Webber offers up seven outside tips to enjoy a less-travelled Poland.
Earlier in the week my fellow droids at TFN brought you a rundown of ten weekend getaways, a comprehensive list that presented Poland’s classic glories.
Offering a broad, 360 view of the nation’s top destinations it was hard to pick fault with it, but me being me that’s exactly what I did. You see, whilst I was in agreement with the choices themselves, the sneery, resentful old man inside of me couldn’t help but bubble to the surface.
“Well done,” I wanted to write to my boss, “for stating the bleeding obvious.”
Clearly though, I’m as transparent as cut crystal, for as I stewed in my own twisted bitterness a message from the chief plopped into my inbox asking for my take. “Bring me something different,” I was told. The following, therefore, are seven outside tips to enjoy a less-travelled Poland.
Supposedly founded by Yaroslaw the Wise in 1031, and granted its Magdeburg Rights in 1375, the south-eastern town of Jarosław is one of my favourite hidden nuggets – a small town whose Renaissance architecture is impossible not to love.CC BY-SA 3.0
With the renovation of the Old Town in its final stages of completion, those that visit are rewarded by the striking sight of a pristine town hall every bit as elaborate as those found in Wrocław, Rzeszów or Zamość. Intriguingly, in 1967 workers happened upon the macabre sight of numerous human skulls thought to date from the times the area was the stage of public executions.Krystian Cieślik/CC BY-SA 3.0 pl
Although ‘things to do’ are limited to pretty much walking the underground trails and staring numbly at medieval museum exhibits, for me the whole point of Jarosław lies in doing little more than ambling its streets and using your nose as your guide. By doing so, you’ll find yourself walking through cloistered archways and shaded courtyards as you pass the intricate tenements that compose the Old Town.Darek Delmanowicz/PAP
As fanatical as I am about Warsaw, her satellite towns are also well worth the visit. In this regard, none shine brighter than Otwock – and that’s particularly true when the sun is peering out. Defining this place is its Świdermajer architecture, a style coined by the painter and architect Michał Elwiro Andriolli.Kalbar/TFN
Offering a cocktail of influences, it was inspired by the wooden cabins of Podhale, the pastoral farms of Mazovia, the Austrian Alpine cottage and the traditional Russian dacha. Anything but mundane, instances of this complex style are abundant in Otwock, and range from shattered, burnt out ruins to the wedding white Gurewicz sanatorium.Kalbar/TFN
But Otwock is about more than just quaint, woodsy buildings and I would be failing in my duties if I didn’t recommend a snoop around the abandoned Zofiówka asylum. First built to serve as a Jewish psychiatric hospital it was given an even more sinister function when it was seconded by the Nazis to act as an internment prison for Jews. Today its devastated shell is a must for urbex explorers. Kalbar/TFN
Up the road from Otwock, 30-minutes to be precise, book in to My Tree Home (mytreehome.pl) for a night inside a treehouse hoisted seven-metres off the ground. Known to sway a little on stormy nights, features include a three-metre panoramic window and an openair bonfire. Espousing the air of an off-grid retreat, you’ll be sharing space with herons and hawks and the occasional deer. Mytreehouse.pl
Occupying a large swathe of territory running west of the Tri-City (to be pedantic, Gdynia falls inside its borders), Kashubia is hardly unknown but it is under-visited – at least by foreigners. In my mind, that’s something that needs rectifying. Often drawing comparisons to Switzerland, visit to enjoy rolling meadows, glistening lakes and postcard perfect woodland.PAP/Photoshot
Boasting its own regional culture and language, Kashubia is not just some rural idyll. Of the towns to check into, highlights include the quaint fishing village of Puck and the town of Kartuzy, whose Cartusian Church is home to a monastic brotherhood that once slept in coffins. Equally attractive is the small market town of Kościerzyna, whose quaint streets have a sedate sense of bustle when the weekend strikes.PAP/Alamy
For the seminal touristic experience, however, schedule a trip to the Heritage Park in Szymbark. Hands down, this is one of my top Polish secrets – truly extraordinary, points of wonder include the world’s longest plank, a rebuilt wartime bunker, a brewery, the world largest grand piano and upside down house – walking inside carries the same disorienting impact as downing a bottle of tequila. PAP/Alamy
Where lodgings are concerned, unique stays come thick and fast, and to find something that fits you best I’d recommend opening a bottle of something fizzy before spending a night looking around sites such as alohacamp.pl and slowhop.com. My friends, mind you, they head to one place and place alone: Kania Lodge (kanialodge.com.pl), a highly personal space run by John Borrell, a former war correspondent turned wine importer. And make a note: their artisanal vodka brand, Vestal, has been called by some critics “the best in the world”.Kania Lodge/Facebook
I have an obsession with Wrocław that verges on the unhealthy – if it were a person, I’d have long been arrested and imprisoned for stalking. But forget Wrocław for the weekend, and instead point your compass south to the faded town of Wałbrzych.Marszuwal/CC BY-SA 4.0
Scuffed and scarred in many places, the atmosphere of this lost town is compelling in itself: down winding narrow streets you pass derelict villas and shuttered stores still bearing German lettering. Despite that, regeneration is in the air, and the grid of streets surrounding the Rynek today beat with life. TFN
For all that, the primary reason to visit is nearby Książ Castle, which in my eyes should be rated one of the Seven Wonders of Poland – no other castle comes to mind that touts so many styles. Having enjoyed its spectacular gardens during the day, return at dusk for ghost tours that trail around an address haunted by an English princess.Kateryna Baiduzha/CC BY-SA 4.0
Beyond, Wałbrzych is also a great platform for a deep dive into a region criss-crossed with secretive Nazi tunnels (just don’t ask about the Gold Train), half-ruined ivy-clad castles hidden in the forests, and compelling towns like Świdnica – home, no less, to the PAP/Alamy
If you want Prague but not the Easy Jet rat packs that infest its streets, then Kłodzko is a blissful alternative. Principally famed for its Gothic stone bridge, it appears like a miniaturised version of Prague’s Charles Bridge only without the American buskers.Jerzy Ochoński/PAP
But there is more to Kłodzko than just its bridge. The town hall is itself an epic work of craftsmanship, and all the better for being penned in by pastel-coloured houses that could have been dreamt up by Hans Christian Anderson. For light relief, Mini-Euroland never ceases to amaze: if there is a better model village in Poland, then write us on a postcard.Jerzy Ochoński/PAP
To bed down, meanwhile, a wealth of choice awaits: through its tasteful tones and honeymoon mood, Pałac Kamienic (palackamieniec.pl) is a plush boutique stay favoured by many. But competition in the region is stiff, not least from the likes of the Pałac Piszkowkice (piszkowice.com), a gem whose mansard roof peers over the surrounding woodland.Pałac i Ogrody Piszkowice/Facebook
Boxed in by emerald green forests and still, silent lakes, Łagów in western Poland belies description. A place of corkscrewing roads and trim, neat cottages, this bucolic little hamlet is dominated by the soaring sight of a medieval castle haunted by Andreas von Schlieben.PAP/Alamy
It works as a daytrip, but consider also a side jaunt to Świebodzin, a quietly attractive city principally famed for its 36-metre statue of Jesus. If nothing else, Insta yourself here to lead your followers to believe that you’re gallivanting around Rio. Jerzy Muszyński/PAP
You wouldn’t guess looking at me, but there’s only so much gingerbread I can eat. Likewise, I have a personal limit when it comes to feigning interest in the life of Copernicus. So yeah, I’m always more than happy to leave Toruń behind and instead head to their bitter rival Bydgoszcz.Kalbar/TFN
For me, it’s infinitely better, and that’s thanks to a historic centre carved up by canals – no matter how many tourists are about, you’re guaranteed to find yourself a shaded perch on the banks of the river.Kalbar/TFN
Bydgoszcz has other redeeming features as well, and these include a museum dedicated to the history of soap and dirt and a wartime explosives factory outside of the city that’s since been turned into a thrilling museum. Paired with a lively nightlife and a decent spread of hotels, this B-sized city is one of Poland’s finest.Kalbar/TFN