The region of Lower Silesia is one of largely unrecognized beauty. The region’s capital, Wroclaw, is replete with Gothic churches, Flemish-style Renaissance mansions, Viennese Baroque palaces and chapels, tranquil parks, gardens, rivers and a vibrant cultural scene.
Outside Wroclaw you enter the region’s playground. The gently rolling landscape is full of ponds, lakes, rivers, open farmlands, dense forests, rugged mountains and unspoiled villages. The cycling is superb, the scenery is stunning, and the people are warm, generous and welcoming.
Our first stop after leaving Wroclaw is in Olesnica, a beautiful town that was established as part of the Amber Trail in the 13th century. Today it is home to a unique complex of the Princes Castle, the Basilica of St. John the Apostle and the Wrocław Gate Tower.
Tracing our way along serene country lanes towards the peaceful village of Poreby, we stop in a small village with an even smaller shop where we are spontaneously treated to a large bottle of crystal-clear fluid courtesy of a local. We spend a wonderful afternoon talking about his ‘bike passport’. He bought a small notebook in the 80s and has cycled some 10,000kms since. His book is a conglomeration of petrol station stamps, passport control stamps, tourist attraction stamps… you get the picture. After bidding farewell (Czesc!) we endure a weaving journey of a few hundred meters to a hearty dinner and the comfortable beds of a local agro-tourism farm.
We’re smack bang in the middle of the Milicz Lakes District, home to 13 amphibian species, 250 bird species and 44 different mammals. In the picturesque town of Trzebnica we spend the morning exploring its long and distinguished history. The main attraction is the Cisterian Convent, established in 1202 by Saint Jadwiga (St Hedwig).
We follow the Odra River and head for Wolow, residence of the Silesian Piast Dukes and birthplace of Poland’s first cosmonaut. The cosmonaut’s test plane stands proudly on a plinth in the town’s centre.
The village of Lubiaz signals a change in perspective. It rests in the shadow of a massive 12th century Cisterian Abbey, which ranks as the largest monastic complex in central Europe. It survived WWII because high-ranking German officers treated it as their home. Retreating in the face of the Russian advance the Germans blew up the underground network of rooms and tunnels, which led to rumours of a biological weapons laboratory and a nuclear research facility.
The lower Sudety foothills greet us as we arrive in the serene town of Jawor, next to one of the UNESCO-listed Churches of Peace, one of the the most exceptional monuments in Lower Silesia. The church is over 43.5m long, 14m wide and 15.7m high and not one nail was used in its construction. It seats 5,500 and was constructed by Breslau (Wroclaw) architect Albrecht von Saebisch in 1655. The 200 paintings inside were painted by Georg Flegel in 1671–1681.
Cycling through pristine forests, another immense monument, Castle Ksiaz, comes into view. Ksiaz is one of the best preserved castles in Lower Silesia and the largest hilltop fortress in Poland. We spend a few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of the majestic complex. There is a fascinating escorted ascent to the top of the main tower, where the guide points out the location from which V2 rockets were fired on England 60 years ago.
Next stop is the fortress town of Swidnica, and the other surviving UNESCO Church of Peace. The Sleza mountain summons us. The mountain was used for pagan worship in Celtic times and was later settled by an unknown Slav tribe (who named the mountain and Silesia itself). Situated on its slopes are several ancient sculptures and carvings whose origins and symbolism are not known.
We’ve come full circle and I highly recommend taking another look around Wroclaw. Wroclaw is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It will stay in your heart and live in your memory.
Poland is a diverse country with a difficult history. Yet, there is a creativity, a sense of pride, and a pervading optimism running through its people and landscapes. Visiting any of the regions above is captivating; visiting all three is absolutely exquisite. Take your pick, take your adventurous spirit, but above all take your time… it’s important to slow down and live the life of Poland.
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