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Monday, 02 March 2015 00:00

Poland: Off the Beaten Path

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe and Stillman Rogers

Europe-poland-large

 

When clients who’ve seen all the usual “grand tour’ sights in Europe ask you to suggest a new destination, be ready to tell them about Poland. This country on the Baltic Sea has it all: a long history, rich cultural life, lively cities, medieval castles, outdoor activities, even beaches and one of Europe’s top windsurfing sites.

First-time visitors should begin with Poland’s major cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk. Although Warsaw was largely destroyed in World War II, its historic center has been rebuilt so meticulously that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage attraction. Clients touring the Old Town will see Gothic churches, defensive walls, Renaissance and Baroque facades and the Market Square. Suggest they walk the Royal Route from the Old Town to the reconstructed Royal Castle, past Lazienki Park, where they can take a gondola ride on the lake. A good guide to book is Agnieszka Skrodzka ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).  
Krakow has three areas cited by UNESCO: the Old Town, Wawel Hill and its old Jewish quarter, the Kazimierz district. The Old Town includes Europe’s largest medieval market square, scene of December Christmas markets, and on Wawel Hill is the royal castle and the cathedral, with an outstanding Renaissance chapel. Wroclaw is one of Poland’s most beautiful cities, with canals, 12 islands and dozens of bridges. It also has Poland’s largest group of Gothic religious buildings and its finest Gothic city hall, one of Europe’s best examples of medieval architecture.

Touring the Highlights
Clients who want to see Poland’s highlights might consider the commissionable luxury tour by Insight Vacations (www.insightvacations.com). It visits four cities and several other major attractions, including Europe’s largest medieval castle, the 13th-century fortified brick Palace of the Teutonic Order at Malbork. The castle, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, houses an outstanding collection of amber objects.
Poland’s 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites make a good theme even for clients who don’t “collect’ these. In addition to those mentioned above are the Wieliczka Salt Mine -- operated continuously since the 13th century -- and the unique wooden churches of Southern Malopolska and the Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region. These are two different types of medieval churches constructed of horizontal logs. The most notorious of Poland’s UNESCO sites is the infamous Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, now a museum and memorial to those murdered here.

Jewish Heritage
Poland has many other places for those seeking Jewish Heritage. Little remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, apart from the restored Nozyk Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery, but exhibits at the Jewish Historical Institute give a picture of it. The recently opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews (www.jewishmuseum.org.pl) unveiled its Core Exhibition in the fall of 2014, presenting the thousand-year history of Polish Jews. In Warsaw clients will also find the State Jewish Theatre, the only European theater performing
in Yiddish.
Krakow’s Kazimierz quarter has the 1557 Remu Synagogue and cemetery, and a Jewish Museum, along with the remains of the Ghetto Wall. Schindler’s List was filmed on location here, at the Oscar Schindler Factory. In the eastern village of Tykocin is the 17th-century Tykocin Synagogue, the second largest after Krakow’s. Jewish cemeteries remain in Lodz and in Lubin, southeast of Warsaw, once Europe’s center of Hasidic study.

Music in the Air
It’s not surprising that Warsaw, the birthplace of Frederic Chopin, loves music. All summer, at noon and 4 pm on Sunday, locals and tourists listen to free Chopin Concerts in Lazienki Park. Chopin and other European composers are featured at the annual International Music Festival ‘Chopin and his Europe’, in mid-August. Jazz fans can hear big names on Saturday evenings in July at the International Jazz at the Old Town Square Festival, one of Europe’s oldest jazz festivals.
In the summer, the Vistula River is lined with beach bars, sunbathers and dancing; the highlight is Midsummer’s Eve, June 21, when pagan rituals blend with concerts and shows, and local girls put wreaths lit with candles into the river.

Active Travel
In summer everyone seems to move outdoors, into Poland’s abundant parks, riverbanks, trails and wild places. You can book clients on an unforgettable cycling tour with Freedom Treks (www.freedomtreks.co.uk). Beginning in Krakow, it follows the Dunajec Cycle Path on a spectacular route through the Dunajec Gorge, the border between Poland and Slovakia. In the foothills of the Carpathians they’ll cycle through medieval towns and villages, past UNESCO-listed churches and beautiful scenery. They can choose a self-guided or escorted tour, and there are no difficult climbs as the route follows a
river valley.

Pomerania
The Carpathian foothills are not the only of Poland’s rural regions worth pointing out to clients. Between the German border and Gdansk, and easy to reach from Berlin, the region of Pomerania is a good one for driving tours. Like its German counterpart Meckenburg Lakes region, Polish Pomerania is dotted with lakes, many of them connected, forming a waterway known as the Greater Poland Ring. This 427-mile water route, also like the Meckenburg Lakes, has a good infrastructure for motor boat and kayak travelers. This region makes a good add-on for clients visiting Berlin and Potsdam in Germany. Farther north, from the German border to Gdansk, is a coastline of beach resorts, beautiful cliffs and thermal springs that made these popular resorts for European royalty.
Rail fans shouldn’t miss Wolsztyn’s 1907 steam engine shed, the only one in Europe still in service. Several of its 30 working steam locomotives run regular routes, and May’s steam engine parades draw tourists from around the world (www.parowozowniawolsztyn.pl/home/lang/en). Other highlights of the region include Rydzyna Castle, perhaps Poland’s most stunning Baroque building and now housing a hotel, restaurant and museum (http://en.zamek-rydzyna.com.pl).

New Hotels
Several new hotels have opened in Warsaw in the past year: Sound Garden Hotel www.soundgardenhotel.pl), H15 (www.h15boutiqueapartments.com), a boutique hotel with a fascinating history, and Hampton by Hilton (http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com) in the airport business district 15 minutes from the city center. Also opening last year were Doubletree by Hilton, with a conference center and spa (www.placeshilton.com/doubletree-warsaw), and the four-star Warsaw Plaza Hotel (www.warsawplazahotel.pl/en) with meeting spaces and in-room spa programs.

CONTACT
Polish Tourist Office: www.poland.travel
Warsaw Tourist Office:
www.warsawtour.pl/en
Krakow Tourist Board:
www.visitcracow.info
LOT Polish Airlines: www.lot.com

 

More in this category: « The Baltic Region
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