Jerzy Wierzbicki recommmends Poland
Greetings from my homeland, Poland, a nation with a rich and tragic history and a unique position on the border of eastern and western Europe. As a result of this, it has always combined elements of east and west. Even since joining the European Union in 2004, it still keeps its unique character with western modernity rubbing along with eastern traditions and customs.
In the 16th century Poland bordered with the Ottoman Empire, and until today there are terms and words in the Polish language that derive from Middle Eastern cultures and languages. You can also taste this mix in the food, which is big on spicy meat, winter vegetables, eggs, cream and noodles (kluski).
This diversity is seen especially in the eastern part of Poland, where traditional culture and the unspoiled natural environment makes you feel a million miles from fast, modern living.
My home city of Gdansk, located in the north, is a typical seaport town. It was part of the medieval Hanseatic League and shares many similarities with towns such as Hamburg, Kiel or Copenhagen.
My Favourite Place: As a lover of nature and angling, the Masurian Lakes district is unbeatable. The area contains more than 2000 lakes spread across over 20,000 square miles, all connected by rivers and a canal system. It’s great for fishing, boating and canoeing.
I also love Suwalki in north-eastern Poland because of the emptiness and space, with its many lakes, marshes and hills covered by fields and forests. It is free of heavy industry, and has several large natural parks that are home to a lot of birdlife and protected species such as the beaver. Of course, it’s ideal for wildlife photography too.
Highlights: Krakow is a must see. The city dates back to the 7th century and its rich architectural heritage includes buildings that are more than 1000 years old. Wawel, not far from the River Vistula, was the main castle used by the Polish kings from medieval times and is built in the style of a Renaissance palace. The city also offers many great restaurants, nightlife, museums, galleries and other attractions for all the family. It’s one of the richest centres of culture in central Europe.
For nature lovers, close to the border with Belorussia are two of the last pure natural ecosystems in Europe – the Biebrza River and the virgin forest of the Bialowieza National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both of these pristine locations offer wilderness that has not changed for a thousand years.
Lowlights: The road network is under massive reconstruction after 45 years of communist era neglect. So expect to get stuck in traffic a lot. Prices for food, drink and rooms in the hotspots and cool locations can be ridiculously high. During the peak summer season it can be difficult to find a room so pre-booking is definitely a good idea. The weather is unpredictable. One summer day will be very hot and the next cold and rainy.
Souvenirs: You can pick up local craft products in the town markets, especially in the southern mountains region. Original art is available in good galleries in big towns like Krakow, Poznan, Gdansk and Warsaw.
Where to stay: Depends on the size of your pocket. The hotel network is really good. In most places you can find comfortable hotels and hostels to suit your budget. In the big towns there are five-star hotels like the Hilton, Bristol and other well-known chains. Alternatively, in the Masurian Lakes you can have a rustic experience by renting one of the many small wooden houses by the lakes and forests. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy these areas, offering peace, quiet and breathtaking surroundings. In Gdansk, I recommend the small, quiet Hotel Podewils, located in the centre of the old town very close to the Maritime Museum, St. Mary’s Church, Arthur’s Court and many other splendid locations.
1. Royal Castle Warsaw
2. Wawel Castle in Krakow
3. Sopot – old city with the the biggest wooden pier in Europe
4. Westerplatte – where the Second World War began
5. Wigry Lake – a huge natural reserve