House overlooking pearls

[b]Former manors of aristocracy around Lake Naroch await investors[/b]The land around Belarus’ largest lake — Naroch — is perfect for investments, primarily those relating to tourism. Each year, new private guesthouses appear, ready to welcome customers. The Culture Ministry has ordered several deserted old manors to become rural tourism sites, with investors invited to inject money into their modernisation.
Former manors of aristocracy around Lake Naroch await investors

The land around Belarus’ largest lake — Naroch — is perfect for investments, primarily those relating to tourism. Each year, new private guesthouses appear, ready to welcome customers. The Culture Ministry has ordered several deserted old manors to become rural tourism sites, with investors invited to inject money into their modernisation.

Green light for investors
After analysing the 2011-2015 draft state programme to develop the Lake Naroch resort area, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has decided that ‘the Naroch Lake area is a true pearl of Belarus’. He asserts, “This is a unique area, a unique place, which lacks a corresponding setting. Its unique landscapes, mineral water, pine and mixed forests, mild climate and historical and cultural treasures are attracting both domestic and foreign tourists. However, we’re failing to attract ‘live’ money as there’s no normal infrastructure.” The Head of State believes that the insufficient development of the tourist industry, trade, and public and other services is to blame. “This is only a small part of the problems facing the Naroch Lake region; we should solve them immediately, within the next 2-3 years, although we plan to settle them within five years.”
The Naroch Lake area is to become a European level resort within five years, with the Belarusian President emphasising the need to attract private and foreign investments, while creating favourable conditions for capital injection. He notes that Belarus’ unique location — at the centre of Europe — will guide our future success and stresses that ‘our purity, unrivalled worldwide’ will develop ‘if we view nature holistically’. He asserts, “The civilised world has no other such place where people live — pure and untouched. We can welcome those seeking relaxation and recuperation, via communication with nature.”
Around 110m euros are being allocated from the state budget to implement the 2011-2015 state programme for Lake Naroch, with 17 investment projects already outlined for the resort zone. Around 40m euros of investors’ funds are needed, with businesses enjoying preferential terms for real estate, profit and land taxes for a 5 year period. Investors will also be exempt from some other payments.
Belarus’ Sports and Tourism Minister, Oleg Kachan, notes that, in recent years, ever more foreign citizens have been visiting the Naroch Lake area. In 2006, 54,400 Belarusians recuperated there, joined by 2,700 foreigners; 2009 saw 76,700 and 21,500 people correspondingly.
The resort area encompasses 143 towns, boasting around 22,000 residents, including Myadel, Svir and Naroch. According to the draft state programme, the Naroch Lake resort zone is being expanded to 90,000 hectares — around 45 percent of the total area of Myadel district.
The Head of the Belarusian state particularly accents the need to build houses and guesthouses around spa resorts, with plenty of accommodation to welcome tourists and nature lovers wishing to spend a few days in the countryside. “Houses and guesthouses should be constructed around these large sites. At least ten should be built and completed by late 2014.”

Noble nests
Several estates in Myadel district are available to investors. Olshevo (once owned by the Khominski noble family) is part of the Narochansky National Park, with only one part of a house wall remaining, almost hidden among the undergrowth. It’s a perfect site for new construction, with a terraced park ready to be cleared and restored — being a nature monument.
Before WW2, it was a perfect farm, with its own power plant, distillery, barns, smithies, dairy and brickyard factories, alongside several shops. The owner even funded a free school for rural children. The experience of past years shows that this land boasts great potential.
The remains of Shemetovo estate belong to Mezhozerny Krai agricultural production co-operative. The ruined walls remain strong, despite being over a century old, since good bricks were used. The priest of the local Catholic church has even restored one of the buildings as his residential flat.
Shemetovo is known more for its Catholic church than for the estate of the Sulistrovskis and Skirmunts. The ancestors of Dmitry Shostakovich were baptised there and often visited the church. It boasts hundred century old amazing stained-glass windows, with the remains of the estate’s former owners entombed in its crypt. Parishioner Tereza Gabrun shows us a commemorative wreath laid near a tomb, which reads ‘to our grandfathers from their grandchildren’. It dates from 2004. Descendants of the Skirmunts are alive and well, residing in Poland. They may help find generous investors.
The former distillery building, made from solid stone, stands near the road by the stables. Tatiana Khodanovich, the Chair of the Syrmezh Rural Executive Committee and Rural Council, believes that restoring these buildings to accommodate a cafй, a restaurant and a motel wouldn’t require great funds.
A fish farm, entitled Shemetovo Ponds, also remains, being home to pike and various carp. The ponds are owned by the Narochansky National Park with the state planning to keep ownership.
Investors are gradually appearing, keen to improve the resort area around Lake Naroch. One group of enthusiasts, headed by Eduard Voitekhovich, recently received an EU grant to revamp a piggery as a Rural Entrepreneurship Support Centre. It is located on the old Starzhinski estate in Komarovo (located between Shemetovo and Olshevo). Its red-brick buildings are in good condition, housing the Centre and a branch of Belarusbank. A long wooden house — currently empty — stands nearby the Entrepreneurship Centre; Mr. Voitekhovich plans to open a restaurant serving national cuisine within its walls.
The main Starzhinski home is to be converted into use as a conference hall, with a library and a museum. The manor is situated deep in the park but is easily recognisable by its ‘Lis’ emblem (an arrow with two crossbars) on the faзade. The same emblem also belonged to the prominent Sapegi family — known throughout Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine.
Two shops (one privately owned and the other one run by the district consumer society) occupy household buildings in front of the Entrepreneurship Centre. They were once used to store flour, cereal, meat and beer, and still store food products; times change but traditions remain.

Romantic manor
Several guesthouses around Lake Naroch are already using private capital. Previously, there was nowhere for tourists to stay close to ancient Golshany and Krevo. Now, there’s Benyuny estate, in addition to Rodzevichi, near Volozhin. Their restoration is being overseen by the Director of the Castles Land Foundation, Alexander Varikish, who is also an experienced guide. “Of course, castle ruins are interesting, but tourists want to feel the past come alive, imagining themselves living in a true noble manor, once occupied by Belarusian aristocrats. We give them this opportunity, even serving dishes from those times.”
Massive arches remain on the Benyuny estate, like those at Mir Castle, while the second storey is wooden, as is traditional for a true Belarusian house. Lime and maple avenues stretch out nearby, alongside a pond; it’s a perfect picture. Mr. Varikish has organised knights’ tournaments here several times, in addition to royal balls and a show at Rodzevichi. He is keen to use these ancient buildings to meet our modern needs but has kept their appearance, restoring them in romantic style. He also collects old-fashioned furniture, acquiring items from local residents.

Any whim can be met
Mr. Varikish notes, “In Belarus, there are dozens or even hundreds of guesthouses awaiting hosts. You can go to any architectural Internet website and find a manor to suit your taste.” The country boasts great potential regarding its historical monuments, which could be used for tourism or other activities.
In the early 20th century, there were over 3,000 noble estates in Western Belarus alone. According to researchers Anatoly Fedoruk and Leonid Nesterchuk, there are 250 guesthouses in the Brest region and 290 in Grodno region, with some available for sale to Belarusian citizens and foreigners alike, on application to the local authorities. The final decision is made by the Culture Ministry.
Natalia Khvir, who heads the historical and cultural heritage protection sector at the Culture Ministry’s Department for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage and Restoration, guarantees that a liberal approach will be applied to investors. “Choose any guesthouse and, if you are ready to inject money, you’re welcome. According to world practice, a building may be sold for a token payment, e.g., of $1. The same situation is to be applied in Belarus, with the price determined at auction. Investors are only obliged to restore the site and use it in line with its purpose of agro-ecotourism.”
Investors with funds and enthusiasm should apply to the cultural department of whichever regional executive committee controls the desired location. Information about guesthouses, with photos, is available online, on the websites of regional executive committees.

By Viktar Korbut
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