Exploring Poland

Poland is a republic in central Eastern Europe. The 312,679 km2 large country is surrounded by the following states: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The Republic of Poland (in Polish Rzeczpospolita Polska) has been a member of the EU since 2004, however, the actual currency is still the Polish Złoty. Poland is divided into different provinces, the so-called voivodships. Each of these 16 regions captivates with distinct natural wonders and unique cultural treasures. Together they form one fascinating and multi-faceted gem of a country in the heart of Europe.

Vibrant metropolises – culture and nightlife galore
Poland's capital city is located in the Masovian Voivodship (central East), the largest of the Polish provinces. With more than 1.5 million inhabitants, Warsaw is not only the country's largest city but also an economic hub and energetic cultural metropolis with a history dating back several centuries. Having so many historic attractions, shopping possibilities and entertainment options, Warsaw, located on the scenic Vistula River, makes a dream destination for all city travellers. And so does Krakow. Warsaw's rival in the far south (Malopolskie Voivodship) also lies on the Vistula River. The former Polish capital is Poland's second largest city and an architectural masterpiece, boasting buildings and monuments from three different epochs: Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Krakow's Old Town – alongside with the Wawel Castle and the Kazimierz, the historic Jewish district – has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, cafés and bars and horse-drawn carriages, this old royal town evokes a magical atmosphere that attracts thousands of visitors of every year. In contrast, the towns and cities in the north of Poland on the Baltic Sea coast are beautiful hanseatic metropolises, proud of their long seafaring history and maritime heritage. Open and tolerant – this is the impression you will get when strolling along the streets of Gdańsk (Pomorskie Voivodship), Poland's amber town. Together with the adjoining cities of Gdynia and Sopot, Poland's largest port forms a gigantic "Tricity" with sheer endless leisure-time possibilities. It is a gateway to the country's amazing natural sights in the hinterland.

Pristine nature – the wild spirit of Poland
Sandy beaches, shifting sand dunes, endless plains, fields of flowers, ancient forests, shimmering lakes, mist-shrouded marshlands and soaring mountains - Poland is a true outdoor paradise and provides you with an impressive natural setting that guarantees you will enjoy your Poland adventure holidays to the max. The Masurian Lake District in the north-eastern voivodship of Warmińsko-Mazurskie is without doubt one of the country's loveliest regions. Masuria is the "land of a thousand lakes". Many of these smaller and bigger bodies of water are linked by rivers or channels, offering optimal prerequisites for extended boat and canoe tours. In southern Poland, the Tatra Mountains are an area of unspoilt natural beauty. This approximately 50 kilometre long mountain range runs along the Slovakian border and forms part of the Carpathian Mountains. Reaching heights of nearly 2,500 metres, the Tatras are not without reason often referred to as the "Polish Alps".

Small towns and idyllic villages – Poland's true soul
These extraordinary landscapes are dotted with hundreds of small towns and quaint villages. Although, at first glance, they might not seem as exciting as their cosmopolitan counterparts, a visit is nonetheless worthwhile. Often you will find the most remarkable artistic treasures in places where you least expect them! For instance, the small village of Zalipie (about 70 kilometres east of Krakow) has only about 700 inhabitants but it has managed to become one of Poland's most iconic villages, thanks to a very unusual tradition that started at the end of the 19th century when the locals began to decorate the interior walls and house facades with colourful floral designs. Even the church, the school and other public buildings shine in this magnificent year-round blossom. You see, it is only in places like Zalipie that time seems to stand still, revealing the true Polish spirit. Whether you stop by at "Poland's painted village" or any other village or town, the friendly locals will always welcome you with an exuberant cordiality that will make your Poland holidays unforgettable.

Vacation Rentals and Holiday Homes in Poland

Discovering wild Poland

From a bird's eye view, Poland looks little spectacular at first glance: an expansive mass of land in different shades of green. The predominating light green is interspersed with smaller and larger dark green patches that seem to have been scattered randomly across the entire country. Zoom in and you will realise that these are actually vast forests. Look even more closely and many more diverse landscapes will unfold before your eyes: endless beaches, soaring mountains, meandering rivers, glistening lakes, extensive marshes and even a small desert. Poland's nature is unique and absolutely breath-taking. It is protected in 23 national parks, which are a haven for wild animals and a paradise for anyone wishing to spend active and unforgettable outdoor holidays abroad.

Amber, golden beaches and shifting dunes
Poland's Baltic Sea coastline extends for more than 500 kilometres from Szczecin to Gdansk and boasts beautiful sandy beaches, which attract thousands of visitors ever year, locals and tourists alike. Especially water sport fans and sunbathers just love them because they are wide and shallow and one can always find a secluded spot. Many people also come here hunting for amber, which washes up regularly on Poland's shores. Another "jewel" on the Polish Baltic coast is the Słowiński National Park. It is located on the western coast of the Pomeranian Voivodship and home to one of Poland's greatest nature spectacles: monumental shifting sand dunes. Reaching heights of up to 42 metres, these dunes can move up to 10 metres per year, exposing the fossilised remains of the trees they had devoured ages ago.

Thousand lakes and extensive marshes
Let's stay in northern Poland but move further to the east. The Warmia-Masuria province is home to one of Poland's loveliest regions known as the "land of a thousand lakes". In truth, there are far more than 1,000 lakes in the Masurian Lake District, most of which are connected by rivers and channels. Surrounded by dense forests, not only canoeists and anglers will love it here but also hikers and bird watchers. Another great place to observe birds and other wild animals is the Biebrza Marshes. This wetland complex forms part of the Biebrzański National Park (Podlaskie Voivodship), the largest national park in Poland. The Biebrza River Valley is not only home to more than 200 species of bird but even a refuge for mammals like elks, wolves, beavers and otters.

Ancient forests and a desert
Centuries ago, large parts of Europe were still covered in impenetrable forests. Unfortunately, these have almost entirely vanished nowadays. However, if you visit the Białowieski National Park in north-eastern Poland (Podlaskie Voivodship), you can still get an idea of what these forests must have been like. The Białowieski National Park is Poland's oldest national park and protects Europe's last primeval forest, the Białowieża Forest, which extends far into Belarus and is home to large herds of European bison. This UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve is left completely untouched and this is why certain areas are only accessible with a guide. In contrast, the Bledowska desert in the Lesser Poland province is rather "man-made" and the result of extensive mining and clearance of trees. The "Polish Sahara" might only cover about 30 km2 but it is nonetheless central Europe's largest inland stretch of loose sand.

Alpine vistas and fabulous rock formations
Poland might not seem very mountainous at first because most of the country is occupied by the central lowlands. However, there are several mountain ranges in the south of Poland and the highest peak rises even up to 2,500 metres. This is Mount Rysy in the Tatra Mountains, an approximately 50 km long Carpathian mountain range. The Tatras feature the most amazing Alpine panoramas and landscapes, including the fascinating Morskie Oko glacier lake, which lies hidden deep within the Tatra National Park (Lesser Poland Voivodship). The Table Mountains in the Gory Stolowe National Park in Lower Silesia are certainly no less impressive. They form part of the Sudety Mountains and are particularly famous for their rock labyrinths and fabulous rock formations, which have formed through millennia of erosive action. Mount Szczeliniec Wielki is the best view point to enjoy nature's artworks and soak up the wild spirit of Poland.

Culinary Poland

One can taste an undeniable hint of the big wide world in Polish food. No wonder. Throughout history, Poland has always been a melting pot of different cultures. Jewish, Slavic, Ottoman, French, Italian, Austrian, German (Prussian) and Russian – all these different nations have added their distinct flavours to Polish cooking, directly or indirectly through immigration, marriage, annexation, trade or simply border sharing. The result is a vast and varied cuisine featuring all kinds of savoury and sweet dishes that are prepared from fresh local ingredients and enriched with plenty of herbs and spices like pepper, caraway seeds, mustard, cumin and nutmeg. In a nutshell: Polish food is hearty with an exotic twist.

Poles love soups, hot and cold. Soups are popular starters in Poland and one can distinguish between clear broth-based soups, which are usually enriched with vegetables, potatoes, meat, sausages, cereals or hard-boiled eggs, and creamy soups. Barszcz (bortsch), a clear beetroot soup of Ukrainian origin, is one of the most popular soups in Poland. Its creamy counterpart (chłodnik) is enjoyed cold during summertime. Some other delicious traditional Polish soups include sour rye soup (żurek), barley soup (krupnik), beef tripe soup (flaki), duck blood soup (czernina), mushroom soup (zupa grzybowa) and even fruit soup (zupa owocowa) made from fresh strawberries, raspberries, bilberries etc.

Meat and sausages
Poles love meat, especially pork. Beef and poultry are also consumed, of course, but not to such a great extent. A classic meat dish you absolutely must try when visiting Poland is bigos. The "hunter's stew" is a national dish in Poland and its main ingredients are different types of meat and sausages, cabbage and sauerkraut. If you are not a fan of stews, try instead kotlet schabowy, another Polish all-time favourite. It is the Polish equivalent of the Wiener Schnitzel, which is most likely where it derived from. It differs from its Austrian cousin in that respect that it is made from pork and not veal but it is prepared in the same way: the cutlet is coated in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried until golden brown and crispy. Besides fresh meat, sausages (kiełbasa) have always played an important role in Polish culinary culture. Whether smoked, dried, fried, boiled or grilled – kabanosy, kiełbasa krakowska, kaszanka and Co. are enjoyed at any time, any season and any occasion.

Fish is more popular in Poland than one might think. Especially carp, salmon, trout, herring and pike perch are eaten frequently. The best fresh fish specialities are served in coastal regions like Pomerania and regions with many rivers and freshwater lakes like Masuria.

It is impossible to imagine the "kuchnia polska" (Polish cuisine) without its iconic pierogi. Pierogi are filled dumplings similar to Italian ravioli and a traditional Polish food. Pierogi are extremely versatile – both functionally and tastewise. They can be eaten as a snack, in soups, as a side dish with meat or as a main course by themselves. Typical savoury fillings include meat, fish, buckwheat, lentils, sauerkraut or mushrooms. For instance, pierogi ruskie (filled with potatoes and cheese) have become famous far beyond the borders of Poland. Sweet pierogi with different fruit fillings or curd cheese, topped with melted butter and sugar, are also to die for.

Cakes and pastries
When on holidays in Poland, you must also treat yourself to some of the following irresistible Polish sweet temptations. Szarlotka is a classic Polish apple pie. It features a crispy base and the sweet and tangy taste of the apples is perfectly complemented by cinnamon and cloves. Sernik is a mouth-watering cheese cake that comes in many different variations, while makowiec is a poppy seed roll made from yeast dough. Kremówka (or napoleonka) is certainly one of the best cakes the Polish cuisine has ever created. It is a puff pastry cream cake and very similar to the French mille-feuille. By the way, this cake was the favourite cake of Pope John Paul II and in the Małopolska province, where he came from, it is therefore also known as "Papal cream cake". 

Wash down your traditional Polish meal with a glass of juniper beer or round it off with a shot of excellent Polish vodka like Belvedere or Chopin, delicious mead or refreshing flower, fruit or herbal liqueurs. Na zdrowie!

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