterious and beautiful lake Svitiaz’.
Being not only an artist, but also a smart woman, Alena did some extensive internet research and discovered the fabulous low interest loans that Belarusian banks were offering to businessmen involved in ecological agro tourism.
Without further ado, Alena and Ales sold the cabin by the sea, packed their belongings and came to live and prosper by the shore of Svitiaz’.
Alena Pirazeva, a petite woman with a soft voice and bliss in her bright eyes, showed us their property. ‘Everything you
see we made with our own hands. First we built two cottages, and now we are working on the third one. One of the cottages has three bedrooms, a kitchen and a full bathroom. The second one, we call it a hunter’s cabin, is just for a short stay, there is only one bed and a cold shower in it. I do all the painting and embroidery, Ales is the main constructor, he also works at his smith’s shop. Our guests are so delighted, when he presents them with tiny horse shoes, or iron roses’.
Ales Pirazeu, who we found in his shop, is indeed an impressive figure with a heavy hammer, and flames of fire casting
fancy shadows on his face. ‘There is always something to be done here: to shoe a horse, or make a gate; people
from the surrounding villages appreciate my skill, and those who come for a stay simply enjoy my performance’.
Despite the growing number of similar tourist farmsteads, the do not worry about their clientele. The proximity of the legendary lake and the local centre, Navahrudak, coupled with forests full of mushroom and berries, BBQ sites, master-classes in embroidery and ironworks conducted by the talented couple, as well as the comparatively low price of living there (11 dollars for a night) are sufficient attractions for visitors to support their household.
Ales Bely, the owner of another popular farmstead ‘Marcinava Gus’ (Marcin’s Goose) in Liucinka village, Minsk Region,
has his own success story. A professional historian, he is an author of multiple studies on Belarusian traditions and
cuisine. Recently he published a book ‘Nasha Strava’ /‘ The Belarusian Cook Book, which is a fantastic resource for real foodies and Belarus lovers. And of course most of the dishes described in the book are cooked and served at his farmstead.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Bely’s fans come here if only to try zrazy with dry fruit, buckwheat pancakes with cottage cheese, or Duke Tyshkevitch’s pirahi. But the specialty dishes, as the name of the cottage suggests, are made from goose meat, which is always served on St. Martin’s Day, November, 11th.
Being a very sophisticated mind, Ales Bely, not only called his business project by the name of its patron, but also encrypted the name of the famous Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Martsinkevich, who was born in this village Liucinka about two hundred years ago.
The most valued customers at Martin’s Goose Farmstead are intellectuals interested not only in procrastination, but in the cultural and historical experience.
The essential part of the stay at the farmstead are the historic routes, celebrating national holidays and cuisine, master-classes in traditional arts and crafts, as well as visiting the famous National Park ‘Nalibockaya Pushcha’.
Among other advantages of Marcin’s Goose is its appeal to foreigners. Being a graduate of Kingston Business School,
Ales Bely speaks fluent English, which is still quite a rare talent among farmstead hosts.
According to a recent study conducted by the Ministry of Tourism less than one percent of almost one hundred fifty thousand tourists who stayed in about 1800 farmsteads in Belarus last year came from Western Europe or other non-Russian speaking countries. The largest shares of visitors were Belarusians, Russians and citizens from other former Soviet Republics.
The language barrier is not the only obstacle that keeps guests from rural recreations. The biggest issue is the disparity between service and price, and the misunderstanding of what ‘authenticity’ means to hosts and their guests. For instance if hosts sparingly mention their outside amenities on the website, and guests come in the anticipation of a hot tub under a starry
sky, only to find a smelly wooden equivalent of a Little John hidden behind the bushes of lilac, that’s definitely a oooouups.
To put a word in defense of monolingual Spartan Belarusian hosts it is important to mention that agro tourism is still quite
an experimental terrain for us. It has only been six years since the Presidential Decree on Agro Tourism described the
principles and stated the terms of how this business should be run.
And since then it has gone a long way. Today a guest can choose from an array of farmsteads, from very rustic and cheap
cabins with the above mentioned comforts, to sophisticated fully furnished and internet connected modern cottages with three meals a day and animation programmes.
Most farmsteads are available for weekends, holidays or special events; the busiest time being the summer, and
around the New Year’s Eve. The best way to book your stay is by phone or via the email provided on the farmsteads’
websites. And don’t get discouraged, if you cannot get the first farmstead you choose, try again, because it is worth it!
Been there, done that!