Ten kilometres across the Hungarian border in Ukraine but with a mostly Hungarian population, Beregszász, or Berehovo as it is known by Ukrainians, is a small provincial town that has always maintained a strong Hungarian identity beyond the Trianon treaty of 1920 and up to present times.

So much so that, as one walks around, observes the architecture and captures the general atmosphere, it is like being “at home” for those familiar with Hungary. Except for one clear difference: as the Cyrillic writing comes to light alongside the Roman lettering, with both Hungarian and Ukrainian often displayed in unison on signposts, menus and tourist information alike.

The most famous and prominent feature in Beregszász/Berehovo is the newly restored and magnificent Rákóczi Ferenc II Hungarian school, built in French Baroque style in 1908-9, in the centre of town. From my English perspective this resembles a mini Buckingham Palace, an unmissable building that stands out from all else.

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At one time this prestigious landmark served as a court and, since 2002, a college. Unfortunately, during communist times the magnificent building went into steep decline when the Soviets converted it into a “secret factory”; so secret that the people working there were not allowed to discuss it outside.

By the 1980s Beregszász's showpiece was in ruins. Eventually it became known that radio transmitters and “technical instruments” had been made there. This is a documentary in itself, and more can be found out at the highly informative Beregvideki museum, displaying all that is known about the town's history and culture.

Finally, with Ukraine’s independence in 1991, restoration work began and this elegant pearl of Beregszász was restored to glory.

Returning to present-day times, within this immediate area of pleasant walking are the shops and restaurants. Close by is a pedestrian bridge over the River Vérke that leads to the enchanting Roman Catholic Church and alluring Zalota Pava restaurant, hotel and casino.

A little further on is the all-important, must-see Beregvideki museum. For wine enthusiasts, the Beregszász region produces its own excellent variety. There are various wine festivals and musical events throughout the year. Information can be found at the Tour-Inform office, 25 Zrini street.

It was intriguing to see many Hungarian and Ukrainian flags flying side by side along with occasional European Union symbols in town, obviously emphasising unity, hope and optimism for the 21st century and the next generation, as compared to all else in this region's turbulent past.

I very much enjoyed my time in Beregszász. There is nowhere else I can think of where, all at the same time, one can be in sight of a Petőfi Sándor statue whilst served a fine glass of Kvas and going through updated leaflets of tourist information in English.

Getting there can be tricky. The only proper means is either by car along the M3 motorway to the Beregsurány border, or by bike, which involves taking the train from Budapest to Vásárosnamény then cycling the last 20 kilometres of Hungarian territory.

For a rest from pedalling, stop en-route at Tákos to see the wondrous wooden church before approaching the bike-friendly border. Once through, it’s another 10 kilometres along a dusty road all the way into town.

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For the open-minded, curious traveller, Beregszász is very colourful and well worth a visit. But one day in town is probably sufficient unless you wish to sample the delights of the thermal baths and take a ride on the rattling Borzhava Narrow Gauge Railway nearby.

There are various hotels for those who wish to extend their stay. For further sightseeing head 30 kilometres north towards Mukachevo, still known to Hungarians as Munkács, and visit the splendid Palanok Castle at the foot of the Carpathian hills.

Munkács town is easy enough to get to from Beregszász by the local Marshrutka bus, then a taxi to the castle.

Deeper into the valleys is the important Vereckei Hágó. This essential must-see Hungarian landmark is another story and has a different itinerary, as seen in our previous article: http://budapesttimes.hu/2016/06/19/say-hello-to-ch...

For those history-oriented, independent travellers with good quality bikes and boots, Vereckei Hágó with all its high scenery is a wonder and also comes highly recommended. For those in need of comfort, a tour operator from Beregszász will take you there.

One thing to beware of is the one-hour time difference between CET and the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. In cross-cultural Beregszász, depending on who is who, the locals tend to use either one time zone or the other, which can be most bewildering!

Beyond this mild obstacle, feast your eyes and senses on something new, as for far too long, until 1991, Beregszász and Transcarpathia was closed territory. Any “outsiders” such as myself still remains a rarity and are made most welcome.

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