Step back in time in lovely Lviv

Lviv National Opera dates back to the 19th century. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 March 2019
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Step back in time in lovely Lviv

  • Lviv is seen as the heart of the Ukrainian national resistance
  • The city used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

DUBAI: The brutalist Soviet architecture that dominates Ukrainian cities is almost entirely absent in Lviv (or Lvov in Russian). Instead, this city’s cobblestone streets and historic buildings look like they could have been lifted from the heart of medieval Europe — transporting visitors into the heart of a fairytale.

Lviv has a rich and diverse history. It was the heart of the Ukrainian national resistance movement, and previously the Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia — part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. King Daniel named the city Leopolis, in honor of his oldest son Leo.

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Naturally, then, Ukrainians call Lviv the Lion City. Statues of the animal can be seen throughout the city, but there are also depictions in unexpected places — on benches, walls, and even manholes.

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Lviv’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described by the organization as “an outstanding example of the fusion of the architectural and artistic traditions of eastern Europe with those of Italy and Germany.” At its heart sits Rynok Square, the city’s central market, which is surrounded by old pastel-colored buildings, separated by narrow streets.

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The Black House stands out among the rest of the buildings in the square. The formidable structure belonged to an Italian tax collector during the Renaissance. Today, it houses the Lviv Historical Museum, which comprehensively covers the storied history of Ukraine.

Nearby is the Apteka Museum, located in a still-functioning chemists. The pharmacy dates back to the 18th century, and displays a number of antique machines used by chemists in that era.

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The largest art museum in Ukraine, the National Art Gallery, is a must-see for art lovers, housing a wide variety of works by German, Dutch, Spanish, and Flemish artists. The gallery is also home to the biggest collection of Polish art outside of Poland.

Don’t forget to pass by the magnificent Lviv National Opera, constructed by Zygmunt Gorgolowski in the neo-Renaissance style at the end of the 19th century. Three sculptures sit at the top of the building, representing Glory, Poetry and Music.

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Myths and mysteries run deep through the walls and buildings of Lviv. From a lovers’ bench that can make dreams come true, to the golden nose of a statue that can make you rich, the fables of the city are fascinating. And it is the labyrinthine tunnels underneath the city — stretching over 100 kilometers — that hold the most stories; tales of love, faith and torture.

House of Legends restaurant plays on the city’s reputation for myth. The building is adorned with a dragon and a watch that purports to show the “true time of Lviv.” It was, so the story goes, the home of a chimney cleaner and his family who still watch over the mythical creatures in the city.

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Lviv is rightly renowned for its coffee culture, and you should definitely try some local brews while you’re there. Head to the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture in Rynok Square. The ground floor is a fairly generic café, but head downstairs into the ‘coffee mine’ and you’ll be given a hard hat and invited to wander the tunnels and pick a table. If you order the ‘flaming coffee,’ be prepared. A waiter will appear armed with a blowtorch.

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The city is home to hundreds of other cafés and restaurants, too. All tailored to a variety of tastes. Enjoy handmade truffles in the Lviv Handmade Chocolate Café, where we’d also recommend the local hot chocolate. And if you are interested in sampling some traditional Ukrainian fare, then visit Kryivka. The restaurant is modeled on the underground bunkers used by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and offers a variety of traditional dishes, like varenyki (the local take on ravioli) and borsche (classic beetroot soup). You’ll need to know the patriotic password to gain entry, though.

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For some great views, climb to the highest point in the city; Castle Hill — on which stand the ruins of, yes, a castle, but also an observation platform.

For accommodation, Lviv offers a wide range of places from luxury hotels to bargain hostels. On The Square Guesthouse is an affordable option in a great location right in the heart of Rynok Square. If you want something a bit more upmarket, then the George Hotel, built in 1901, is a luxurious (though still well-priced) choice, just a few minutes walk from the city center.

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Lviv is a fascinating blend of eastern and western Europe that offers mesmerizing views, historical insight and delicious food, all at very reasonable prices. And it’s well worth considering for your next European trip.


Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

Updated 18 March 2019
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Booming Bangalore: India’s ‘It’ city

  • Yoga at the resort offers the chance for gentle self reflection
  • The chance for some simple, but delicious food is just around the corner

DUBAI: Officially called Bengaluru — though not by the locals — Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is lauded as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ thanks to the presence of prestigious IT companies and a burgeoning technology sector. Once known for its sprawling gardens and lakes, today Bangalore is more easily identified by shiny shopping malls, hip restaurants and traffic-congested roads. But beyond the trappings of urban life, the city still surprises with refreshing spots where you can hit reset.

One such oasis of calm is Shreyas Retreat. This coconut farm turned yoga retreat, set amid 25 acres of lush greenery, is the real deal, and one of India’s best-kept secrets. Though probably not for long.

Experiences here revolve around ‘self-discovery’, but with a refined approach to wellness. An in-house doctor will prescribe treatments ranging from oil massages and herbal healing experiences based on Ayurveda — regarded as the world’s oldest medicinal system — to more modern remedies such as hydrotherapy. You can choose to stay in one of the poolside cottages strategically placed around the retreat’s central courtyard, with the 25-meter pool and heated jacuzzi on your doorstep, or be at one with nature in a charming Garden Tented Cottage, several of which are scattered across the grounds. They come complete with canopied roof and outdoor patio, offering incredible views.

Need some time to reflect, then try the resort's yoga sessions at the Shreyas Retreat. (Supplied) 

Guests can also join in group-yoga sessions in the morning and evening, deepen their meditation practice or lend a helping hand at the retreat’s organic gardens. If all seems too new-age for you, packages are entirely customizable and really do cater to everyone — from the blissed-out yogi and spa seeker, to curious foodies who want to learn more about Indian cuisine.

The retreat is also an inspiring base to explore nearby landscapes, with trekking trips and village visits easily arranged. If you’d like to plan your own thrills, the scenic Nandi Hills, Hogenakkal Falls (often called the Niagara Falls of India), and cultural hotspot Mysore are just a few hours drive away.

The Nandi Hills provide the more adventurous with some spectacular scenery. (File/Shutterstock)  

For unique attractions closer to the city, a day at Lalbagh Botanical Garden is one well spent. Sprawling across 240 acres in the heart of Bangalore, it started out in 1760 as the private garden of Mysore ruler Hyder Ali. The government-run garden is home to the largest collection of tropical plants in India and a popular spot for bird-watching. Visitors have plenty to take in, including a serene lake, bonsai garden, aviary, sculptures and more. Its best known feature is the centuries-old glass house — designed along the lines of London’s Crystal Palace — that plays host to bi-annual flower shows which attract thousands of visitors.

A short stroll away from Lalbagh is Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (or MTR as it’s more commonly known), established in 1924. This is a no-frills dining experience. Delicious steaming hot food is served on steel plates as patrons tear into crunchy dosas (savory pancakes) and soft idlis (steamed rice cakes). Make sure to order try the rava idli — made from semolina — which was invented by MTR during World War II when rice was in short supply.

Bangalore is home to a handful of world-class galleries, including the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). However, if you’re short on time, there’s only one name you need to remember – Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. Home to a respected college of fine arts, the complex is buzzing with art aficionados and curious tourists picking up unique souvenirs. There are 14 permanent museum galleries to explore here, as well as five rotating art galleries that blend the best of contemporary works alongside more traditional and Indian folk pieces. Afterwards, wander through the verdant grounds, following sand-swept paths and enjoying the city’s creative energy. Bangalore may be India’s digital heart, but it’s got soul.