Dates 2017: July 09 – July 15
Gdańsk, the home of the Solidarity movement, once a member of the Hanseatic league, and the largest city of the Kaszubi ethnic group. Gdańsk has certainly come a long way from its origins as a fishing village in the 9th century and it is the jewel of a region which ranges from the sand dunes of Slowinski National Park, to the ancient shores of the Vistula River, to the tranquility of the Zarnowieckie Lake.
Add the cruise down the River Wisla and past the Westerplatte (where Germany started its invasion of Poland), the scenic cycle between the forested dunes of the Hel Peninsula, the 13th century castle of Krokowa and the village of Godętowo, the neolithic capital of the Kashubian people in Kartuzy, the Teutonic fortress town of Tczew and its historic bridge, and the magnificent UNESCO listed Malbork Castle and you’re up for a week of amazing memories, unforgettable cycling, and remarkable sights.
Gdańsk to Krokowa ~ 38 miles (60 km)
After a boat trip across the Gulf of Gdańsk we arrive in Hel: that is, the Hel Peninsula, a slender sliver of sand which stretches some 35kms west to Wladyslawowo whose width varies from 35 to 100 metres. It is incredibly easy to let go and experience the moment on this first day of cycling.
Disembarking from the ferry you start cycling in the Kaszubi town of Hel with the sea breeze at your back, the perfume of the sea filling your senses, and the sound of lapping waves you just can’t help but to relax. After an easy day of pedaling we reach our overnight accommodation in the picturesque 12th century town of Krokowa.
Krokowa to Sasino ~ 38 miles (51 km)
After leaving Krokowa in the early morning light we ride in and out of the subtle shadows of the coastal pine forest which line the coast. Views of the enduring white sandy cliffs and endless empty beaches add to the feeling of relaxation and tranquility.
Our afternoon is spent exploring the natural and built environment as we skirt around Lake Żarnowiec and discover the abandoned buildings of a post cold war nuclear facility which was never quite finished. An easy 25km spin later we arrive in Sasino where we stop for the night and enjoy the hospitality within a stately 19th century palace set in a charming country estate.
Sasino to Godętowo ~ 35 miles (32 km)
Waking refreshed from a deep slumber and fortified from an energising breakfast we veer away from the coast and head south into the heart of the Pomerania region. The pleasant tree lined roads guide our journey today as we coast along the Łeba River and its tributaries through the Kashubian Forest. We cruise past palaces that have seen better days and fly past windmills that struggle to turn their blades: all part of Pomerania’s rural charm.
We descend into the Łeba Valley towards the medieval town of Lebork which sits on the convergence of the Łeba and Okalica rivers. The Teutonic history of Lebork is on full display and makes a perfect stop due to its 14th century fortified city walls, its 14th century defensive church, the 16th century granary, and the 14th century Ordensburg castle.
After adopting an easy cadence from Lebork to Godetowo, and with memories of another exciting day in the saddle, we get to put our noble feet up at an extraordinary 13th century palace which will serve as our quarters for the night.
Godętowo to Kartuzy ~ 44 miles (44 km)
Well rested and re-energised we start early and head south-west towards the Kaszubian capital of Kartuzy. Initially passing through pretty meadows, the landscape slowly changes and we are soon cycling through a post-glacial area replete with deep shimmering lakes, gently rolling moraine hills, pristine streams and primeval forests of the Middle Europe Plateau.
There are so many largely unknown attractions in this region and due to our local guides we are lucky enough to visit a church where the Virgin Mary made an appearance to the devout, where the 14th century Madonna of Swionowo statue can cure physical injury, and where an unfinished 20th century castle dominates the landscape.
We’ve spent the day cycling through the Kaszubian Switzerland and we arrive in the delightfully attractive town square of Kartuzy where we can indulge in a well deserved lunch and coffee in one of the many quality restaurants or coffee shops. It is easy to stretch out our time here, soaking up the unique atmosphere, the traditional culture, distinct tribal language, and regional cuisine of the Kaszubian national/ethnic group.
Kartuzy to Żukczyn ~ 34 miles (46 km)
As the cultural centre of the Kaszubians, Kartuzy is a special highlight of our journey. It’s located on the post-glacial Baltic Sea Plate at a spectacular intersection of four lakes and the earliest settlement dates back to the Bronze Age with burial objects, pottery fragments, and jewellery being unearthed. Home to a Carthusian Monastery since 1380, assimilated by the black cross flag bearing crusaders of the Teutonic Order in the 15th century, possessed by the Cistercian Order during the 16th century Protestant Reformation, witness to the three Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Partitions, the two world wars and the communist aftermath, this picturesque town is a condensed history of Poland itself.
The Muzeum Kaszubskie is a gem well worth exploring due to its beautiful evocation of Kashubian culture spread across seven exhibition halls, including a suburb range of traditional, secular, and religious folk art. Kaszubians pride themselves on their embroidery (delimited to five colours: green, red, yellow, black and blue) but you will also discover their expertise with ceramics, weavings, paintings, wood carvings, and cow horn snuff boxes. The Carthusian Church and Monastery, built in 1380, is also on the schedule today. This amazing Gothic church features a coffin-shaped lead sheet iron roof thanks to the Bohemian monks who led a Trappist life and slept in their caskets. While it is one of the most interesting buildings in Europe – with its rich collection of Baroque altars, 29 elaborately carved wooden seats for the monks, and an extensive collection of 17th-century religious paintings – remember to ask the Brother about the significance of the pendulum on which a white angel with a scythe carves through the air.
Soon after, we depart Kartuzy and have a leisurely 46km cycle to Żukczyn through fertile farmland, along serene country lanes, and adjacent to the cascading Radunia River. Immersed in the moment by moment rhythm of turning pedals we can still find space to visit a Lutheran church that has been converted into a modern art gallery, to contemplate the devotional roadside chapels, to watch the nesting storks, and reflect on the lives of the Norbertine Sisters in their Zukowo Convent.
Żukczyn to Malbork ~ 40 miles (60 km)
Friday marks another astonishing day as we leave the Arcadian contours of Żukczyn and head towards the majesty of UNSECO listed Malbork Castle. This colossal fortified castle was once the seat of the Teutonic order and is still Europe’s largest Gothic fortress; being under construction for 230 years probably had something to do with that!
We spend a few hours exploring its multiple defensive walls, a labyrinth of rooms and chambers, and some exquisite architectural detail and decoration. The late afternoon sun on the 600 year old red brickwork is indescribable.
Malbork to Gdańsk ~ 44 miles (70 km)
We have spent a week exploring the charm, character, and attractions of the Pomeranian region. I can’t stress how underrated the places we visit are. But that is Poland in a nutshell! Come along and experience how Poland with her beauty and her charisma is melding her poignant past with an exhilarating present and an undeniably remarkable future.